There is nothing a public relations professional loves more than the death of a stereotype—especially one as big as Barbie.
For generations, whenever it came time to buy a present for a young son or niece, most shoppers would march into a toy store and automatically head for either a boys’ section stocked with faux tools and race cars or a girls’ section always aglow with pink Barbies and plastic kitchenettes. That’s just the way society worked–there were toys for boys and there were toys for girls.
This paradigm, however, is evolving. Mattel, for instance, just debuted a Barbie construction set, marking a major shift in perspective in the brand’s storied 50-year history. That’s right–the invisible cultural impasse that separates toys according to gender is eroding.
Like most successful companies, Mattel is simply reacting to the marketplace in order to maximize its profits. That’s just good business. Chances are this trend will reverberate throughout various segments of our culture and business landscape–and PR experts should take notice. So what, exactly, is going on?
In a nutshell: more men are making shopping decisions for their kids and families, and Mattel has responded accordingly by creating products and promos that appeal to men–even when the toys are made for girls. Gone is the stereotype of the overworked dad who missed his son’s basketball game because he couldn’t say no to drinks with his alcoholic boss. Say hello to the hands-on father who carpools his daughter’s basketball team to a rival’s gym 100 miles away after buying them all matching headbands at Foot Locker.
As more women focus on careers and more men become stay-at-home dads, financial and household responsibilities align according to role rather than gender. As society grapples with the implications of these changes, toy brands are making their products and shopping experiences more male-friendly.
We don’t see this as a bad thing. The more dads become involved with their families, the better it is for everyone.