Parents get sick of sexist marketing

T shirt-gate has a positive side. After JCPenney’s  “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother had to do it for me,” shirt for girls incited a protest that went viral, more parents are catching on to how damaging kidworld’s sexist marketing has become.

Parenting blogs all over the internet are posting on sexist marketing, many upset that massive chains like Target and WalMart have several aisles of action/ activity centered “boy toys” and far fewer options and space for “girl toys.”

Pigtail Pals, a site that creates clothing empowering to girls, is getting thousands of new customers and repeatedly selling out of its shirt created in response to Penney’s that reads, “Pretty’s got nothing to do with it.”

It’s great that parents are choosing more carefully when and how to spend their dollars because now as never before TV series, movies, toys, products, apps, video games are all linked, figuratively and literally by phones, computers, tablets on and on creating a super-monochromatic world to easily push products.

As Peggy Orenstein wrote in her bestseller Cinderella Ate My Daughter, an effective strategy to move merchandise is to segment the marketplace:

Splitting kids and adults, or for that matter, penguins, into ever tinier categories has proved a surefire way to boost profits. So where there was once a big group called kids we now have toddlers, pre-schoolers, tweens, young-adolescents and older adolescents, each with their own developmental and marketing profile…One of the easiest ways to segment the market is to magnify gender differences or invent them where they did not previously exist.

Just think about face creams. As any woman who has walked through a department store knows, you are not advised to buy one bottle of moisturizer but a day cream, night cream, eye cream, neck or decolletage, and then an SPF for face and another for body because, you”ll be warned: “You can get an SPF in your daily moisturizer, but you shouldn’t really ask one cream to do two jobs.”

Why sell a brown bat when you can get parents to buy one that’s pink and one that’s blue?

Adweek reports on new mom, Jenny Gill, who gave birth at New York’s Cornell Weill hospital and had her picture snapped the way you do when taking your kid to the zoo or the Academy of Sciences, and then was offered a Disney onesie, free.

Gill says:

“In the middle of taking the pictures, she pulls out this cutely wrapped onesie and says, ‘Oh, here’s a free Disney onesie. We’ll just need your email address,’” Gill recalls. “It weirded me out. I just gave birth, please lay off with the Disney already!”

Disney is unlikely to lay off anytime soon, and neither are the countless other brands in need of dollars. They’re part of a trend—fueled in part by the growth of digital devices—toward aggressively targeting a demographic that didn’t exist, in marketers’ eyes, until recently: infants to 3-year-olds. By getting their logos and iconic characters in front of babies—even those with still-blurry eyesight—they hope to establish brand-name preference before she or he has uttered a word…

Dan Acuff, a former marketing consultant to Hasbro, Mattel, Nestlé, and others. “Babies don’t distinguish between reality and fantasy, so they think, ‘Let’s get them while they’re susceptible.’”

Which brings us back to movies. As I’ve written before, it’s no fun picking on loveable cartoon characters. Everyone, including me, adores Nemo and the Lion King and Ratatouille, all great films. But let’s face it: these movies are also the first step in a mass marketing machine. When girl characters are left out or given limited roles (see Reel Girl’s gallery of 2011 movies ) both genders learn repeatedly that boys are more important and can do many more things than girls can. And as marketer Dan Acuff implies above, fantasy creates reality.

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