In recent years the toy industry appears to have become an ever bigger target of criticism regarding gender labelling of toys.
We’ve had discussions with increasingly confused toy company people who have felt this backlash, but who firmly believe that they are providing a profoundly positive development experience for children based on the fundamentally critical role that play has in allowing children to develop, learn and explore.
To be transparent and open, I have myself been drawn into online spats with some of those who strongly disagree with gender labelling of toys.
My objection to their objection (if that makes any sense) is that I have conducted many hundreds of research groups with children and parents over more than 15 years, and in that time it has become blatantly apparent to me that the toy industry is merely a reflection of the broader world in terms of gender difference and definition of what the socially accepted norms are in this space i.e. the vast majority of parents reinforce the stereotypes, not always deliberately, but by default.
So I wanted to test my beliefs and learnings in the area of gender labelling of toys specifically to see whether I (and the toy industry) were fundamentally mis-representing the general feeling and sentiment on this issue, or did those who so strongly object to gender labelling fairly represent the majority.
Although some may be cynical about this, as a qualified, experienced consumer researcher (I entered the toy industry as Hasbro’s in house market researcher in Europe way back, and hold 2 market research qualifications, one with distinction) we started out with a hypothesis to test – that the vast majority of kids and parents (in the UK where the research was conducted) are happy and accepting of gender labelling of toys), and then did everything we could to disprove the hypothesis, and to find a general level of disatisfaction/objection with the status quo.
This was a self funded study, so frankly the only vested interest was ours – this study was conducted at our own cost, and in effect will help us promote our industry leading toy, game & kids entertainment content testing service: KidsPlayTest. More details can be found on this link: http://www.kidsbrandinsight.com/kidsplaytest/
Overall, the topline finding of the study was that parents and kids included in our study clearly and overwhelmingly tended to accept, create and reinforce gender labelling and stereotypes.
For sure there are exceptions to the rule, but they appear to be just that – exceptions.
You could, in all fairness, rationally argue that just because a majority of people hold an opinion, that doesn’t make it right (the example used often to try to argue this point is that the majority of the UK population are supposedly in favour of capital punishment for certain crimes for instance). Frankly though, that kind of argument is beyond the scope of our research and our area of expertise/interest.
We wanted to get a definitive answer on one question only – are gender labelling and gender stereotyping out of kilter with consumer expectations, and does the toy industry have a commercial problem based on it’s current approach, or can it continue with business as usual on the basis that it is fairly representing general consumer sentiment?
The research report is just below. Please feel free to read and draw your own conclusions.