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OPINION Gender specific toys ain’t over yet

Steve Reece takes a look into the hot topic of gendered toys and asks, what is really being changed?

MUCH HAS been made of late of the ‘innate evil’ of the toy industry in terms of gender bias and toys. Opportunist

commentators have jumped on this bandwagon to blow their own trumpets, and to presumably advance their own ends. However, we see something closer to the real picture on a daily basis – based on hundreds of focus groups conducted with boys, girls and parents, we see a gender reality which has not fundamentally changed versus ten to 15 years ago. What is clear is that our industry will always attract the vocal minority, the opportunist agenda-

ites and the political correctness crowd for as long as the toy labels ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ remain.

The issue with that is that

while society as a whole has moved far away from allowing generalisations that are generally true to prevail versus avoiding offending any minority group of any type, we as commercial toy folks still need to take account of the fact that boys, girls and parents overwhelmingly still think in terms of boys and girls toys, regardless of what descriptor is hanging above the aisle. There is undoubtedly

more acceptance in this day and age that girls in particular can choose to

like action brands, even if the majority of their gender do not to the same extent as the majority of males. Recent developments including the Nerf Rebelle

tell us in focus groups that ‘girls, and girls stuff like dolls and pink fluffy toys are rubbish’, and perhaps more critically, parents still see toys in gender specific terms.

Our industry will always attract the political correctness crowd for as long as the toy labels ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ remain.

direction, and less recent developments such as female Power Rangers show that the kids entertainment industry in general and the toy industry in particular will always supply profitable niches which buck the prevailing wind. But let’s not get carried away with this – boys still

While the movie studios appear to be increasingly willing to push the boundaries in terms of challenging the gender status quo, and while this could awaken the action hero within many girls who otherwise felt they had to repress it, the vast

majority of boys are not going to be dressing up as princesses and collecting pink ponies at any time in the foreseeable future – either of their own or their parents volition. Moreover, parents

who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s were raised with 1980s and 1990s gender values. When the kids of

today become parents, the softening of gender lines may become more entrenched, but until then, regardless of what should or shouldn’t be, back in the real world away from the hyperbole and controversy nothing much is changing apart from the label above the aisle or on the page.

Steve Reece runs a leading consultancy delivering consumer research and other services to kids entertainment brands & toy companies. Contact him via: www Play different

Stui’s Yoav Dori shines a spotlight on the importance of keeping traditional play in mind when developing digitally enhanced toys

HERE’S A question for you - when was the last time your kids begged you to play a board game? Or with a construction set, a play-set, or any other traditional toy? Now, when was the last

time your kids begged you for five minutes with an iPad, smartphone or any other mobile device? Whether we like it or not, these new devices are capturing children’s interest and motivation to play, which accordingly takes up somewhat of the traditional play time. This is the new world. Most children love traditional toys as well, it’s just easier to tap a button. There’s a widespread debate about the new tech


toys - whether kids are having too much screen time or if it’s detrimental to their development. Each household deals with this differently, and while almost no one will stop their kids from playing with traditional toys, there’s a second thought when handing over an iPad. Balancing play and making sure kids get a healthy ‘diet’ of both traditional and tech toys is extremely important. However, I want to raise another option - how about we give our kids new experiences that capture the best of both worlds. Take dexterity and add

interactive puzzles, enjoy engaging games while still

moving real toys around. Today’s technological advancements open up so many possibilities to create innovative experiences. Of course, I’m not the

only one who’s thought of this, but I believe that the real problem today is that too many toy makers that have decided to take the plunge into making digitally

enhanced toys, don’t really look to enhance the existing traditional gameplay. A lot use the mobile

device to just replace an existing feature in the card or board game for example, which could have been played exactly the same without the device. Even more disturbing

are examples of toys and

games that not only don’t add to the traditional fun experience, but push more digital content that is consumed during gameplay - ‘tech bait’ if you will. I believe that the way

kids play is ever evolving, and the world around us is moving forward. Our task is to make sure that it’s evolving the right way. For toy makers, it’s

to create meaningful interactions, and not rely on the inherently fun and easy features of the new devices. For parents, it’s to make

sure they get the best toys for their kids, whether they’re digitally enhanced or just some good old fun.

oav Doris is the CEO and co-founder of Stui, a toy firm committed to creating innovative experiences that combine the physical and digital worlds. Contact him at 14 August

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