"Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don't have for something they don't need." – Will Rogers

Color Apartheid & Gender Polarization: Why Pink Stinks

Posted: November 30th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: change for the better, children, consumerism, corporate hypocrisy, hidden propaganda, KGOY, new markets, schizophrenic messages, sexism, toys | Tags: , | 3 Comments »

"Snow Queen Palace" from the Early Learning Centre

The UK Telegraph recently ran an article about Pink Stinks, an organization founded by my friends Abi and Emma Moore, that “challenges the culture of pink which invades every aspect of girls’ lives.”

Pink Stinks just launched a campaign against Early Learning Centre, asking the toy retailer to stop pinkification and gender-stereotyping of children’s toys.

Some interesting quotes from the Telegraph article:

The campaign has been backed by Ed Mayo, the former government “consumer tsar” and author of Consumer Kids, How Big Business is Grooming our Children for Profit.

He said: “There may be worse things to worry about, but I feel this colour apartheid is one of the things that sets children on two separate railway tracks. One leads to higher pay, and higher status and one doesn’t.”


“Why on earth do girls need to have a globe in pink?” said Mr Mayo. “Does it ultimately lead to the 15 per cent pay gap suffered by women further down the line?. That’s far too simplistic, but I feel gender roles are becoming polarised far too early on.”

Some fascinating trivia about the color pink and child play:

[B]efore World War II pink was more usually associated with boys, while blue – traditionally the colour of the Virgin Mary – was linked with girls.


The Telegraph: “Pink toys ‘damaging’ for girls” (full article)

Pink Stinks : The Campaign for Real Role Models (official site)

Follow Pinks Stinks on Twitter

Barbie’s 50th Birthday

Posted: March 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: children, consumerism, corporate hypocrisy, hidden propaganda, KGOY, new markets, toys | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Barbie may be turning 50 today, but the doll it was modeled on, its doppelganger, is actually a bit older than that: she’s almost 54. And everybody has forgotten her birthday. Poor Lilli!


Ruth Handler saw a Bild Lilli doll while vacationing in Switzerland with her kids, snatched up three of them, and brought them back to California, determined to copy the doll and sell it on the American market. Little did she know that Bild Lilli was actually a gag gift, a novelty item, sold in bars and tobacco shops and meant for an adult public. It was the sort of present men would give each other with a wink – a toy meant to titillate. Men would place Bild Lilli dolls in their cars – on their dashboard or hang them from their rearview mirrors, on a little swing.




Lilli’s history goes back a bit further. Before being manufactured as a gag gift, she had been a character in a comic strip created by Reinhard Beuthien for the German tabloid Bild-Zeitung. All her stories revolved around fashion & appearance, staying out late, and sleeping with old, rich men. In short, Lilli was an unabashedly sexual, proud gold-digger. 

Barbie kept the looks – down to a tee – but instead of flaunting her sexuality, she focused on looks and shopping – something far more “innocuous” for parents.

Now, watch these two videos:

Talking Barbie – 1968 (already discussed on this blog)

And a spot-on, biting parody of Barbie dolls from the Simpsons (via Jezebel.com):


Lisa, you rock :)

Another recent achievement by Barbie – which was not discussed by Mattel? This year, she won a prestigious TOADY award! Barbie Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader won the Worst Toy of the Year Award – handed to her by the CCFC, the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood. Read more about it here.

Because Every Little Chinese Girl Dreams of Being a Blond Haired, Blue-Eyed Shopaholic

Posted: March 7th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, body, children, corporate hypocrisy, hidden propaganda, KGOY, new markets, racism, self-image, toys, TV commercials | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »


According to this story on NPR, Mattel recently opened a six-story Barbie flagship store in Shanghai, China, called “House of Barbie”. In addition to building custom-made Barbie dolls, customers can also get beauty treatments like facials, and indulge in Barbie-inspired cocktail drinks with clever names such as Barbietini, Glamourpolitan, and Pink-Me-Up. (Older customers, one hopes).

Barbie is known for being yellow-haired and blue-eyed, and thus, unless you have severe myopia, she looks antithetical to every woman born in the world’s highest populated country (1.3 billion strong). So Mattel wisely created a special Barbie for the occasion, with “pan-Asian likeness.” (Never mind that 99% of the dolls and artwork in the store show the classic blonde Barbie look). We don’t care. We wanna shooooop!

shanghai1Now, I truly hope there has been a mistake and this is not the close-up of the so-called “Pan Asian Barbie”:


Because her eyes don’t look the least bit Chinese. Well, unless Mattel was sneakily suggesting that Chinese women should get eyelid surgery to “open up” their eyes and look more like Caucasian women. But nooooooooo. That couldn’t be! You can just imagine Barbie saying, “Little Chinese girl: you look nothing like me! How come?”

