an Ad a Day

A look at the marketing that surrounds us.

Posts Tagged ‘toys’

Barbie: Trying to Claim a Song

Posted by Rosepixie on May 27, 2010

In 1997 Aqua came out with the song “Barbie Girl”, which has become incredibly popular and nearly instantly recognizable over the years since.  That same year Mattel sued the group for copyright and trademark infringement over the song, claiming that it slandered Barbie and turned her into a “blonde bimbo” and a sex object.  They lost their lawsuit and their appeal.  Recently, however, they appear to be trying to claim the song as their own and have used clips of it with altered lyrics in commercials and just this year released a “music video” starring the doll herself singing her version of the song.  Here’s Barbie’s music video version of (a very altered) “Barbie Girl”.

I think it’s more than a little hypocritical of Mattel to sue over this song and then use it in their own marketing.  They must be licencing it from Aqua, which means they’re paying for the right to use it.  This means that they’re now paying for the right to use (and alter) a song that they were previously very much against.  The fact that they’ve changed the lyrics quite a bit suggests that they’re still not terribly fond of the song, either.  And since Mattel never mentions that the lyrics have been changed, I have to wonder if they hope people will learn their version instead of the original.

Looking at just the music video itself, without any of the politics around it, I’m not that impressed.  I still get the impression that Barbie isn’t that brilliant or deep.  And the problem isn’t actually the doll herself.  I think if they’d stuck to all dolls in the video, they might have been fine.  The problem is that the outfits Barbie and her friends can get away with just fine look really trashy on the real people in the ad.  The real people doing the choreography in the doll-like outfits does evoke “bimbos” and sex objects, not “an inspiration” or “a star” while the dolls look perfectly fine!

I think this was a pretty big misstep for Mattel.  I can understand wanting to use a song that evokes their doll and is already so popular.  The problem is that they’ve got so much history with that song that isn’t pretty (and was only a decade ago, so not as forgotten as I’m sure they’d like it to be, either) and then their execution of the song actually seems to evoke more of the negative qualities that they were originally fighting against than the original did, despite their changes to the lyrics!  While it might have been possible for Mattel to use this song to good effect, this was definitely not it.  Hopefully they’ll do better next time.


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Reading the Message: Because Girls Don’t Need Superheroes

Posted by Rosepixie on April 22, 2010

The days of comic books being for kids are long since past, but that doesn’t mean that kids don’t like or need superheroes.  Little boys still pretend to be Spider-Man and little girls still run around as Supergirl.  To help fulfill this common desire for superhero stories in kids, the major comic publishers have kids’ lines that specifically tell stories about their major, popular heroes for kids.  Sounds great, right?  One problem.  Someone at these companies seems to have failed to notice all those girls, because the default assumption in the kids’ lines is very clearly that girls don’t need superheroes.

The team that makes up the DC Super Friends consists of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, and Aquaman.  All six work together in basically every issue of the comic to solve problems and save the day.  The above cover is from the second trade paperback, which collects several issues of this comic.  Notice anyone missing?  She’s missing from the first book cover too.  Worse, she’s not in the toy line.  Not a single female character is.  There’s probably six versions of Batman in the line as well as any number of other characters not central to the stories (Cyborg, Hawkman, etc.), but not a single woman.  And they have no intention of ever making one.

Marvel’s little kid super hero team is called (creatively enough) the Super Hero Squad.  That’s them in the picture above.  In Marvel’s team there isn’t even a female character to begin with!  If you dig through the website about them there is exactly one woman listed under “Heroes” and one under “Villains”.  The female hero is Ms. Marvel who is explicitly not a part of the Super Hero Squad, although she does work for the same organization, and is actually referred to in her bio as Ms. Crankypants.  Nice.  The female villain has a crush on Thor.  I couldn’t find either anywhere on the site except for the section listing characters.

What I noticed most about both of these superhero properties is that both have women characters, but both are explicitly marketed without them.  This is most marked in DC Super Friends, since Wonder Woman is a central character in the stories, yet is completely removed from all marketing materials for the property.  She doesn’t appear on any book covers, in any merchandise or in any of the ads that I’ve been able to find.

These are particularly notable properties because they are, for both companies, the property aimed at their youngest customers.  Marvel has “all ages” versions of several of their major characters which they market to kids, but they involve more complex stories and art, pushing them to a slightly older audience than the easily pre-school and young elementary friendly Super Hero Squad.  DC has a whole line of kids’ properties, but they too are largely aimed more at older elementary and middle school kids who are comfortable reading on their own and desiring more complex stories.  The only title they have which can easily be enjoyed by such a young audience besides DC Super Friends is Tiny Titans, which is clearly written with an audience in mind that already knows the characters at least a little bit and does not show the characters being superheroes, but rather focuses on superheroes living regular kid lives.

