Toymakers See Profit in Going 'Gender Neutral'

Photograph by MacGregor and Gordon

Hasbro announced earlier this week—on the heels of a petition started by a 13-year-old—that it will unveil a “unisex” version of its Easy-Bake Oven at the New York Toy Show in February.

This classic, lightbulb-powered oven was introduced by Kenner Products in 1963 in the color turquoise. As early ads makes clear, the company was primarily targeting future female homemakers with its imaginary feasts. “It’s the most beautiful oven I’ve ever seen,” says one upbeat little girl in a 1970s commercial. So what’s the new feature making this old toy more marketable to boys? The oven will now also be available in silver, black, and blue, and boys will be featured in the new ads and packaging.

In an industry still largely organized by gender, Hasbro is just the latest toymaker to test whether crossing the gender divide will translate into more sales. KidKraft has made a fire rescue dollhouse, and Step2 features boys playing with its tan-colored play kitchens. “There are dolls that you would think are only appealing to girls that are actually attractive to both genders,” says David Riley, a spokesperson for market researcher NPD. “By categorizing a toy by gender of recipient, you’re limiting marketing opportunities.”

In the case of the Easy-Bake Oven, MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler says, “Cooking is a category that has broadened beyond girls. Look at all the food shows on cable, and the majority of chefs and bakers are men. I think Hasbro is trying to take advantage of this situation. It’s not just girls cooking alongside moms anymore.”

As the maker of Transformers, Nerf, and G.I. Joe, Hasbro certainly has an edge when it comes to marketing to boys: The toy giant’s latest quarterly report shows that revenue from boys’ toys was $1.2 billion, compared with $499.7 million from girls’ toys in the first nine months of the year.

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