April 30, 2014

So, gender based toy marketing is frustrating

Like it or not, we live in a world where toys for girls and toys for boys and pink and blue sections at the toy store exist. Though some companies around the world are making strides to market toys to kids instead of splitting it by gender, not enough manufacturers and stores are stepping up. I've seen a few examples of gender based marketing recently that make me wonder how we can ever fix the problem with so many companies perpetuating it as being the right way to do things.

Back in February, Hasbro and Disney announced new toys for Star Wars Rebels. Their press release regarding those toys as well as new Marvel figures, had this headline:
Disney Consumer Products Ready to Capture Boys’ Imaginations and Dominate Toy Aisles in 2014

The content of the press release does eventually mention "we know these innovative products will resonate with kids and fans who want to create their own heroic stories." But, why not state that in the title? The title of the press release tells me, as a girl, that you don't think I'll be interested in playing with Star Wars and Marvel toys.

Look, I  know there is research proving that boys and girls play differently. I'm pretty sure that research doesn't state all girls automatically only like toys with pink labels and boys only prefer toys with blue labels. And if kids do have those tendencies, how much of them are there because of the way they see toys marketed in commercials and ads? It's a chicken vs. egg situation, and it's a cycle that needs to break and companies who put these toys out in the world have the power to do it. Disney in particular should be bold and make waves in this department because their products are going to sell, they have money - why not take a risk?

I came across another situation earlier this month when I discovered Nerd Block, Jr. Nerd Block is a mystery box subscription that puts together a box of geeky goodies and ships them once a month, and they have special boxes for kids. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a great idea. Then I clicked over to their website. They have two different boxes labeled thusly: "Epic Toys for Boys" and "Epic Toys for Girls." It gets better. The boys' box is is in a blue area of the website with brands such as J!nx, Marvel, DC Comics, Nintendo, and Star Wars. The girls' box is in a lavender section of the website with brands such as Barbie, Furby, Monster High, My Little Pony, and Hello Kitty.


I'm a girl who likes Hello Kitty and Star Wars. I know little boys who adore My Little Pony as well as Marvel. Why the hell are they making these gender assumptions? Why not offer a single box? Or keep two boxes, call them options 1 and 2 instead of toys for boys and toys for girls, and offer a mix of all the brands in each box. Because the way it's described now, I would have to subscribe to a boys' box to get more of the toys I want. I can wrap my head around that. But imagine trying to explain the reasoning to a little girl asking, "Why do I have to order the boys' box, aren't I supposed to like these things?" "Well, honey, toy companies don't think you should but it's really okay."

I talked about my frustration on Twitter and someone shared a dialogue she had with Nerd Block about this topic in February. I encourage you to read the entire exchange, but the gist is that Nerd Block says their initial decision was to have a unisex Block, but the audience outcry was to have them divided between boys and girls. I understand listening to your customers, but why not stand up and be different in the toy market instead of joining the rest of the drones who say sci-fi and superhero stuff is for boys and dolls and fluffy things are for girls.

One more example of screwed up gendered marketing. I bring you the case of McDonald's and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 toys.

So, let me applaud the positive side of these offerings first. McDonald's is offering Spider-Man items to both boys and girls in Happy Meals. A more typical situation at the fast food franchise is something like Spider-Man toys for the boys while girls can get Littlest Pet Shop toys. But, wow, McDonald's sure did it wrong.

Look at the top half of the above image with Spidey offerings for boys. Now examine the bottom half with Spider-Man options for girls. There is a world of difference. All the girls' items are pink or purple. Many of them feature hearts, and on more than one item, the heart is around Spider-Man's face or symbol. Boys get a mask so they can become Spider-Man. Girls get a headband so they can show their feelings for Spider-Man. Like Tor.com says, this is essentially the equivalent of giving little girls shirts that say "I want to date a superhero" instead of "I want to be a superhero." And yes, those shirts exist.

Do I like pink and purple and hearts? Heck, yes I do. But that's not all I like. I want to play dress up and pretend to be a superhero, too. All of the items in the girls' section show an incredible misunderstanding of how to reach fangirls and future fangirls. Why not just have toys in happy meals and make things more universal?

And that's the bigger question. How do we ditch these labels and colors? How do we leave pink and blue behind? I don't know the answers, but I want to figure it out.


  1. Gender marketing sucks! This is something that bugged me even when I was a kid. I'm hoping the newest generation grows up with parents who are more likely to just let the kids play with what they want vs what the ads tell them to.

  2. I totally agree. We just need to let kids play with whatever they like and not attach gender crap to it. I remember when I was a kid, I hated dolls. So when my mom took me to McDonalds and it was Barbies/Hot Wheels time, I would always make sure she told the cashier that I wanted "the boy toys." I'm glad that my mom was supportive of my choices, but it's stupid that a company would automatically assume I wanted to play with Barbie because I was a little girl. If they are worried that some kids won't enjoy some their toys and give options, they should just present the options without attaching gender or making assumptions.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I showed this to my wife last night - specifically the Spider Man toys - and she totally agreed. She squinched up her face in the way she does when she doesn't like something and said, "If a girl likes Spider Man she'll want Spider Man. It doesn't have to be all pinkified."

  5. I just complained to McDonald's last month that my son cannot get a Happy Meal with a pony without the person screaming back "it's for a girl!"

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