Let’s have a discussion about toy marketing

Last Christmas I was tasked with buying my young cousins (one boy, one girl) some stocking stuffer-esque presents to entertain them during the family get-together. I still feel very much in tune with my kid-self, and I was excited to browse through the toy aisles and consider what I want (er, would want if I was 8). Being the grad student that I am, I naturally procrastinated my one Christmas shopping task until almost too late, and ended up running to Target 30 minutes before they closed the night before the family gathering.

What I found as I drifted through the three aisles dedicated to children’s toys was appalling. I wanted to find a toy for girls that promoted either physical or intellectual activity and was not a toxic shade of pink or purple. I wanted to find a toy for boys that didn’t condone violence. Besides board or cardgames, I had literally zero options in the toy section. I considered school supplies and crafts, but realized that purchasing a tye-dye kit would make assumptions involving spills and mess that I couldn’t vouch for to the kids’ parents. So, I ended up buying gender-neutral gift cards so my cousins could choose for themselves how they wanted to spend the gift, and my aunts and uncles could oversee the purchases.

I left feeling both indignantly angry at the status quo of societal cues about gender norms to kids at such a young age, and disappointed in a market economy that perpetuates these cycles.

Having recently watched all the viral goldie blox ads, and remembering paper ads from when I was a kid for rock crystal growing kits or chemistry sets, I was so excited to see a change for the best in toy aisles. But, like many secluded academics who have to eventually leave their ivory towers to buy toys in the real world, I was disappointed in how toy companies will increase the gender gap and perpetuate horrible stereotypes in order to expand their market.

A couple weeks later, this article summed up my thoughts nicely: http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net/little-girl-1981-lego-ad-grown-shes-got-something-say/

“Children haven’t changed, but adults who market to them have… What do we have to lose, besides stereotypes?”

It’s nice to see some toymakers can actually be creative and socially-conscious  in their market-carving exploits. I hope they find the market amenable to their efforts (this one’s on the adults buying the toys, though).


Average Barbie
Image credit: Nickolay Lamm

 I’m not in a regular toy-buying position, but I feel like a major paradigm shift in (gender based) marketing strategies could not only enact social change but would be extremely well received. Why aren’t we seeing more of this? Why aren’t adults creating this demand? (I’m really tempted to end this with: FOR THE CHILDREN).


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