So the question is, why market them this way?  If you don’t want girl customers, why include the female characters at all?  What’s the point of Wonder Woman even being on the team if you only plan to pretend she isn’t there?  And if you aren’t explicitly trying to alienate female customers, why specifically leave the female characters out of all marketing and some major parts of the product lines?

The biggest problem here is that this doesn’t make financial sense – a girl pays just as much for a comic book, t-shirt, action figure or costume as a boy does, so why deliberately ignore them when they are half the market and when appealing to them at the young ages these product lines target could mean you get a customer for life?  It’s not even that getting a kid hooked on comic books young means they’ll read them forever, lots of people read comics as kids and stopped at some point just like lots of adults never read them as kids but do now.  It’s more that if you tell that customer base that you don’t want them from the start, the message sinks in deeper, so you’re deliberately turning away someone who might otherwise have been interested, and then you’ve probably lost them for life.  The messages we hear as kids mean a lot, even when we don’t think about them.  So why would you ever want to make your message “we don’t want your money, superheroes aren’t for girls”?

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Moxie Girlz: I Am… Fill in the Blank

Posted by Rosepixie on March 18, 2010

I looked once before at a Moxie Girlz commercial.  Today I’ve got another one to talk about.  This commercial is specifically for the “I Am…” line of Moxie Girlz dolls.

First of all, “I am love” really doesn’t work.  It also doesn’t follow in the sequence.  Remember the “which of these things is not like the others” game?  This ad reminds me of that.  We’ve got three phrases: “I am smart”, “I am strong” and “I am love”.  The first two are [personal pronoun-transitive verb-adjective] while the third is [personal pronoun-transitive verb-noun].  Now, you can have a sentence that flows with the pattern of that third one such as “I am cheese”.  Not all nouns can stand alone without a preposition before it, such as “I am a dog”  Lastly, some nouns are more like concepts, which again breaks the pattern, since the first two items (“smart” and “strong”) are not concepts at all, such as “love” (or “violence” or “wisdom” or “strength”).

So I can see two ways they could have fixed this problem.  The first is to come up with something better, an actual quality that can be described with an adjective, for the third girl to be (“I am creative”, “I am curious”, “I am artistic”, “I am fast”).  The second way would be to use concept descriptors for the qualities of all of the girls (“I am intelligence”, “I am strength”, I am love”).  I still think “love” is a weird thing to have chosen for the third girl, but at least it wouldn’t sound as weird.

I guess part of me feels like this is a very limiting line.  Is each of these girls only this one quality?  Because I’d like to think that I’m smart and strong and loving/loved/lovable.  And I think that’s a good thing for a girl to want – diversity in her identity.

I also have to ask – what’s with the Japanese Fisher Price people?  Is there a point to them?

And I notice that poor Bria, the one black girl, didn’t get to be in this ad campaign either.  She doesn’t even seem to have a doll in this line.  In fact, she only seems to have a basic doll, a “Jammez” doll and a hair-styling torso doll, unlike the other girls who are each in at least seven different lines.  How fair is that?  Does that mean that only white and almost-white (Sophina is tiny shade browner than the other two) girls get to have “moxie”?  Or just that the company behind this line (MGA Entertainments) doesn’t really care about identifying with or getting the business of black customers?  Personally, I’d be pretty upset if I were Bria.  Apparently she doesn’t get to “be” anything.  Or show that there’s “more to her” or anything else.  And her basic doll’s outfit is the same as Sophina’s, so they kind of cheated on that one anyway.

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Vintage Friday: A Robot Dog from the 1960s!

Posted by Rosepixie on January 29, 2010

This is a commercial for Gaylord the robot dog, a toy from Ideal in the 1960s.  It’s rather different from the robot dog toys we have today, isn’t it?

The song is kind of cute, but the dog is less than impressive.  Now, I totally believe that a toy that walked by itself like this was cool in the 1960s, but how do taking a step backwards and picking up something that’s placed directly in it’s path count as tricks?  And even the song admits that he “walks kind of lazy”.  I just have to wonder how long it took for this toy to get boring.  I mean, how long can you walk really slowly beside a robot dog or watch a robot dog walk really slowly before you have the urge to do something else?  I think I’m with that cat – off to find something else to do!

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Vintage Friday: Slinky!

Posted by Rosepixie on January 1, 2010

This is an ad for Slinky Toys from the 1960s.

I think this ad is really funny.  I like that they show toys other than the typical slinky coil, but the walking toys somehow don’t look like they work very well (especially on the grass – that scene should have been reconsidered).  The birthday party particularly makes me laugh.  I think it really looks like the toy is about to get tangled up both as it’s being pulled out of the box and as it’s being plopped into the already overfull arms of the little girl!  Since slinkies do get tangled really easily and that’s probably how most of them “died”, that’s another scene that probably should have been reconsidered (or re-shot to avoid those moments).