At any rate, NPR reports:

The lure of the China market was one reason that Mattel chose Shanghai for its first House of Barbie. It’s aggressively pursuing developing markets, such as Eastern Europe, Russia and India, which aren’t already Barbie-saturated. But when deciding where to place the House of Barbie, Shanghai beat other contenders — including London, Paris, Milan, New York and Los Angeles — because of its strong cross-generation reaction to the doll and the brand.

“There was an amazing connection to Barbie’s values,”

What? Shopping? The love for the color pink? The pursuit of a size 00 with D cup breasts?

Dickson said. “Barbie in this culture represented a world of possibilities for girls and for women. She’s had amazing careers, she has the cars, she has the plane, she has the boyfriend — and she looks fantastic doing it.”

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah! Ok, ok. I understand. You need to work your butt off trying to become a president, an astronaut or a doctor, but you better look perfect doing it! Otherwise something’s missing.

As it is illustrated in this old Barbie ad:

Perfectionism (looks, career, personal life) = most potent weapon used against girls & women, as it sets them up for a life of dissatisfaction and craving.

Chinese girls – now, you can do it too! BDD and all! Yay!

Now, for the mommies out there, I highly recommend reading this report by Girls Inc., called the “Supergirl Dilemma.”

Girls say they are under a great deal of stress today. Three-quarters (74%) of girls in grades 9-12, over half of girls (56%) in grades 6-8, and just under half of girls (46%) in grades 3-5 say they often feel stressed (describes them “somewhat” or “a lot”).

There is an interesting article by the amazing Claire Mysko on the subject: “How to Help Girls Resist the Pressure to be “Supergirls

When girls get caught up in the quest to be “supergirls,” they are less likely to feel confident in themselves and celebrate what truly makes them amazing. As adults who care about girls, it’s up to us to help girls confront the pressure they feel to be perfect.

Take that, Mattel.

An Egregious Example of Corporate Hypocrisy, Part II : Barbie dolls

Posted: February 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, children, consumerism, corporate hypocrisy, hidden propaganda, KGOY, new markets, PSA, schizophrenic messages, toys, TV commercials | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Last October, I wrote a post unmasking Dove’s corporate hypocrisy and cynicism.

Today, I discovered yet another example of duplicity, this time from Mattel & Barbie dolls.

Watch this video:

And then this one:


From the CCFC: Tell Scholastic: Put the book back in book clubs

Posted: February 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: children, new markets, toys | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

I have recently received the following message from the CCFC (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) newsletter:

For many of us, Scholastic’s book clubs played an important role in our childhood by providing the opportunity to purchase low-cost, high-quality literature in schools.  We remember the excitement of thumbing through the monthly flyers to make our selections and the thrill when our orders arrived.

But something has changed. Scholastic’s book clubs have become a Trojan horse for marketing toys, trinkets, and electronic media-many of which promote popular brands. A review by CCFC of Scholastic’s elementary and middle school book clubs found that one-third of the items for sale are either not books or are books packaged with other items such as jewelry and toys. 

Tell Scholastic: Put the book back in book clubs.

CCFC reviewed every item in Scholastic’s 2008 monthly Lucky (for grades 2-3) and Arrow (grades 4-6) book club flyers. Of the items advertised, 14% were not books, including the M&M’s Kart Racing Wii videogame; a remote control car; the American Idol event planner; (“Track this season of American Idol“); the Princess Room Alarm (“A princess needs her privacy!”); a wireless controller for the PS2 gaming system; a make-your-own flip flops kit (“hang out at the pool in style”); and the Monopoly® SpongeBob SquarePants™ Edition computer game. An additional 19% of the items were books that were marketed with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry. For example, the book Get Rich Quick is sold with a dollar-shaped money clip (“to hold all your new cash!”); the Friends 4 Ever Style Pack consists of a book and two lip gloss rings; and Hannah Montana: Seeing Green comes with a guitar pick bracelet.

The opportunity to sell directly to children in schools is not a right. It’s a privilege – and an extremely profitable one at that.  Last year, Scholastic’s book clubs generated $336.7 million in revenue.

It’s bad enough that so many of the books sold by Scholastic are de-facto promotions for media properties like High School Musical and SpongeBob. But there’s no justification for marketing an M&M videogame or lip gloss in elementary schools. Teachers should not be enlisted as sales agents for products that have little or no educational value and compete with books for children’s attention and families’ limited resources. If Scholastic wants to maintain their unique commercial access to young students, they need to do better.

