Steve Reece shines a spotlight on how more and more social media campaigns are forcing toy firms take an initiative when it comes to issues driving and supporting social change.
At last our industry is seizing the social media initiative from minority view pressure groups who have been very skilful and effective in terms of building a social media push towards changing something in the toy industry.
The challenging thing about these social media campaigns is that they are very hard to ignore, but don’t necessarily represent a majority view or the view of the greater proportion of toy consumers.
The Let Toys Be Toys movement and others with a similar agenda have effectively won on the gender labelling of toys - political correctness now necessitates that we no longer have a boys’ and girls’ aisle in retail nearly everywhere.
This, despite the fact that if you roam the aisles in TRU, you will find confused parents scratching their heads and asking if ‘Action and Adventure’ is the boys’ aisle, and despite the fact that sometimes embracing the stereotypes can in itself create a platform for change.
LEGO received a huge amount of flak regarding its LEGO Friends brand in terms of its obvious targeting of girls using the traditional ‘pink is for girls’ approach so often utilised by the toy industry.
The irony of the social media reaction in this case though is that LEGO had identified that not enough girls were using LEGO, and therefore were missing out on having an early platform supporting play patterns that lead towards engineering and science related disciplines and careers.
The huge success of LEGO Friends suggests that it has been highly effective in terms of encouraging the construction/building play pattern with girls, so what’s a toy company to do.
The reality is that times have changed. Toy companies (like all consumer focused companies) need to be both squeaky clean, highly responsive and also proactive in terms of grabbing the social media agenda and making it work in a good way, both for selling more toys but also for brand reputation.
This third factor of proactivity has been a little slow to come to the fore across the toy industry. Yet that seems to have changed in a big way heading into 2016.
Mattel has not only changed the body shapes for Barbie, but has also updated the theming, vocations and straplines. LEGO also recently confirmed that their massive top selling Minifigures line will include characters in wheelchairs for the first time, which is to be applauded in terms of social responsibility.
Whether these initiatives will sell any more product is not the point.
Instead, it seems that due to the power of social media, toy companies must invest their own money to drive social change and to avoid the negative publicity that social media backlash (whether misguided or not) can whip up.