Meccano have been in the news recently for their marketing of their new toy ranges at ‘boys 8+’. We think it’s a shame that so many creative toy companies seem to be unable to think outside the limiting pink and blue boxes and imagine ways to market toys that don’t exclude boys or girls.
Ben Varadi, vice president of Spin Master, the Canadian toy company that owns Meccano, said the marketing would be aimed “more so at boys because the construction industry has tended to be more boy-orientated”, adding that “any smart kid” or “anybody who is into exploration, creativity, building and love of engineering” would want to play with the robot.
Clearly some ‘smart kids’ are more welcome than others though.
Varadi admitted the toy industry was ‘robotic’ in its marketing because it believes that campaigns aimed at boys and girls would be confusing. “We tend to chase the 80% [boys buying Meccano] not the 20%, because sometimes when you try and incorporate the 10% or 20% it confuses the message.”
We don’t think there’s anything confusing about boys and girls playing with the same toys, and that finding the market for a toy doesn’t need to mean telling some children it’s not for them.
Marketing toys ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ gives children the limiting idea that only certain toys are suitable for them, limiting their chances to play, learn and develop. That’s surely the opposite of fun.
Physics professor Athene Donald, who has spoken out before about the importance of encouraging girls in scientific and technical subjects agreed:
— Athene Donald (@AtheneDonald) January 20, 2015
Supporter Becka, a medical student and former Meccano enthusiast, shared the letter below, which she sent to SpinMaster, Meccano’s parent company in August last year. They never replied, but they have since changed the gender filters on their website.
Instead of returning nothing under ‘Girls’, it now returns one, pink, product.
Letter to Spin Master
Dear Sir or Madam,
Re: Gender-specific marketing of Meccano toys
I wish to complain about the counter-productive marketing of Meccano toys that I recently encountered whilst shopping for a present for my young cousin, particularly the bucket construction sets. The blue and red buckets feature the pictures of boys making boats, bikes, towers and planes, whilst the pink bucket holds the image of a girl creating a butterfly and fairy wand.
Having myself grown up with a lovely yellow set of plastic Meccano, I was rather dismayed at this backwards step. As children, my sister and I would make fabulous constructions – bikes, cars, bridges. This was not only great fun, but it also helped us to develop an early understanding and interest in mechanics and engineering. I remember Meccano being a toy that allowed me to create and imagine but also to challenge myself and think logically – “Can I make it stand up?”, “How can I get the wheels to turn?”, “Will it stay together?” etc.
We never thought to make wands or butterflies from our set, and I can promise you I would have been very unimpressed at such a dull idea.
Whilst I am sure you would be tempted to argue that a traditional colour scheme and suggestive imaging does not inherently constitute marketing “for girls” or “for boys”, I would advise that the line is so thin as to be non-existent. We sadly live in a culture where increasingly, and regressively, adults feel the need to impose gender roles on children rather than just letting them play and explore with an open mind. I would suggest that Meccano’s buckets add to this problem as the implication to the buyer is certainly that the pink bucket is for girls whilst the others are for boys. Why not go back to the days of the yellow set and include instructions to make both boats and butterflies?
The Meccano model sets are in general much more effectively marketed by simply showing you how the toy works – the sets look like great fun for both boys and girls. It is again sad, however, to see that where a child is shown playing with the sets they seem always to be male While looking for information about Meccano and Spin Master when writing this letter, I also encountered the delightful gender filter on the Spin Master website.
I strongly object to the idea of segregating boys’ and girls’ toys in this way. Having worked in marketing, I can understand how such a decision was made – it is increasingly perceived in retail environments that there is a market demand for this, that it helps consumers to make purchasing decisions. However, I fear that this is misguided logic, and it is perpetuating a feeling in modern society that boys and girls should play with different toys and that it is somehow unnatural for boys to enjoy dolls and girls construction sets.
The children who I have known that played with toys outside of what might be deemed their “natural” market have grown to be well-rounded young people, and I believe if anything that their choices in toys contributed to their positive development.
I went into a toy shop to buy my cousin a gift that he would enjoy playing with. I made a choice based on his personality and interests – his gender played no part in that decision. Needless to say, I did not buy him a Meccano set, although I am sure he would have enjoyed playing with it as much as I did as a child. Please, for the sake of your business and for the sake of your consumers, have a good look at your marketing practices. I don’t think they’re doing anyone much good.
I shall be sending a copy of this letter to the Let Toys Be Toys campaign. I would strongly suggest that you have a read of their excellent website and perhaps talk to retailers and producers who have already changed their marketing practices for the better. I am sure you would find the experience enlightening and beneficial.
Medical Student and Hopeful Former-Meccano Enthusiast