June 13, 2008
The mental world of children's merchandising
Here's what Strawberry Shortcake looked like in olden times of the 1980's:
Here's what she's looked like in recent years:
And here's her new look, unveiled earlier this week:
The changing look of Strawberry makes me wonder--how do companies market toys and merchandise to small children who can't always verbalize their preferences as consumers? Do 6 year-old girls really want to own more Strawberry Shortcake stickers and sleeping bags if she looks like a skinny-armed anime character with swishy white-girl hair?
It seems like the dessert-themed Strawberry Shortcake series of dolls, which all had candy-scented plastic heads, would be an easy sell to any generation of kids, as long as they love candy. But in the interest of relaunching the brand with a whole new line of toys, clothes, and movies, the Times describes how American Greetings updated Strawberry Shortcake, which demonstrates that marketers don't even try to understand young minds. Here's how to rebrand a popular line of toys:
First, make up a nonsensical marketing concept phrase to describe the desired new image, which in this case downplays the candy-fixation of the old toys: "fruit-forward". (The Times writer manages to work the magnificently absurd "fruit-forward" into the article twice without a single smirky aside.)
Then, get together a group of product licensees and ask them to pick the new design they like best.
Most of the old Strawberry Shortcake characters are still around for the relaunch, though Huckleberry Pie, the only boy in the group of friends, has been transformed from a goofy overall-wearing hayseed to a cool skater.
The head designer of the new line of toys notes that some characters "who didn’t immediately shout out fruit" have been phased out. One casualty of the fruit-forward revolution is Mint "rhymes with julep" Tulip, whose scented plastic doll head smelled like Jim Beam.
A few other attempts at rebranding children's toys that didn't work out: Loonatics, which were Bugs Bunny and crew restyled for the 21st century to be menacing and scary, and Earring Magic Ken, who wore a mesh T-shirt, purple leather vest, and one earring. The Times recalls, "The character drew howls from consumers, who did not see him as a realistic boyfriend for Barbie."
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