We know that Scholastic listens to your concerns. When 5,000 of you wrote them to demand that they stop promoting the highly sexualized Bratz brand in schools, they discontinued their Bratz line. So please visit http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/621/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=26599 to let Scholastic know it’s time to return to selling books – and only books – through their in-school book clubs.

-The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

New York Magazine: “The search for Malia and Sasha look-alikes to sell products”

Posted: January 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: "The Illusionists" documentary, advertising, children, discrimination, media, new markets, print, racism, research, toys, women's magazines | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »


Madison Avenue is scrambling to adjust to a new era, when the most admired people in America are a black family. To reflect this reality, talent scouts are on the hunt for models who look like the Obama children, Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10.


Marlene Wallach, president of Wilhelmina Kids & Teens, says the First Daughters are tough subjects to match. “It’s a very specific age and a very specific ethnicity, so there aren’t that many girls that would necessarily fit the bill.”

Full article here.

On the one hand I’m deliriously happy to see that thanks to Barack Obama’s election racial minorities may get more visibility in the media – it’s about time!!! During my research for the docu “The Illusionists” I was positively surprised to see, in women’s magazines from the 1970s and the early 1980s (Vogue, Cosmo, Mademoiselle), lots and lots of black models in fashion/beauty photo shoots, advertisements, and on magazine covers. Why had they disapperared all of a sudden? The fashion industry had seemingly turned racist in the last 15-20 years. So: visibility of racial and ethnic minorities: awesomely positive.

On the other hand, though, I’m saddened that such a moving, historic milestone (the first ever black family in the White House) may get immediately mixed up with the usual base commercial interests – Sasha and Malia dolls with already developed breasts, photo shoots with Sasha and Malia lookalikes – to sell products. On top of that, the article above highlights a desire to see more Obama girls lookalikes – not more black children in fashion / advertising / mass media.

Don’t know how to feel about this…

Parents of Pre-Schoolers: Brace Yourselves

Posted: January 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: advertising, children, consumerism, corporate hypocrisy, exploitation, hidden propaganda, KGOY, new markets, subliminal advertising, toys | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »


USA Today – “Mattel gives Barbie online dream house


Toy company Mattel is revamping the online presence for its popular brands — including the iconic Barbie and, for boys, Hot Wheels — with expanded playable, customization and networking features on the new Mattel Digital Network.


And the upgrade will help Mattel keep pace with its competition online. Other brands such as Disney, LEGO and Hasbro have added features that aim to keep children connected with their sites — and products.

“There is a battle is for kids’ eyes on the computer,” says Warren Buckleitner, editor of Children’s Technology Review (childrenssoftware.com). These days, companies need “a smart strategy behind their toys that does things like keep track of a child’s age and recommend or suggest (products), whether obviously or subliminally.

Parents should know that such sites merge content and advertising, Buckleitner says. “I don’t think these things are necessarily bad, and a lot of learning can go on. But we have to be smart so we can tell the difference between manipulation and play.”

There’s an eager, youthful clientele on the Web. Three-fourths of children 2 to 14 use a computer, according to The NPD Group’s report Kids & Digital Content III, which found that computers are the most widely used consumer electronic device among children. Cellphones, MP3 players and game systems are next.

Oh boy.

Full article here.

The Telegraph (UK) : ‘Pink plague’ on the High Street widening gender gap

Posted: January 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: children, hidden propaganda, new markets, sexism, toys | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »


Toy makers have been criticised for making products for girls almost exclusively in pink.

Experts fear that what has been called a “pink plague” in the High Street is brainwashing girls and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

They believe that girls are now becoming “hooked” on the colour before the age of three and soon reject toys and clothes if they are not pink.

Full article here.

My Heros: the Barbie Liberation Organization

Posted: January 23rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: body, change for the better, children, consumerism, hidden propaganda, new markets, self-image, toys | Tags: , , , | No Comments »


I’m currently re-reading Margo Maine’s excellent book “Body Wars” – to add useful information to my documentary script.

In the chapter “Barbie Dolls & Body Image” Ms. Maine writes about the group Barbie Liberation Organization:

One group, the Barbie Liberation Organization, formed by a graduate student from the University of California at San Diego, went so far as to swap the speech mechanisms of the Talking Barbies with those of G.I. Joes, causing havoc for the toy stores that received the tampered merchandise. The Talking Barbies were saying things like, “Vengeance is mine,” while the G.I. Joes were saying, “Let’s go shopping.” This political art expresses the distress many feel about the status of women in our society and the symbols that threaten the self-esteem of females.