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Update: GoldieBlox controversy

November 29, 2013

GoldieBloxA while back I showed you GoldieBlox, a startup making toys that encourage little girls to become engineers. I sent one of the toys to my niece’s daughter and she loved it.

In the company’s newest marketing video, three cute girls rebel against princess culture by building an enormous Rube Goldberg machine. The uplifting message initially received great press and generated beaucoup sales, but then things took a turn for the worse.

One issue was that the original soundtrack for the video was a clever parody of the Beastie Boys tune, “Girls.” After being watched more than 8 million times that version had to be taken down; the Beastie Boys loved the message but have never let their music be used in commercials.

The remake (below) still shows the machine, but the overall effect is not as powerful without the lyrics. As of this writing the original video could still be viewed on the Slate site.

Katy Waldman, writing for Slate, provides an excellent summary of the situation in GoldieBlox: Disrupting the pink aisle or just selling toys? The article addresses questions from multiple viewpoints:

  • Does the product really go against stereotypes? Goldie is thin and cute. Rather than being self-reliant, she focuses on helping others. In the toy’s narrative, the goal is to transport a beauty pageant winner.
  • Does the product really “disrupt the pink aisle”? The products feature a lot of purple and pink, not to mention furry animals and ribbons.
  • Is this a cynical example “Trojan feminism” or is Goldie a smart princess who refuses to follow the script?
  • Why is the bar placed so high for this particular company? Lots of products are something less than the picture painted in their ads.

Some say that GoldieBlox are not much fun to play with. Toys based on complex stories can get in the way of kids’ imagination; playtime would be longer and more creative with plain blocks. GoldieBlox replies that “Girls love stories and characters, whereas all the construction toys are building for the sake of building,… Our stories leverage girls’ advanced verbal skills to help develop and build self-confidence in their spatial skills.”

One Amazon critic wrote, “It is basically turning a wheel with a ribbon that is attached by a Velcro.” On the other hand a positive reviewer wrote, “I visited [my nieces] about a week later and they had been playing with Goldie non-stop.” The big picture is that 80% of Amazon reviews give the toy 4 or 5 stars out of 5.

In a high-stakes story twist, GoldieBlox is a finalist in Small Business Big Game, where the prize is a free Super Bowl ad. Winners will be announced in January and I, for one, wish them good luck. GoldieBlox have taken a step the right direction and, now that the market is taking notice, the company is poised to have a real impact on toy gender stereotypes. They should strive to make future efforts hit closer to the mark.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Clark permalink*
    November 30, 2013 12:38 pm

    Families like yours don’t need it so much. I think has potential as a reminder to parents who have been sloppy in avoiding stereotypes when choosing toys. It’s easy for a busy parent to unthinkingly buy their daughter the kind of toys they remember little girls playing with.

  2. Kristin permalink
    November 30, 2013 12:16 pm

    As the mom of a 4 year old girl I’ve watched this with interest. While I like the idea of something that isn’t princess play, I wonder why there have to be gender specific construction toys? My sister and I just played with Legos and tinker toys.

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