Thursday, October 15, 2015

Buying for Boys and Girls couple of months ago, I listened to an interesting discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi radio show about gender marketing for kids. The show followed Target's announcement that they were going to take down signage for their toys and bedding with the words "Boy" or "Girl" in them so they would be more gender neutral. They were also going to remove the pink backgrounds from some areas. I found the discussion about how these conventions developed very interesting.

Pink for girls and blue for boys has not always been the norm. It first was suggested in the late 1800's but didn't become common until the late 1950's. A study in the 1920's in department stores showed that gifts for baby girls and baby boys were about 50/50 pink and blue for each one. Meaning, baby boys and girls were getting equal amounts of pink and blue gifts. And later when there was more differentiation, it was very culturally dependent. Blue is the color associated with the Virgin Mary, so in countries with a large Catholic population, blue was for girls. And red was associated with stronger things like blood, and since pink was a variation of that, it was associated with boys.

Also, there was more neutrality in clothing than today. In the 1950's and 1960's, girls had to wear dresses to school and boys wore nicer clothes also. Then they came home and put on play clothes. A look at catalogs back then showed a small section of dresses for girls, a small section of nicer clothes for boys and a large section of play clothes that were for both girls and boys--no differentiation. These went through size 10-12. Today almost all clothing is geared toward either a boy or a girl.

A look at the way toys were marketed also showed some interesting trends. When ads were studied from the 1920's through the 1960's, it was found that the toys that were marketed to girls had to do with household duties and boy's toys were geared more to building sets and cars. However, only about 50% of the toys had any kind of gender identification. Fast forward to today and a look at a Disney Store's website shows 100% of the toys are targeted to either a girl or a boy. But today instead of trying to sell girls little brooms or irons, they are selling princesses.

In between these times at the height of feminism in the 1970's, only 2% of the toys were marketed for specifically girls or boys. This neutrality declined until the mid 1990's when about half of the toys were now gender specific--just like it was in the 1950's. One other thing mentioned was that however toys were marketed when someone was growing up is what they think is the norm. Everything is compared to that.

So what does this all mean? I"m not sure but I do find it interesting that in the 1950's when there weren't as many opportunities for women, half of the toys were still gender neutral. And now in 2015, when there are many more opportunities for women, almost all of the toys are marketed specifically to either a boy or a girl.

This is a very complex subject with many layers--too many to explore in this one blog post. So I'll leave you now to ponder marketing of kids products over the years. What were things like when you were growing up and did you change how you bought things for your kids or grandkids?