What marketers (and humans) can learn from the #WheresRey backlash.
I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the most recent Star Wars was awesome.
(There may be other spoilers below, despite it having been out for over a month and all over the news… you’ve been warned).
The movie filled me with childhood wonder. I tore out of the theatre – giddy with how much it reflected what I want from that franchise. Sure, you can say it’s got the same story arc as the first one – or fourth one, depending how you count ‘em. But helpless-kid-turns-super-powerful-and-faces-evil is the same storyline as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Captain America, and Batman… to name a few. It’s a winner. (The we’ve-built-a-bigger-Death-Star-with-the-same-flaw-as-the-one-you-previously-exploded storyline’s more unique, but I can suspend my disbelief).
The movie brought the story from a long time ago and a galaxy far far away to modern times, with diversity in its casting (in good and evil roles). Whatever their differences, they’re all bad ass.
By now, you’ve heard that the protagonist, Rey, is absent in many of the toy collections produced by Hasbro (the business with the rights to making most of the toys).
Why this irks me (and others) so much
No matter the boneheaded excuses, the truth is, at some point, they decided to not include Rey in toy sets because they didn’t think there’d be a market for them.
The story has it, they made Rey female in order to attract a broader audience to the franchise (i.e. more girls). You know that this wasn’t a thoughtless gamble. The premise was that girls would like the franchise if they were made to be a part of it. The makers had to have been confident that she’d not alienate their traditional market segment (young boys and their parents who grew up during the first trilogy’s lifespan).
The thought process was probably something like this:
If they built this franchise around a girl, they did it because they thought it would resonate. Why not capitalize on that?
Let’s be clear, I’m thrilled that they made the lead a strong female. I’m pleased (and a bit surprised) that they pulled that trigger – you’ll remember, there was only one major female character in “The New Hope” and female characters often play secondary (or at least silent) roles in Disney’s movies. I’m a bit surprised they did it, but I’m not surprised that people liked it.
“Paul Southern, the head of Disney’s Star Wars licensing arm, told Bloomberg that neither Disney nor its licensing partners foresaw how popular Rey would be.”
She’s the main (kick-ass) character in one of the most anticipated movies of all time.
If the franchise hadn’t thought it’d fly, then they’d not have incorporated her.
Somewhere between the conception / creation of the movie and the marketing of it, someone started to latch back onto the tired sentiment that “only little boys like Star Wars and little boys only like bigger boys.” Some have reported that insiders have said that “Vendors Removed Star Wars Character to ‘Improve Sales.’
There’s an assumption that little boys can’t like products featuring females. In the same way that I loved Luke and Han growing up, a little boy can idolize a woman. (BTW, this blog post is being written by Clare. I’m female. Which doesn’t matter except to make the above statement make more sense).
The toymaker Hasbro is trying to pass off her exclusions as an honest attempt to protect the plot. The franchise did really well keeping the plot secret – and that added tremendously to the experience. But, merely including a character in a monopoly set doesn’t give away the plot – especially given she’s in almost all the trailers. Also, if this excuse was legit, they’d have warehouses of Reys-holding-lightsabers ready to ship the day of the premier. As it stands, they’re scrambling to add her into sets.
Bloomberg implies in their article: “Star Wars Toys Aren’t Just For Boys Anymore as Rey Takes Over” that the demand for Rey is driven primarily by girls. Sure, it’s helped. BUT – Girls aren’t the only ones demanding Rey dolls. Boys want them, too. Hell, adults want them. Is it such a big leap to imagine that a little boy would identify with a rough-and-tumble, self-possessed, capable, powerful, funny & feisty kid – even if that kid is female. COMMMOOONNN!!
As consumers, what should you do?
Demand more from businesses. The #wheresrey shaming has had an impact.
Don’t get sucked in by pink. You’ll pay up to 27% more for products for women and girls (i.e. pink ones). From kids toys & onsies to dry cleaning & mortgage services, we all regularly pay a premium for products “made for girls or women,” that have no substantive additional intrinsic value. We all need to inform ourselves of these facts – but women control the lion’s share of family spending. Vote with your dollars.
Here’s my conundrum as a consumer: if I want to buy a Rey doll for my kid when they’re ready, I’d be supporting the company who chose not to make one in the first place. If I (and other consumers) don’t buy it, Hasbro can post-rationalize their decision that it wasn’t going to sell. Catch 22. I’m going to make the call when I actually see what they come up with.
As Marketers, what can we learn from this?
Your target segments aren’t stagnant. The 18 year old of today is different from the 18 year old from 10, 20 and 30 years ago. Don’t be lazy. Question all of your assumptions. Not just because it’s the right thing to do – but it’ll ultimately make your message stronger, keep you current, and help you achieve your goals.
Consumers aren’t 2 dimensional. Lots of little girls like princesses. They may also like science, trucks, and soccer. Lots of little boys like superheroes. They too may also like science, trucks, and soccer. It’s all good.
If that doesn’t resonate then how about this business case: Think of a world where a product is popular with EVERYONE and doesn’t need to be modified across target groups. There would be gloriously huge efficiencies in production, packaging and marketing. Maybe the boys and girls aisles can be exactly the same. You’d increase your sales of tanks AND fairy wands, while also driving down your costs. What a wonderful world that would be?!
Ending my rant on a positive note…
Time Magazine had it right: “Kids are light years ahead of toy companies.” Kids just know they love Rey and they don’t much care about what’s expected of them.
“Little girls need to see themselves as heroes. Little girls need to see that they can grow up to be powerful and good. Little girls deserve a chance to imagine strength and perseverance in their own gender. They deserve someone to look up to.
Just as important, so do little boys. Little boys need to see that women are strong and fierce, and that women characters are just as magnetic as men characters.”
Star Wars made huge strides in introducing diversity to their cast. A black storm trooper, a female villain Commander, a strong female protagonist. This was pretty universally accepted (if not celebrated). It’s as it should be. With this new generation of Star Wars fans growing up with their heroes coming in (more) different shapes, colours and sizes – you’ve gotta believe that it’s less likely that this type of old-school thinking will happen in the future.
Want to learn more? These were super interesting:
Boehm, M, Where’s Rey?
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