Ooshies Are Basically Evil

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Ooshies, the plastic collectible toys Australian supermarket chain Woolworths is using to lure shoppers to its aisles, aren’t just a bit of fun. They’ve been connected to a black market among Woolworths staff, frenzied online trading replete with death threats, chaotic crowds and and feral behaviour at supermarket swap days, and a shocking decapitation live on breakfast television.

The plastic figures, based on characters in Disney’s new movie The Lion King, are aimed for kids but are really intended to sway the shopping habits of parents (you get one for every $30 you spend). They have inspired some very bad adult behaviour – with the worst behaviour arguably that of Woolworths itself.

The Woolworths Group proclaims “family-friendly values”. Just last month it announced it would get out of liquor and pokies. Yet it has targeted children with a manipulative promotion that relies, among other things, on the same psychological triggers that can promote gambling addiction in adults.

Why we collect

Collectible promotions are tried and true. We seem to be hard-wired to collect things.

Some of the seal-impressions from the Ur excavation site. Ur Excavations Vol III

Among the earliest evidence of this human impulse is a large collection of seal-impressions in clay. Made with flat stamps or cylinder seals, they were found during the excavation of the Ziggarut of Ur, in modern-day Iraq, and date from 5th or 4th century BCE.

An estimated 30% of the population collect something, according to noted consumer behaviour expert Russell Belk. Among children, collecting is even more common. In one study, University of Nebraska researchers Menzel Baker and James Gentry interviewed 79 primary-school students and found 72 (more than 90%) had some kind of collection.

Across generations, items commonly collected include rocks, shells, eggs, stamps, coins, sports cards and figurines.

Collecting is connected to children’s natural curiosity. It’s a process of making sense of things through gathering and categorising. This can be seen in the enjoyment children get from counting and subdividing their collections into categories. Young children typically care more about the quantity of their collection than aesthetic considerations.

As they get older, more subjective values develop. Quantity becomes less important. This is what ultimately distinguishes the psychological motivation to collect from the compulsion to hoard, in which one is incapable of making an emotional distinction between what is valuable and what is junk.

Commercialising collecting

So tending to a collection can be both enjoyable and educational. Coins or stamps, for example, can spark an interest in geography, history and other cultures.

But there are aspects that also make the urge to collect exploitable by marketers.

One is the way things form part of what psychologists call the “extended self”. As Russell Belk explained in his 1988 paper on Possessions and the Extended Self: “We cannot hope to understand consumer behaviour without first gaining some understanding of the meanings that consumers attach to possessions. A key to understanding what possessions mean is recognising that, knowingly or unknowmgly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as parts of ourselves.”

The extended self’s manifestation in possessions is particularly striking in young children, who take great comfort from favourite dolls, bears and the like.

Gambling for kids

Another unpalatable aspect that businesses exploit in marketing to children is the “thrill of the hunt” through the use of so-called “blind bags”.

An astounding range of toys are based on the child not knowing what they are going to get until they open it.

This practice makes use of intermittent reinforcement. When the outcome is uncertain, the process is much more exciting and a desired result much more pleasurable. It’s the same neurological mechanism that makes gambling so addictive.

Blind bags are highly conducive to marketers pushing sales through the scarcity principle, which makes some toys “more valuable”. In the case of the Ooshies, there are 24 different toys produced in different quantities. Some are very rare – there are just 100 “furry Simbas”, for example.

The furry Simba. Woolworths

This can inspire strong fears of missing out in child peer groups, putting pressure on parents to secure missing toys.

Shameless targeting

Finally, younger children are innocent to the cynical ways of the world. They do not necessarily understand the persuasive intent of such sales promotions. Children, even adolescents, don’t necessarily have the cognitive skills to recognise the manipulative aspects. They are the soft target. As one mother of three has put it: “Like most, I hate the fact they’re exploiting our children, but at the end of the day my kids love The Lion King…”

For these reasons we believe the ethics of specifically targeting children with a collectibles promotional campaign are questionable – and the Ooshies promotion is unashamedly directed at children.

If Woolworths wants to celebrate family-friendly values, this is not the way to go about it.The Conversation

Louise Grimmer, Lecturer in Retail Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania and Martin Grimmer, Professor of Marketing, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.


Comments

    Great read, but the headline is sensationalism. Ooshies are of course just inanimate objects. Corporations (like Woolworths) are evil, as the article demonstrates.

    The article is a complete beat up. I'm usually the first to put the boot into companies like Woolworths and Coles, but you've missed the mark in my opinion....

    Yet it has targeted children with a manipulative promotion that relies, among other things, on the same psychological triggers that can promote gambling addiction in adults.

    It has targeted adults, end of story. Kids are into this stuff, but the best they can do is whine. The adults are the ones behaving badly. The kids just trade them like football cards at school. If its not Oosies its something else.

    This can inspire strong fears of missing out in child peer groups, putting pressure on parents to secure missing toys.

    Too right it can, and what a fantastic learning opportunity for us as parents to guide our children. Oh wait...parents are probably punching each other up instead...

    If Woolworths wants to celebrate family-friendly values, this is not the way to go about it.

    I don't have a problem with it. The whole thing basically sorts itself out except for the psycho parents out there. The kids trade amongst themselves. The parents on Facebook groups seem to arrange swaps and collect for each other. I mean really, the only issue is the crazies, and they're not the kids.

    This whole article needs to be re-written and needs to be about parents making parental decisions. You're adults now, time to pull up those big girl/boy pants and stop letting your kids tell you where you're going to shop.

    1 for every $30? The Woolies where I live gives you like 6 of them for less than $40 because I don't think they give a shit. Neither does my little one he just throws them everywhere. Now Coles Little Shops is where it's at. They only give you 1 per $30 and they really enforce it, so he ends up with less little shops than his friends who have basically all of them just because I don't shop often enough at Coles. He can't shut up about them. Luckily I have the sense to say no and just continue to shop where I want and need or can afford. I'll be glad when this whole thing is over and can finally have peace for few months until the next thing. At least this whole batch of little shops are done well. The last time Coles cheaped out on manufacturing and we had figures that were printed wrongly so now we have a collection of rare derp versions of them

    I wish both [Woolworths] Ooshies and [Coles] minis were safe for under 1's. Our 2.5 year old loves them... but knows not to eat them. Our 7 month old... not so much.

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