The curly pinks and cloudy blues of gender based marketing

Consumers need to be aware of gender based marketing and how this influences the market segments and the consumer psychology of today’s products. This is especially true for toys.

Many consumers are more knowledgeable these days about children’s toys and are on the hunt for specific characteristics of a toy (educational, awareness, development, safety), but before a toy is purchased it is usually wrapped in smoke and mirrors by marketers and on the shopping floor; which cleverly dictates in what isle your child is supposed to select their toy based on their gender.

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Consider the many toy isles of popular stores, you will usually find that these have been segmented according to gender. The toys for boys isles are full of blue packaging, trucks, cars and cricket bats, while the girls isles are populated with Barbie dolls and every shade of pink.

Some feel very strongly about this topic and have even called for a stop to gender based marketing. Two campaigns of thought include the UK Let toys be toys campaign and Australia No gender December campaign both believe that stereotypes limit thinking of our children. Some believe that this is an outdated concept and that we end up labelling our children.

While some products and large stores hold onto their traditional footing of gender based marketing, some organisations (with the use of clever marketing techniques) have moved to gender-neutral products. Toy makers know that by segmenting the market into demographic groups, they can sell more versions of the same toy. While one approach has been to sell the exact same product in a different gender-segment, the other approach is to market products around themes.

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What other gender based marketing techniques and approaches have you seen of late? Do you consider gender-neutral the way forward for your children? or are you more comfortable with traditional toys for boys and toys for girls approach? Do marketers dictate what we buy in the end? Does market segmentation work well in this space?

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26 thoughts on “The curly pinks and cloudy blues of gender based marketing

  1. Yes, I’m one of those parents who desperately try to maintain some gender neutrality, if only to cut down on the clutter of toys at my house (I have a boy and a girl). I hate the pink princessy stuff, that seems to limit choices for girls, but boys are also incredibly limited by blacks, browns and blues in the types of toys marketed to them.
    Unfortunately (for me!), kids are heavily influenced by their peers, and not their feminist mothers – see The Gender Delusion by Cordelia Fine. So, my daughter started wanting pink when she started kinder, and comes out with all sorts of pronouncements about what girls can do and what boys can do.
    It may be clever marketing – and we seem to be buying the stuff, so it’s working – but, personally, I hate the way it limits kids’ individuality from such a young age.

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  2. I too would like to think that giving children the opportunity to develop their own individuality is important, but it is not only peer pressure. It is also societal influence.

    If you look outside or on the television, women and men are stereotyped differently. Kids absorb these images and behaviours and reflect them within themselves.

    Kids will usually understand that there is a difference between mums and dads pretty early. The anatomy is pretty distinct! So I think the segmentation of gender by toy shops is just a reflection of the demands of society.

    Not sure how well a pink dump truck will sell.

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  3. Hi…
    Even i want to main gender Neutrality.

    There has been obvious progress towards gender equality in the adult world.
    Yet when it comes to the world of children, the toys they play with and the clothes they wear – stereotypes have never been so defined, or rigidly enforced. Pink and blue have triumphed in the toy market, and there are often serious social penalties for children who breach the divide. The rise of highly gendered toys is a result of capitalism, but it also suggests a deep, subconscious unease with the advances of the past few decades.

    YES, market segments work well in the same space.
    For an instance, In US, McDonald’s intention and goal that each customer who desires a Happy Meal toy be provided the toy of his or her choice, without any classification of the toy as a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ toy.

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  4. It’s an interesting topic but if we consider from the toy making company’s perspective? There is good chance that a HUGE amount of research has gone into picking that particular shade of blue or pink for a toy. If you are releasing a product, you want it to sell. I would be surprised if many manufacturers change their product lines just to have what may be deemed as ‘gender neutral’. Each culture can differ in terms of what a colour represents and means. In todays society, I would of thought that people would be less disturbed by colours of toys. I believe that market segmentation works in this regard, probably not so much on the children themselves rather the parents or adults who purchase for children. We as a society of adults have been brought up on certain values, cultural expectancies and experiences. These will certainly influence our opinions and choices when it comes to purchasing. I would suspect that most people would, even subconsciously, simply make purchase choices for children’s toys based on what they are used to. With that in mind, the power marketers and manufacturers have to potentially change our cultural expectancies over a long period of time I believe would have an affect. Personally, I don’t think people should get so worked up on whether a child is playing with a toy coloured pink over blue and so on. At the end of the day, kids grow out of using toys and we should be able to educate them on ethics, equality and other values without stressing on the fact they may be playing with a toy coloured in a way that has been typically associated with males or females.

