Monday, 27 December 2010

Collections and Collectibles (review)

As a child I had a collection of key rings. It was all a bit pointless because I had not a single key, but I suppose that pointlessness is actually a defining element of most collections.

As an adult, I had a yearning to collect novelty teapots. I imagined them displayed on a country style welsh dresser in a cosy kitchen and selecting different pots to brew for different occasions. In reality, my collection consisted of a grand total of one completely hideous, tacky teapot that was supposed to look like a table set for tea, but didn't. It also carried the warning 'not suitable for boiling liquids' which rendered it somewhat useless as a teapot. Apart from a cup of green tea first thing in the morning, my hot drink consumption consists entirely of coffee these days so my unfulfilled novelty teapot phase does now belong to another life.

I'm not sure what part of the human psyche lends us a pre-disposition to collect but it does appear to be an urge present in some form in us all. Toy manufacturers are certainly aware of this.

My children were big collectors of Pokemon figures (first time round). The marketing was brilliant from the "Gotta Catch 'em all" tag line to the giant posters displaying all 150 Pokemon with check boxes to monitor your progress towards completion. Years later, my girls can still name all 150 Pokemon and tell you that a Wartortle is an evolved form of a Squirtle. We do still have some of the original collectibles but the whole Pokemon franchise has developed beyond my comprehension with the new generations since added.

Other collections included Pogs and Tazos and Puppies and Kitties in my Pocket but none were ever quite as popular or as influential as Pokemon.

Collectibles never seem to go out of fashion.

From a manufacturers point of view they are a winner - why sell a child one toy when you can sell them a whole collection? From a parent's point of view, it makes it easy when Auntie Jane and Granny ask "What does Johnny want for Christmas this year?" From a child's point of view, clever advertising and packaging can create a huge desire and how nice it is to be able to fulfil your child's wants with a simple purchase.

For me personally, I would prefer my children to satisfy their need to collect with something more individual and possibly harder to come by but we are a society that enjoys instant gratification and peer acceptance so the mass produced, easily recognisable, instant collections fit the mood of the moment.

Ocean in my Pocket and Littlest Pet Shop are two Collectible ranges currently enjoying popularity. They are designed to be played with as well as collected, available with a range of play sets additional to the collectible figures.

Ocean in My Pocket Coral Playset - £19.99
Ocean in My Pocket Newborn Pack - £3.99

Littlest Petshop Vehicle - £14.99
Littlest Pet Shop Blythe Set - £12.99
I am already familiar with the Puppy and Kitty in my pocket from years ago and we did just touch on Ponies in my Pocket before my girls outgrew the whole idea. I was quite surprised to see that you can now get Jungle, Snow, Forest and Farm as well as Ocean in my Pocket. To me that is an overwhelming amount of choice and I hope for the sake of parental finances, little girls fixate on one category only or mix and match without the need to "collect them all" as the words on the packaging demand.

Thanks to the likes of Spongebob Square Pants, Finding Nemo and a Shark's Tale, undersea creatures are probably as familiar as pets and farm animals to our youngsters. The Ocean in my Pocket figures are adorable and the playset (although the sort of plastic monstrosity that normally makes me cringe) is intriguing, just inviting you to explore.

I didn't find much to redeem the Littlest Playshop. I  thought the pets themselves were trying too hard to be cute and were actually quite hideous. The packaging includes lots of cardboard cut outs of pets and accessories which just seemed a bit empty and sad and the Pet Vehicle did not look like it was built to withstand much in the way of play. The tag line "How big is your littlest pet shop?" somehow implies that however big it is, it will never really be big enough. The whole thing was just a bit uncomfortable by my set of values.

I gave both playsets to my 2 year old to road test.

She played with Littlest Pet Shop Blythe for a long time, mostly trying to put the sunglasses on her (without success) and saying "silly dolly" every time her shoes fell off (which was often). I know that my daughter is younger than the target market for Littlest Pet Shop but whatever age group is doing the playing, those tiny, ill fitting shoes are going to be lost before long.

Her play with the Ocean figures was much more imaginative, whizzing the baby sea creatures down the slide and animating them with a life beyond their static fuzzy coated plastic bodies. (While I think of it, the fuzzy coating was already starting to attract a lot of fluff and dust which made them look a bit grubby). The figures didn't actually sit too well on the seesaw or seats (in the same way that a real whale/shark/lobster/seahorse probably wouldn't), but it didn't seem to be a problem for the two year old nor an impairment to her enjoyment.

Of the two, I definitely favour the In My Pocket brand but it is ultimately for the parent to decide whether it represents value for money and constructive play opportunities. Perhaps our children would be better served being encouraged to collect key rings, retro Pokemon or even novelty teapots!

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