And then at the end, after the cute jingle ends, all pretense is dropped.  The voice over basically just commands you to go out and buy a slinky because YOU WANT A SLINKY!  It’s not a suggestion, it’s a TRUTH!  SO GO BUY A SLINKY ALREADY!

Subtly is so overrated.

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Holiday Barbie: Pink Sensation!

Posted by Rosepixie on December 24, 2009

This is a commercial for the 2009 Holiday Barbie.

It’s Barbie’s 50th anniversary, so every doll has been fancier and pinker this year – a trend which seems to be culminating in this incredibly overdressed, wrapped in a giant bow, poofy pink Barbie.  It’s a totally Barbie design, but I’m afraid I don’t see the “holiday” element that strongly.  The ad apparently doesn’t either, since it really doesn’t stress that point.

I especially love how the people in the ad only get to look at Barbie, not really interact with her (pick her up, touch her, etc.).  And the voice used for the voice-over at the very end is a little creepy somehow.  I just didn’t think that this ad worked all that well.

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Zhu Zhu Pets

Posted by Rosepixie on December 8, 2009

I had heard that one of the biggest toys of the season was Zhu Zhu Pets, but I didn’t know what they were, so I looked it up and found this ad.

One of the biggest things that I noticed about this ad is that while the voice-over sounds like it’s talking to kids who might want this toy, the most concrete selling point that is brought up is pretty much only of interest to parents.  How many kids consider whether or not a toy is mess-free as an important feature when choosing it?  In fact, many toys are sold to kids almost entirely on the fact that they are messy (remember all the toys that came with slime in the ’80s and ’90s?).

The other big thing that I noticed about this ad is that most of the shots where we actually see the kids don’t show them actually playing with the toy.  We see them watching it, dancing behind it, and smiling at it, but we only really see their hands sometimes rearranging the set-up like you would do for a toy car track, except that then you usually get to control the cars somehow while it seems like you just start the hamsters and watch them go, and petting the hamsters at the end while they “sleep”.  This doesn’t do a whole lot to show that the toy is that much fun to play with – although it’s apparently fun to watch.

The jingle is fast paced and cute, but somehow this just didn’t convince me that the toy is fun for kids.  It seemed more like an ad for parents.  Maybe especially parents looking for an excuse not to buy their child a pet, since the “doesn’t make a mess” selling point seems like it’s specifically setting these against real hamsters (who would also probably require an ad with more interactive kids).

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Moxie Girls: Be You (but hip)

Posted by Rosepixie on November 8, 2009

The makers of Bratz dolls recently lost the rights to them in a lawsuit and had to create a new product.  Their all new, shiny doll line is the Moxie Girlz (what is it with wordz ending in z?).  Here’s their new commercial:

First thoughts: wow, for a commercial about individuality and being yourself, those were a bunch of awfully similar girls.  Not a non-white girl in the bunch (although the starring girl looked a little darker? maybe? and even the dark-skinned doll has a really light shade of dark skin – see below), all slender and dressed in the same Hannah-Montana-hip way.  Oh yeah, I see a lot of moxie here.

The designer of this line said in a press release (which I lost – sorry) that he was trying to design a line of dolls that were less high fashion than Bratz, more like the actual girls who would be buying them.  He claimed to be aiming for them to look like girls in that range (usually quoted at around 6-10) and be dressed in clothes they might actually wear.  Lets get a closer look at the dolls and see how well that worked:

Moxie Girlz

Ok, they’re vaguely cute dolls in their own way (far more cute than Bratz, anyway), but they don’t look like normal 8-10 year old girls.  First off, the vast majority of 6-10 year old girls don’t have hourglass figures.  Sorry, breasts and hips don’t really start to develop until later for most girls.  Second, while I’ve seen 6-10 year olds that dress elaborately, rarely can they afford this kind of get-up and even more rarely do they spend the kind of time necessary to put one together every day.  At that age most kids have better things to do.  At least they aren’t terribly slutty, though.

So, going back to the commercial, the girls are celebrating their individuality.  But they only talk about being creative and we only see them doing artistic and musical things.  So, what if a girl is into sports or likes doing science experiments or is building her own go-kart?  None of those things go with moxie?  Only arts?  That doesn’t sound very much like it’s really celebrating individuality, it sounds like it’s celebrating the stereotypical “girls are more creative and like to express their feelings and create beautiful things in cooperative groups” view.  That’s not moxie, guys.  That’s mainstream stereotyping.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with girls like the ones in this ad and they can claim as much moxie as anyone else, but what about the science girls and the soccer stars and the girl who volunteers every weekend because she’s going to save the world someday?  Don’t they count?  Barbie may not always get it, but at least their new lines include girls of all different interests (and they have a new line of black dolls who have more accurate black features with a whole range of skin tones from light to very dark).

For the record, my dictionary defines “moxie” as “the ability to face difficulty with spirit, pluck”.

Any one else have different reactions to this (either the dolls or the commercial or both)?

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