don’t underestimate girls: ad for engineering toys for girls goes viral before being removed
I recently watched an advertisement for girls’ toys, and while there is an abundance of pink, there is not a Barbie doll or My Little Pony in sight. The ad is for GoldieBlox, a range of toys specifically designed to engage girls and encourage them to build things, think creatively and be innovative.
The company has followed the formula of most advertising – there are the usual checklist items: a catchy jingle, and lots of bright colours and activity to capture and hold your attention. But what is remarkably refreshing about this ad is that it challenges the stereotypes. It uses language that is not dumbed down for advertising purposes. In fact the ad has the following phrases within it: ‘Girls who grow up knowing they can engineer’, ‘there are opportunities for girls’ and ‘don’t underestimate girls’.
While the ad is about the product, which is cleverly put to use by the girls in the ad to create a very complex system to do things like open a garage door and change the television channel, the message behind the product is very clearly articulated. There is no doubt that innovation, inventiveness and creativity are the main elements that are being advertised.
This is not to say that girls that like to play with dolls, make up and My Little Ponies shouldn’t do so but it is important to ensure that young girls have options and that they know about them.
The company was developed by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford educated engineer, who didn’t know what engineering was herself until she was in high school. Disappointed by the lack of women in her program, and the lack of women engineers globally, Debbie founded GoldieBlox in an effort to ‘shake up the pink aisle with a toy that would introduce girls to the joy of engineering at a young age’.
Research shows that this early exposure to maths and science based content can have a very positive effect on the uptake of girls into careers such as engineering. The University of Wisconsin undertook recent studies that show that it is cultural perceptions, rather than lack of ability, that push girls away from these fields. This research also shows that from an early age, girls as young as eight years old, rate their abilities in maths much lower than that of boys. This is not the case – they are equally able but unfortunately they are conditioned to think that they cannot excel in this area.
Despite many initiatives encouraging women into maths, science, technology and engineering based careers, these fields are still dominated by men. GoldieBlox is endeavouring to change that through the development of the toys displayed in the ad. These toys are designed to engage with young girls and show them the possibilities in these fields.
Given that girls don’t rate themselves in this area, the toys are specifically designed to tap into areas where girls do rate themselves, such as strong verbal skills, to show that they can build and create amazing things.
The ad clearly resonated with people as it had over three million views in just a few days. Unfortunately, it didn’t prove popular with everyone. The catchy song in the piece was a parody of the Beastie Boys song ‘Girls’. The original lyrics were somewhat misogynistic and the song was deliberately chosen to be reworked into a positive anthem for girls. However, the use of this song in the ad contravenes a stipulation in Adam Yauch’s will that his music is not to be used in any advertising. While initially believing that the way the song was used was covered by ‘fair use’, Debbie Sterling has since agreed to remove the song from the ad in an effort to respect the wishes of all the band members.
While all artists should have say in how their work is used, it is a real shame that such a positive and inspiring message has been removed. I have no doubt that GoldieBlox will be back with an equally positive message.
In the meantime though, come on girls – you can build a spaceship, you can code a new app…