TV toy ads in the UK are shockingly sexist

Battle or glitter? Power or style? New research shows how TV ads are still promoting last century gender stereotypes

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‘Rescue’, ‘battle’, ‘power’, ‘adventure’; can you guess which type of children’s toys these words describe in television ads?  That’s right, it’s toys aimed at girls.

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Just kidding. These are the words most often mentioned during TV commercials for ‘boys’ toys’.

Girls on the other hand can expect to hear words such as ‘sparkle’, ‘hair’, ‘magic’ and ‘glitter’ when watching ads aimed at ‘girls’ toys’. How refreshing – not!

According to new research carried out by Let Toys Be Toys, which campaigns for gender-neutral kids’ toys, the majority of adverts aimed at selling children’s toys are reinforcing unwanted gender stereotypes.

After watching over 30 hours of children’s programming between September and October this year (phew), the campaign group found a striking difference in language and messaging. It formulated the data into two very telling and somewhat disturbing word clouds.

Most common words in girls’ toy ads

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In the ads, girls are often shown as passive and barely active, other than when they are dancing, of course. The language used for girls focuses on fantasy and beauty and relationships. 

Most common words in boys’ toy ads

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Meanwhile, boys are shown as active and often aggressive, the language used often emphasising control, power and conflict.

The campaign group also found that the majority of ads also separate girls and boys in ads. For instance, in 25 adverts for vehicle toys only one included a girl.

Jess Day, crusader at Let Toys Be Toys summed up the group’s frustration. 

“At Let Toys Be Toys we believe that there is no such thing as a ‘girl’s toy’ or a ‘boy’s toy’, but TV ads give children narrow and limiting ideas about how boys and girls behave, and how they’re expected to play.

“Play is vital to children’s learning and development. A child should feel free to pick up and play with any toy they like, providing that it’s safe and age-appropriate. But 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. Marketing toys by gender limits children’s choices, limits their chances to learn and develop and feeds bullying.”

“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.”

Hear, hear Jess. Now let’s hope the adverting execs take this on board.

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