Are parents really that bothered about pink/blue marketing? Jim Wilson, owner and manager of independent toy and gift retailer Born Gifted wasn’t convinced. So he asked his customers – and the answers surprised him. We asked him to explain more about why he commissioned the research, and what he found.
Born Gifted has been trading successfully for over 12 years, with many thousands of satisfied customers. We know the value of listening to our customers and always ensure that they are at the centre of any business decision we make.
I would have to be hiding under a rock not to notice the growing interest and press coverage concerning the toy gender debate over the last couple of years. However, I have to admit that I was very sceptical of the whole issue and was rather quick to dismiss it as something that only a minority of consumers/parents were really bothered about.
Indeed I thought it was unlikely to impact the industry long term.
However in the second half of 2014 I noticed more and more retailers were making changes to the way they sold toys directly as a result of pressure from campaign groups such as ‘Let Toys be Toys’. Perhaps there was more to this debate than I had originally anticipated…
After reading various articles on the ‘Let Toys be Toys’ website I decided the best approach would be to ask my own customers’ opinions on the matter. After all as a retailer I have to put their needs first! So in November 2014 I surveyed over 500 Born Gifted customers and if I’m honest the results did surprise me!
Stereotypes out of fashion
Historically, certain toy types have been associated with particular genders, for example girls were steered towards role-play, nurturing and craft-based toys whereas construction, action and science-based toys were deemed more appropriate for boys. My own survey results clearly showed that this is no longer the case.
90% of respondents disagreed with the idea that ‘science toys are more appropriate for boys’ and two-thirds felt ‘action and construction’ toys were just as suitable for girls.
Furthermore 90% felt that ‘craft-based’ toys were equally suited to boys and three-quarters felt that role-play toys were appropriate for boys as well as girls.
Even the ‘dolls/nurturing’ category of toys (which until now has unswervingly been the reserve of the females) was voted equally suited to boys by over half the respondents.
Although a fairly modest survey, my results were nonetheless striking and certainly seemed to point to a paradigm shift in consumers’ views on toy gender stereotypes.
Branding and marketing – what do shoppers think?
The poll went on to explore the influence of branding and marketing on consumer toy buying decisions.
Over three quarters of respondents said they would not purchase a pink toy kitchen for a boy. This is perhaps not surprising. What was interesting though was that a whopping 85% said they would make the same purchase if the kitchen was a gender-neutral colour.
So customers are ready to ignore gender stereotypes but are perhaps hampered from doing so by the outdated stereotypical (pink/blue) colour schemes chosen by some toy manufacturers.
In fact three quarters of those surveyed said would rather see gender-neutral colours on all toys!
This survey certainly opened my eyes to how my customers feel about the subject. We have never marketed our toys using specific categories for boys and girls, rather we categorise by toy type and age. However one of the changes I have made as a direct result of the survey is to amend some toy descriptions on the website and where possible remove any mention of ‘perfect for a boy’ or ‘suitable for girls’ etc in order to be more inclusive. However, I would still be uneasy marketing a pink kitchen as suitable for a boy!
One of the take home messages for me is that customers have a preference for more gender-neutral colour schemes. To be honest this is something that we have embraced anyway over the last few years and we continue to actively seek suppliers with a preference for more interesting colour ways. At the end of the day though we are a business and we have to try and cater for everyone which we feel means offering at least a few pink toys aimed at girls.
What about the manufacturers?
Up until now the pressure for change has mainly targeted retailers and the way they display toys on the shelves and on their websites, but perhaps we need some of that pressure directed towards the manufacturers. Without changes at the ‘grass roots’ level it is difficult to envisage the industry changing completely.
For me this has been a very useful exercise and it just shows that you can never get too complacent as a business owner. Change is already afoot in the children’s toy industry and I think this is probably for the better.
Jim Wilson is the Managing Director/ Owner at Born Gifted.
The Let Toys Be Toys Toymark good practice award recognises retailers which market toys in an inclusive way. Browse a list of recommended online and high-street retailers.