Research shows TV toy advertisers moving away from stereotypes

New research from Let Toys Be Toys shows real progress since 2015, with more ads featuring both boys and girls, and fewer categories where either boys or girls are excluded altogether. However, stereotypes are still widespread.

Let Toys Be Toys’ volunteer researchers analysed over 300 ads to examine what they’re telling kids about what it means to be a boy or a girl, repeating research carried out in 2015. They found:

More girls and boys were shown playing together: 49% of ads featuring children have both boys and girls, up from 36% in 2015.

Girls are joining the boys: 26% of ads for vehicles (11 out of 38) featured at least one girl, up from just 4% in 2015 (1 out of 25). And 63% (5 out of 8) ads for construction toys featured girls, up from just one out of 7 in 2015. All the ads (5 out of 5) for toy weapons featured both boys and girls. In 2015, 6 ads in this category featured only boys, and one only girls.

But the ‘pink zone’ is still mostly ‘no go’ for boys: While the number of ads featuring only boys dropped from 29% to 12%, there was a slight increase in the proportion of ads featuring only girls (30%, up from 28% in 2015). There were no boys included in any of the ads for fashion dolls, or fashion/beauty toys. A higher proportion of ads featured no children at all (18% of ads, up from 11% in 2015), 37% of these were ‘feminine’ coded in a similar way to the ‘girl only’ ads, with pink/sparkly colour schemes, female voiceovers, and so on.

In better news, out of 13 ads for baby dolls, three featured boys (23%), up from 0 out of 4 in 2015.

Let Toys Be Toys campaigner Jess Day says: “It’s really good to see some real progress since we looked at ads in 2015, with a higher proportion of ads including both boys and girls, and more girls appearing in ads for vehicles and construction toys, for example. There’s definitely more to do, though, particularly in tackling the overwhelming ‘pinkification’ of ads and products aimed at girls.”

The Let Toys Be Toys campaign aims to influence the toy and publishing industries to “stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys”. Its Let Books be Books initiative has persuaded 11 leadings publishers to phase out gendered titles.

Let Toys Be Toys  has four simple “asks” to encourage advertisers to think more creatively about how they promote toys to avoid stereotypes, including avoiding using pink and blue colours, and increasing diversity.

In addition, a new guide – Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising – has been published by LIONS and The Fawcett Society to support advertising, marketing and communications practitioners who want to actively challenge gender stereotypes throughout the creative process. More information can be found here.

About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and Get in touch at

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