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    • I agree with what you have said because at the end of the day what colour toys the kids play with does not determine what sort of person they’ll be in their adult years.Teaching them things that will help them get on in life as responsible citizens is what should be our aim as parents and adults.

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  5. And the gender marketing continues well beyond our childhoods. The cleaning product and appliance ads always focus on the women and family car ads always have the dad driving, unless “mum” is picking the kids up from school or soccer and thinking about what product she is going to use to get the muddy stains out of their clothes. I think society has moved on from these stereotypes and the toy manufacturers are catching up. Love the ironing picture in magazine, we fight over who is going to do the ironing all the time in our household.

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  6. No matter how hard I try…..my wife always beats me to the ironing!!

    I would like to think that society has moved on from these stereotypes, but I am not so sure that we have. Marketers have a tendency to spend their budgets promoting products that generate sales. If they are still pushing gender segmentation and targeting then, I would imagine that society as a whole is still influenced by it.

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  7. I am definitely joking Anawarat!! I don’t think I could even find the iron in my house. Having said that, I make sure everything I own is “iron free” so my wife probably doesn’t know there the iron is either.

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  8. The problem seems to be becoming much more pronounced, and even for someone who doesn’t have children – i find the children’s section whilst gift shopping completely frightening.

    I saw an old lego poster from the 70’s, of a young red head girl in overalls, proud as punch of her lego creation. NOW there is a dedicated line of lego for girls, packaged in pink of course, and the children build cafes and beauty parlours etc.
    The original lego was designed to create whatever the child could imagine – now they are dictated about what and how they create something. Children’s imaginations are being limited, and it’s so upsetting to see.

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  9. I feel this topic is being discussed on a very superficial level. It seems obvious that the colours are designed to be marketed to two segments, one for girls and one for boys. The problem is girls and boys don’t have any money, their parents do.

    Why would a company bother wastefully spending money on separate marketing and packaging when the people they are selling to don’t have money? Is this all done instead to target the parents?

    What we know about the parents.

    1. They have all the money
    2. There are other places they would rather be then at the shops buying toys
    3. They don’t really care, it’s just a toy

    The marketers therefore design strategies, products and shops to target these three categories. They do this by:

    1. Making things easy for the parent
    2. Making the experience as quick as possible
    3. Making most of the decisions for the child already

    One way to fill all three categories at once is to make a product for girls and a product for boys. Straight away there is half of a shop that the parents don’t need to go to.
    I think the marketers are seeing the truth that we aren’t; it is more important to target the parent segment.

    Parents want to be able to take their children to a shop where there is a specific section with specific toys with a high likelihood that the child will find something they want within 5 minutes. Is it ethical? I don’t know. Is it effective? We still buy toys.

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    • I see one flaw: I never take my kids to a toy shop – I’d never get out!.
      Don’t underestimate the power of the kiddie consumer – while they don’t have money, they pack a lot of punch when it comes to influence. Why else would there be a gazzillion toy adverts on Saturday morning cartoons?
      I think you’re right, though, about the role that parents play. This generation of parents seem more keen to let kids have the latest thing – perhaps because of status, or fear that their kids will be left out? Splitting the choices down makes it ‘easier’. Yet it also limits those choices. Is it ethical? No, I don’t think so. Is it effective? Yep.

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  10. Gender neutrality sounds good in principle but is not practical in reality. They did an experiment with monkeys and gave them a mixture of boys and girls toys. They found that male monkeys spent 3 times more time with boys toys then they did with female toys, and vice versa. They believed that its more biological predisposition at play and the different roles the gender play. Having both a girl (6) and a boy (3) I have seen without prompting from us my daughter gravitate towards a dolls and princesses, and my son super heroes and cars. My son has grown up around girl toys, plays with evereything, yet still has a fascination with cars (not from me).

