How Toy Ad Vocabulary Reinforces Gender Stereotypes


I’ve always wanted to do a “mash-up” of the words used in commercials for so-called boys’ toys. I did a little bit of this in my book, but now, thanks to Wordle, I can present my findings in graphic form. This is not an exhaustive record; it’s really just a starting point, but the results certainly are interesting.

A few caveats:

  • I focused on television commercials alone (not web videos or website toy descriptions).
  • The companies represented here are the big ones who can afford TV advertising. I looked most closely at the kinds of toys I have seen advertised during prime cartoon blocks on TV. (For example, Teletoon in Canada runs an Action Force block of shows in the after-school time slot and a Superfan Friday on Friday evenings.)
  • I included toys targeted to boys aged 6 to 8. If a word was repeated multiple times in one commercial, I included it multiple times to show how heavily these words are used. I hyphenated words that were meant to stay together, like “special forces” and “killer boots.” For the record, my boys’ list included 658 words from 27 commercials from the following toy lines: Hot Wheels, Matchbox, Kung Zhu, Nerf, Transformers, Beyblades, and Bakugan.
  • By way of comparison, I also looked at girls’ toys. The girls’ list had 432 words from 32 commercials. Toy lines on this list include: Zhu Zhu Pets, Zhu Zhu Babies, Bratz Dolls, Barbie, Moxie Girls, Easy Bake Ovens, Monster High Dolls, My Little Pony, Littlest Pet Shop, Polly Pocket, and FURREAL Friends. (I have a full list of references for both list, with links, if anyone would like to see it.)

The results, while not at all surprising, put the gender bias in toy advertising in stark relief. Above, the boys’ list, available in full size at Wordle.

And the girls’ list.

No further comment needed.

This post originally appeared at Achilles Effect. Republished by permission. You can read followup posts here and here.

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