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Richard Gottlieb


saturating and boring. In short, the toy industry went from having boy’s toys and girl’s toys to having boy’s toys and Girly-Girl toys. Peggy Orenstein, in her newest book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” states that today’s little girls are much “pinker” than her generation was as children. Is Orenstein correct in her assessment? Are her observations just anecdotal or do they have substance. We at USA Toy Experts decided to find out by conducting a survey of 1510 mothers in 48 states. We asked moms to tell us what toys they played with as children. In a separate question we asked them what toys their daughters currently play with. Here is what we found:


Toy Guns


Construction Action Figures Cars/Trucks Science Kits


Moms 25% 34% 45% 39% 40%


Daughter 16% 27% 24% 32% 33%


What we uncovered was a definite widening of the gender gap between boys and girls in their toy choices. As is apparent, toys that could be construed as gender neutral (although boys play with them there is no reason girls cannot) have eroded in terms of interest from girls. It is fascinating that at a time in history when women are in combat roles and females are in the majority on college campuses, the gap between toy preferences has increased. If I was a construction toy company; a company that makes toy cars and trucks or one that makes educational products; I would have great concern over these figures. Not only have these companies not been able to increase their sales across the gender divide but their sales have notably shrunk. This is not to say that there are no “Girly Girls.” Rather, this is to


say, that there are many kinds of girls and “Girly Girls” are just one segment. What about girls who are into sports, technology or nature? Maria Costa Ferrer and Miriam Morante Bonet AIJU chose to ignore the twin gender buckets of male and female when considering what interested children. Rather they did a survey of over 1507 European children and divided them up as follows: • Princesses • Feminines • Sport • Technology • Naturals • TV Adventurers • Tots


What they found was that over 45 per cent of the girls surveyed were neither classified as Princesses or Feminine. How interesting can toys be to girls who do not seek out the overtly feminine but are interested in things that defy gender classification?


Infantilisation


The fascination with princesses and the magic that go with them stem from a storybook view of the world. Storybooks are for very young children who still believe in the magic. Sadly, children do leave the magic behind as they get older. By shaping a view of toy play as about princesses, we in essence make all toys a pre-school category. In other words, we have managed to discredit the notion that toys are for any girl other than a young child.


Any look at the NPD statistics of girl’s purchases over the last 10 years shows steady erosion in toy play by girls over eight years old. Bottom line, girls didn’t just get more sophisticated; the toys they have been offered have gotten less so.


What can we do about it? The most essential step for the industry to take is to take responsibility for its loss of the girl market. Thinking that one is buffeted by societal and cultural forces beyond one’s control leads to a sense of helplessness and passiveness; by owning responsibility, the industry will in essence empower itself to take action; but what actions are required?


Rethink the toy department Everyone wants to play so create a toy department or toy store that is for everyone. Step away from a child focus and broaden the appeal so that everyone thinks the department is a place they are welcome and belong.


Brand messaging, department layout, merchandising, marketing and advertising needs to be aimed, at least in part, at older demographic groups. For example, if a toy retailer decided to focus on teens, they would pull in teens and at the same time attract those who aspire to be teens…tweens and younger children.


Enough with pink


Mattel made an excellent move in the 1950’s when it chose to make “Barbie Pink” an iconic color. Unfortunately, every other toy company appealing to girls has gotten on the pink bandwagon as well. What started out as a sophisticated color has turned into one that is associated with Girly-Girl and immaturity? In short, broaden the pallet.


Enough with princesses I don’t blame Disney for pushing its Princesses franchise. It’s a great idea. Again, the entire toy industry has jumped on board and we have overwhelmed our toy departments with products that are deemed too young for girls over six.


Brainstorm We are so locked into constricted ways of seeing toys that we miss the obvious. Fashion and design are a form of construction. Females may not go into construction and architecture as much as men do but they do in overwhelming numbers go into interior design and fashion. So, as an example, rather than painting Lego pink, try creating products that work with Lego to give them a sense of fashion rather than adventure.


Research


The video game industry invests great amounts of money and time into R&D. Perhaps instead of creating and selling new products over a 12 month period we should consider breaking out of our short cycle frame of mind. Let’s invest more, take longer and not just market a new toy but change the paradigm for what is a great toy. There is a very big opportunity here for those toy companies willing to rethink how they approach the girl’s category. Those who do will discover new revenue sources and can easily establish themselves as providers of toys for girls of all ages. Are you involved in creating, designing, manufacturing, retailing and/ or toys for the 21st century girl? If you are, then let’s get started on creating toys for girls eight and up. They are waiting for us to begin.


21 richardgottlieb


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