According to new research carried out by Let Toys Be Toys, a majority of ads still show boys and girls playing separately and in very stereotypical ways.
The action group analysed over 30 hours of children’s programming in the UK in September and October 2015 to see what toy ads are telling children about boys’ and girls’ play. To minimise subjectivity, ads were categorised according to whether they included only boys (29%), only girls (26%), both girls and boys (32%), or no children at all (13%).
Ads featuring boys are predominantly for action figure dolls, construction sets and toy weapons with baby or fashion dolls completely absent.
In comparison, ads that target girls are predominantly for dolls, glamour and grooming and have an overwhelming emphasis on appearance, performance, nurturing and relationships. Girls are largely shown as passive.
The ads that do feature boys and girls together are dominated by a few categories, including board games, art materials, interactive toys and soft toys. Ads for action games all had boys and girls playing, but boys outnumbered girls 3:2 in the ads and included 100% male voiceovers, proving that something that can be perceived as gender-neutral is still predominantly male, according to Let Toys be Toys.
There are also wider consequences to stereotypical advertising, says the action group.
“We know that children’s decisions are affected by labels and messages about whether a toy is suitable for a boy or a girl – we know this as parents, and it’s backed up by research,” says Let Toys Be Toys campaigner Jess Day.
“Marketing toys by gender limits children’s choices, limits their chances to learn and develop and feeds bullying.”
Brands urged to be more creative
The action group says it is not singling out “particular brands”, as the problem lies with the advertising industry as a whole.
“The problem isn’t one ad with boys playing with cars. It’s 22 ads with boys playing with cars, and only one with a boy and a girl together,” she says.
“This is supposed to be a creative industry. We’d ask why people are so satisfied with following such a boring template and suggest it’s about time some we saw some innovation.”
According to Day, more brands need to consider how they can include both boys and girls in ads where possible.
“Not every ad needs to have an exact gender balance, but when only one out of eleven ads for action figures, for example, includes a girl, then that isn’t accidental.”
Jess Day, campaigner, Let Toys Be Toys
While the group recognises that there has been an increase in the wider variety of toys targeted at girls, there has been little change in terms of brands assuming that boys and girls need different toys.
Day explains: “Toy manufacturers need to raise their game, acknowledge that girls and boys are more alike than they are different, and that telling them that boys and girls can’t have the same interests and skills is ultimately harmful.”
Changing shop layouts
The action group previously targeted retailers in 2012 in a bid to change shop layouts by ending the use of signage such as “Boys’ toys” and “Girls toys’” or by using colour-coding areas pink and blue.
Morrisons was the latest brand to switch from gender to price-based toy marketing in its stores back in February 2014, after retailers including Tesco, Toys R Us, Next, Boots, Sainsbury’s and Debenhams also all agreed to change the way they present toys.
Day concludes: “With 14 UK retailers now committed to remove Boys and Girls signage from toy stores, and nine publishers rejecting book titles ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ we’re happy that we’ve seen real progress since the campaign launched in 2012.
“Ultimately, kids deserve better. We’re calling on toy companies to act more responsibly, and use their creativity and innovation to market toys without promoting harmful and limiting stereotypes.”