    I couldn’t find the exact article I read but here is a siilar one (sorry).

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13596-male-monkeys-prefer-boys-toys.html#.VShqHBjXerU

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    • Also, peer preferences are very influential when it comes to kids’ interests, even over parent modelling (http://www.cyberpsychology.eu/view.php?cisloclanku=2012081001&article=2). Consider all the comments directed to kids which are gender-specific, not negative or anything, but even ‘you’re such a boy’, ‘what a good girl’, etc, emphasise that are identified with being a boy or a girl first and foremost, and then a kid.
      I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, just that it happens – and happens right from the start. It’s the first thing people want to know about a baby – boy or girl! So there’s definitely societal behaviours and attitudes at play that marketers are tapping into.This is why I don’t necessarily think the monkey experiment proves that gender differences are innate. Those monkeys were between 1 and 4 years old (plus some older ones), so would have also been exposed to their own monkey society’s behaviours and attitudes.
      Cordelia Fine’s ‘The Gender Delusion’ is a fantastic exploration of how studies on gender differences have been inconclusive to date.
      I think marketing simply plays into, and then manipulates, the gender biases and presumptions we already have in society.

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  11. Hi Raymond,

    You’ve made some good points on gender marketing. The marketing of gender-neutral products can be a clever strategy employed by marketers, especially when themes or interests become the focal point. Instead of marketing a product based on what a brand’s competitors are doing and what is perceived to be appropriate to a particular gender or age group (e.g. the blue dump truck for boys and the pink Barbie for girls), the marketer can use themes or interests that resonate across genders, age groups, etc. to increase a product’s reach. This also removes the obligation of particular customers to buy specific brands or products and increases their product awareness generally. While this may increase the customer base for certain brands, a shift towards more gender-neutral products may result in increased competition (as the target group becomes more diluted) and potentially a separation with loyal customers or those who feel strongly about the brand as a champion for particular gender-based products. For marketers, there may be challenges with regards to understanding their market segment and position should they embark down the gender-neutral path. For example, there may be a need to implement surveys or further interrogate their demographic data in order to understand where their product now sits.

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  12. Interesting topic. The way toys are packaged and displayed in toy stores affects consumers buying habits and some parents may feel uncomfortable buying something that is not targeted at their childs gender. Segmentation obviously works well in this market space and increases the market share for companies, however it may also restrict the choices that are offered. For example, traditional toys for boys such as science sets are missing from the girls section and arts and crafts is missing from the boys section. Consumers are then pulled in a certain direction of what boys and girls are supposed to like according to stereotypes.

    Marks and Spencer (a department store in the UK) has now changed their marketing and advertising strategy to gender neutral toy packaging after receiving numerous customer complaints about how they were targeting boys and girls using old fashioned stereotypes. They now organise their toys based on themes, and not by gender. There is also a campaign group called “Let toys be toys” which specifically addresses this topic, so it does seem that gender neutral is definitely the way forward.

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  13. Gender natural all the way! Its all about equality, who says a boy can’t play with barbies or a girl can’t play with transformers? i love the image of the little girl and boy ironing together! thats what it should be about natural and equality.

    we are a society that needs to progress, let the kids decide what they want to interact with and what colours they choose.

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  14. Nice article Raymond..

    Having children myself, both a girl and a boy, it is increasingly noticeable how the toy world they are experiencing is changing and not necessarily for the better!

    Everything is very much segmented into pink and blue! Additionally with the advances in technology there seems to be a pleather of apps and online games that are following suit. From my perspective it seems that marketeers are now steaming a child’s creativity with this prescriptive approach with what it should be interested in/ plays with, based on their gender.

    I certainly don’t think we need to overcompensate this with producing every single combination of toy in all the colours of the spectrum but certainly would like to see a toning down of the current stereotypical narrative and it wouldn’t surprise me if it were also well received!

    Cheers..

