BDC also writes for Jackeduptales.com
Brace Yourselves: The Marketing Blitz is Coming
With the heated discussions on Facebook and Twitter, it's hard not to get drawn into the virtual war of words concerning gender issues these days. It's hard to pinpoint where the shift began. Possibly it was with the influx of comic movies making the characters more accessible to all. Or maybe it was just the natural progression of things. The fact is there are more female fans of comics, games and of generally everything nerdy than ever before.
And with the numbers comes the warranted complaints about the lack of merchandise for female characters out there. Just the other day, there was two awesome little girls asking a simple question, “Where is Natasha?”
Their point was that with all the Avengers showcased in the Avengers action figure pack, there was no Natasha a.k.a. Black Widow. This has been the case for quite a while and it's becoming a point of contention. The lack of strong female representation among the big comic franchises has been an issue that has been front and center these past few years. In the meanwhile, we've seen an influx of powerful women in heroic standalone titles along with a great number of ethnic representation. But, so far, this hasn't translated to the merchandise you find in the stores.
Now, I personally think this is just a matter of time. The merchandise comes after the comic titles and movie franchises. That being said, I think they misjudged the popularity of Black Widow among, not only, females all over the world, but the general comic reading, movie attending public at large. Superheroes has been a male centric market for a long time and it's taken what seems like ages just to get titles like Ms. Marvel and the new, female Mighty Thor on the stands. So, the next move is heavy marketing to a demographic that equates to cash. That's what talks here; rock solid cash. And, I think, the comic companies, movie producers and (hopefully) the game makers see the emerging female customers as a viable market. And, I think they have.
We are already seeing signs that the companies are 'getting it'. In the past week, there have been several announcements of products that are unmistakenly 'girl centric.' Just this weekend, DC and Mattel announced 'DC Superhero Girls' with a splash picture of DC faves, Batgirl, Supergirl, Wonder Woman along with a few others including villains Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn pictured a cuter, safer style. Now, I, although an unrepentant old school, am a little out of my element here. I raised three boys and feared the 'pink aisle' at Walmart and others for years. Now, I am a grandfather to a vibrant, intelligent young lady and celebrate with all of the parents and grandparents out there the chance to raise a girl in a brand new 'heroic' age. I'm just not sure the big companies get it yet.
Before I go on, let me open up the latest news for 'girl centric' heroic marketing out of Hasbro. They just announced an all female Transformers team. Now, I think it's about time the Transformer had a strong female presence in what has been a virtual 'old boys' club. But this entry into the coming marketing war is indicative of my coming point. The companies still don't get it. If you sit in on the marketing and board meetings of the major toy companies, I will assure you that they still dissect the market between boy and girl. They have their boys line and their girls line and never the twain shall meet. That's where Natasha is, ladies. She's in a differing marketing wing than Tony Stark and Captain America. And that irritates me a bit and should rankle a few feathers among the new feminine front out there.
What kind of message does this send? All this time (since the '60s and '70s) all they wanted was equality. They wanted to be taken seriously and not marginalized. Well, I think the comic companies finally get it. They are past that split and now work to integrate some awesomely strong female characters into the mainstream. We're past calling her 'Lady Thor.' The woman in the helmet is THOR! And very soon the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, will go from 'girl centric' experiment to Marvel Avenger! And still, we wait for the action figures to hit. That will have more to do with the movies and their exposure than the comics, because that is Marvel and DC's push right now. But the big screen Captain Marvel is coming, True Believer. And already there are Scarlet Witch and Black Widow figures made to promote the movie along with a classic Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel in a part of the Marvel Infinite series.
But, with Marvel coming around, DC seems to continue to compartmentalize and categorize us by sex. This is evident by DC's push for an all girl marketing ploy. And they're not bashful or trying to cover it up:
CNBCReddig said she is thrilled DC has decided to reach out to girls. Her female students often find her after class to ask for comic book recommendations when they find out she's a fangirl. Up until fifth or sixth grade, these same girls have no problem playing with "boys' toys," she said.
"It's around this age they start realizing that boys and girls are different and start becoming afraid to consume the material produced for boys of similar age," Jenn Redding (apparently a math teacher and 'comic book enthusiast')
I think Maggie would disagree. Seen here in a Tweet that went viral last November, she is clearly angry about the gender specific branding as she should be.
Is all of this still true? I think you'll find Marvel doesn't think so. And I think DC's push to segregate the action figure market is short sighted. I remember playing superheroes with my G.I. Joes and having to pull in barbies and the sort to play the female characters (yes, I played with my sister all the time and proudly still have my man card... lol). I think it's a bad move to make female superheroes a 'girls toy.' And for Hasbro not to integrate new female Transformers into the group and break up the 'boys club' is an equally bad idea. It sends the wrong message and I think it's one that neither male nor female fans will appreciate.
"I wish toys weren't gendered," Maggie's mom explained (tweet shown above; Huffington Post) "I realize most children will choose the toys aimed at them but I firmly believe all children should have the freedom to choose what they'd like and to be free from ridicule or bullying if they don't conform to the gender norms."
I think it's time we move on from the discussion of boy vs girl and stop categorizing their toys for them. We've been openly dealing with the issue of children and their toys since the '60s. We should be beyond this by now. But the marketers of the world aren't apparently. Hopefully, once the smoke clears, instead of a push for ethnic centric or 'girl power toys,' we will see comics about superheroes of all colors and sexes without there having to be a discussion about them. And we will see the toy companies treat the kids on equal footing instead of marketing demographics to be exploited.