Allow me to present the subject of today’s abject annoyance. THIS.
Above is the advert proudly presented on the website of Italian company Ferrero, which owns Kinder Surprise, displaying peacock-like both in terms of pride and garish colour scheme its latest limited edition marketing campaign. Ladies and gentlemen may I present to you: GENDER SURPRISE.
A version of these appeared in Germany last year and came to the UK this autumn. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these new products have stirred up a fair amount of controversy about gender stereotyping. In what I think is pretty shameless segregation regarding what children of each sex should be interested in, the blue (boys’) eggs contain cars, bikes and buggies, and the pink (girls’) eggs contain dolls, ponies and bows. This latest development in gender-oriented marketing for children follows on the back of (justified) furore around Lego’s products from last year that were developed in pinks and purples especially for girls. And these campaigns actually seem to be very successful. As a result, I can’t help thinking: are we going backwards?
As a person who grew up during the 90s, this for me is just another kick in the teeth as two non-gender-specific stalwarts, both of which were firm favourites of mine as a kid, have bought into the bizarre, almost 1950s-esque ad campaigns of the early twenty-first century. Yet growing up with both a younger brother and sister (three and five years younger than me respectively), the randomness of the Kinder Egg toy and the genderlessness of Lego just added to the fun that the three of us, of mixed ages, sexes and interests, could enjoy.
Many of the toys found in nice, normal Kinder Eggs which have no colour indicator at the top were, due to the unpredictable sex of the opener, really quite awkward, and oh so charming in their awkwardness. Kinder Eggs would often be a treat from our dad who bought them on a whim from petrol stations hence whenever I see a Kinder Surprise I think of Esso garages. I remember having competitions with my brother Pete about who had the most bizarre Kinder Egg toy. Here are just a couple of my favourite examples of the kind of surprises we could expect:
See? Weird. Weird but undeniably sweet. And definitely surprises: you’d never guess that a crocodile body-builder would be nestled in your hollow chocolate delight. I genuinely owned some of these at some point during my childhood, I especially remember thinking the metal samurai must be worth a fortune, and they bring back very happy memories. Ah, the 90s. And as much as these are indubitably really shit toys, they are delightfully strange, nostalgic, and refreshingly non-gender-specific.
According to an article in The Independent back in August this year, before these sex-specific monstrosities were introduced in the UK, Charlie Cayton of Ferrero offered the following quite frankly extraordinary statement :
We do not advocate or promote our products as gender specific. Instead, Kinder Surprise Pink and Blue offers a range of interesting new toys in coloured eggs which help parents navigate the toy ranges on offer and make purchasing decisions based on what is most relevant for their child.
Research that we undertook prior to launch indicated that parents welcome this product, with 66% of parents saying it was a good idea to have two separate ranges of toys. In addition, 66% of parents agreed that having a pink and blue Kinder Surprise egg made it easier for them to know which treat to buy for their child.
Really, Charlie? These toys aren’t clearly gendered? REALLY?!
For me, and after just a quick look on Twitter clearly for many others too, this is the worst kind of gender marketing. In terms of colour, bright blue equals fast cars for boys and fuschia pink equals cute horses or dolls with long hair for girls. The fact that the company is actively trying to avoid the issue by pretending that pink does not automatically mean ‘for girls’ and blue does not automatically mean ‘for boys’ really frustrates me. How I wish these automatic colour associations were done with, but alas that day is not yet here, and realistically may never be. Everyone, and sadly especially children, will recognise that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. And it’s not just me who thinks this is clear – here Trisha Lowther, the founder of the wonderful initiative for gender-free toys and stop limiting children’s interests, Let Toys Be Toys, said the following to The Independent:
It’s baffling really to suggest pink eggs containing dolls and blue eggs containing cars don’t do anything to promote gender stereotypes because they obviously do. They’re going to alienate a large part of their potential customer base with this. We were really disappointed to hear they were launching in the UK.
I couldn’t agree more. As well as isolating many parents who have bought Kinder Surprise for their kids over the years, this latest development will surely isolate and marginalise many children, whose friends, siblings or even parents might joke, giggle or tease about, say, a boy’s choice of a pink egg, which would probably be far more damaging in the school playground than a girl who opted for a ‘boys’ egg.
I wouldn’t mind as much if rather than ‘Kinder Pink’ and Kinder Blue’ was ‘Kinder Green’ and ‘Kinder Magenta’. ‘Kinder Mauve’ and ‘Kinder Ochre’? ‘Kinder Terracotta’ and ‘Kinder Egyptian Cotton’? I digress slightly. But the point is, that any other colours wouldn’t make any sense, and more importantly wouldn’t sell, because those colours don’t mean anything to anyone in terms of targeted marketing. It’s precisely because the chocolate products are pink and blue that children and parents know exactly who the product is meant for, and to deny those connotations is just insulting. It’s the underhandedness, the sneaky sexism, of it all, that bothers me so much about the whole thing. Ambassador, with these sexist chocolates, you are displeasing us.
And this isn’t the first time Ferrero has introduced such gender-oriented toys. This latest campaign is presumably seen by the company as an improvement on a similar limited edition set of Kinder Surprise from earlier this year. This time, prepare yourselves, only the girls’ (Barbie) eggs came with a pink top whilst the boys (Hot Wheels) eggs had no colour at all. And there’s no hiding behind ‘oh well if you see pink and blue and think girls and boys that’s your problem’ here, Ferrero, as this marketing ploy was specifically targeted FOR GIRLS. This suggests that non-coloured toys are automatically boys’ toys, and girls’ toys have to be pointed out to them, or made pink, the silly things. It’s the same argument that female writers can or should only write about women’s stuff, and even worse than that need a SPECIAL LADIES’ PEN in order to do so, and that everything else is naturally the male’s domain. Cannot even.
Why did this need to happen, I ask you? Why have coloured tops on Kinder eggs at all? Why not try and find a range of toys that both girls and boys of different interests, sexualities and expression, can enjoy? Can’t you just have nice strange toys in non-coloured eggs and, apart from at least pertaining to gender equality, MAINTAIN THE SODDING SURPRISE ELEMENT?! Are parents demanding this, or are the execs coming up with these campaigns time travellers direct from the 1950s? Do the children like and want this? Will I ever stop asking rhetorical questions? It drives me to despair, and I can only hope that these eggs are a very, very limited edition indeed, and that they never do anything like this again ever, so that if I have children one day I can buy them Kinder Surprise safe in the knowledge that they will find weird turtles, crocodiles and samurai once more.
Please tell me what you think about this and let me know about similar gender marketing that gets your goat. It would be great to continue the conversation and I’d genuinely love to know your views.
Kinder Surprise toys have always been, are, and I’m sure will continue to be, pretty shit, and that’s the way I like it. It just disappoints me that with these new pink and blue monstrosities, they have really begun to stink.