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  15. As a parent with both boys and girls this is very interesting. I note that at some stages of the development of my children they do not care whether they are playing with toys that are seen as belonging to the opposite gender (very young ages). As they develop they do start to care which could be reflective of societal pressures.

    Having said that they do show preferences for colour aside from gender and certainly my daughter tends to like items that are plusher and fluffier than my boys. As adults it is recognised that some of the thought processes between males and females are different. Perhaps what we need is something more akin to the middle ground? Acknowledge that boys and girls are different but not enforce gender bias to such an extent that perpetuates girls being seen so much as princesses and boys as super heroes. There is a need for girls to be heroes as well and be empowered.

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  16. Similar to many other opinions posted here, I’m personally in favour of maintaining gender neutrality when choosing a toy for children. Nevertheless the argument that “de-gendering toys would prevent children from playing with gender-typical toys” is a highly debatable argument that requires a better understanding of the both sides of the story.

    For instance, Dr. Elizabeth Sweet (in her research about toys, gender and inequality) discusses that making toys gender inclusive doesn’t prevent them from selecting stereotypical gender-inclusive choices (such as pink for girls or a blue for boys), rather it just stops such a selection from being obligatory.”

    Marketers point of view also brings another angle to the dispute: that such gender stereotypes are happening because this is what girls and boys want to buy. This is an argument which many scholars have considered false and due to the lack of imagination about boys, girls and their interests.

    When I consider both sides of the story, it makes me think that the best way to achieve gender-neutral markets for children is to understand how the issue was created at the place by understanding the underlying causes of the issue. For instance according to the research finding of Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, I personally assume one should be careful to blame media for creating such culture, because it might be case that media is not the creator of this culture, but a blind promoter!

    Perhaps one the most interesting hypothesis that aims to identify the cause of such gender-inclusive actions was suggested by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, author of “Women, Careers and Competitive Advantage”:

    She believes that the root of the toy gender stereotypes should be traced in the operation, production and marketing of the toy companies. Many of these companies are managed by men and in order to obtain a gender-neutral market, such companies should be balanced by women workforce when it comes to design, production and marketing activities. Meaning that the proportion of males and females who operate and manage such companies need to be balanced, which is a rarity in the current situation of toy manufacturing companies worldwide.

    Of course this is a hypothesis and not the only practice that I assume useful, nevertheless what I do suggest is a more comprehensive study of the underlying causes of gender stereotypes in the toy marketplace..

    Source: http://national.deseretnews.com/article/3108/should-toy-marketing-be-gender-neutral.html

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  17. That is a very interesting concept that the perpetuation of gender stereotypes is driven by the gender of the managers of the toy companies. I am assuming the suggestion is that male managers are more likely to use gender segmentation. If there were more women managers then gender neutrality would be more evident.

    I think this situation prevails in a lot of companies where the bottom line is the most important thing. Would female managers push gender neutrality in toys if it affected the bottom line?

    I think it still goes back to giving society what it wants and toy companies find that gender segmentation help sell toys.

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  18. This post a certainly sparked some interesting discussions Raymond…well done! As a mother of a girl and a boy, I did and do sometimes get very frustrated at how directed the toys for kids are. With my daughter the oldest, I made sure I bought Lego that wasn’t ‘pink’ and made sure she had options in what she played with. BUT, she also gravitated towards the “girly” toys. At the end of the day Im going to stop what they want to play with. especially role playing as it so important for their development. My son, the younger one is obsessed with Frozen…his sister watches it all the time so does he now. And then before I knew it, he started walking around the house being a dinosaur! Let kids be kids. We guide and help them make the right choices but we also have to let them just be kids. No matter how frustrating the pink and blues get!

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  19. Society’s views around gender roles have evolved tremendously over the past few decades and it seems only fair for toy manufacturers to get on with the times and keep up. We cannot deny that toys inevitably influence the development of children and so the toys they play with must not be seen to actively promote long discarded gender stereotypes.

    I have a rather strong preference for gender neutral toys. Segmentation for toys should be based on other considerations which are not gender based such as income, location and culture. In any case, which toys would the children themselves prefer, the traditional ones or the gender neutral ones?

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