COMMENTARY: An Important Step for Play: Mattel’s “Dads Who Play Barbie”


by James Zahn

It’s incredible how much things can change in what seems, on one hand, to be a few short years, but on another, the result of decades of struggle. As my wife and I celebrate our eighth year of parenting, it’s hard to believe that I, as the father of two girls, have already spent the better part of a decade invested not only in the development of two beautiful human beings, but also in carrying a torch for play.

I’ve long held the opinion that we’ve often bent “rules” that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. These are the archaic ideals of what society has stamped as a “norm,” when the reality is that adults are solely responsible for perpetuating stereotypes that generations of children are forced to accept. There should be no lines in play, and it’s up to us to follow what I’ve always deemed a “guide and embrace” approach, as opposed to the “push and pull” that sometimes comes more naturally. It’s the gender debate that rages on, and the bottom line is that our kids can be anything—and that starts by shattering the perceptions of who can play with what toys.

Not just our kids, but we as parents, too.

This week, during the NFL Playoffs, Mattel surprised viewers by launching a new campaign aimed at celebrating the special bond between fathers and daughters. #DadsWhoPlayBarbie presents real dads and their daughters, each playing Barbie in their own way. At the end of each spot, a tagline of “Time Spent in Her Imaginary World Is an Investment in Her Real World,” drives home just how important playtime is for helping to shape the person that a young girl will eventually become.

The existence of this movement is one that seemed far off just a few years ago, when Mattel was still marketing Barbie as a toy to be shared by mothers and daughters, just as their Hot Wheels brand was firmly geared toward boys and dads. Our girls love dolls and cars with equal passion. They always have.


And me? I played with dolls as a boy, and it made me a better man.

Looking back upon my own childhood, there’s two distinct things that I can’t remember. I don’t remember my parents actually sitting down and playing with me the way that my wife and I do with our girls, and I don’t remember ever being told “this is a boy toy, and this is a girl toy.” And this was 30 to 40 years ago.

My sister and I played together, and those adventures were largely self-guided. She joined me in playing He-Man and The Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, and Transformers, and I joined her in playing Care Bears, Barbie, and “house.” I had my own Cabbage Patch Kid (still have him, is name is Ollie), and have such fond memories of playing Barbie, that I tracked down a vintage “new-old-stock” Barbie and the Rockers “Hot Rockin’ Stage” play set for my oldest daughter a few years ago. Being a dad who plays Barbie isn’t a stretch, and seeing other dads and their daughters take the spotlight for doing the same is a huge step for perception—and perception of Barbie is something Mattel has been working to change. It started with the “Imagine the Possibilities” initiative.

“Over the past year, Barbie has enabled girls to imagine themselves in aspirational roles that range from the fantastical to feminist, from princess to paleontologist,” says Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and general manager, Barbie, in a statement. “Spotlighting father-daughter relationships through playing with Barbie continues to articulate the importance of imagination and creativity on a girl’s journey to self-discovery.”

While I applaud the overall movement as an important and welcome one, the first commercial is not without a bit of criticism. In some of my internet circles, I did see some rumblings about it still placing some of the male stereotypes front-and-center, and it does. From mention of being “a man’s man,” to “doing boy things,” and even one dad who says he “plays with Ken, only” (though two seconds later he’s shown playing with Barbie), that language is there for a reason. These are real dads, and those statements are a part of their personal story. When you’re dropping a spot such as this into the middle of a NFL game, there needs to be emotional language that connects with the intended audience, and in that, the first strike for #DadsWhoPlayBarbie is a success. It has people talking. It has people thinking. And, hopefully, it has parents and kids playing.


I am a dad who plays Barbie, and in time I hope that’s no longer considered a novelty. Same goes for boys who play Barbie and girls who play Hot Wheels. Imagination, creativity, and fun know no gender.

Life of a Toy Designer & Inventor

An inside look at the creative process.

by Peter Wachtel, chief creative kid, Kidtoyology

PrintI always loved toys—in fact, I still play with toys today. However, when I became a toy designer and inventor, I learned that designing toys is a bit like eating a box of chocolates. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You may have a specific idea in mind when you start out, but as the process continues, new information, technology, and needs come into play, requiring you to adapt your design or invention.

No matter what direction you started out in, the world and your own experiences will start to mold the toy in a new direction, as if it has a life of its own. The results of this may vary: Sometimes your design will work out even better than expected, like finding gold in the river, and sometimes you’ll find out that your idea was nothing more than a mirage, and that following some dreams can turn into nightmares. However, I guarantee that the journey will always be an exciting one. [Read more...]

The Five Mistakes You’re Making with Your Product Packaging

By Richard Carlow and Eugenia Chen, founding directors, C2C Studio

You have a cool brand, an innovative toy, and a great logo—but is that enough? Packaging, when done right, is what draws the consumer’s attention. It makes an emotional connection with a child or parent and motivates them to buy.

During our 20 years of combined service, we have seen a lot of mistakes made by companies in their product packaging. It is easy to eliminate these common errors, which can have detrimental effects on the launch of a new product. Here are five common mistakes to look out for:

1. Following a Basic Packaging Template

Manufacturers often produce packaging that follows a basic template. Rarely is there a custom design behind the package matching the brand’s identity, which would enhance the value of the product. These generic packaging templates don’t allow the uniqueness of the company to be represented in the market, rendering the products indistinguishable from other products on-shelf.

Manufacturers use basic templates because they are a fast and cost-effective way to get products out the door and into stores, but a basic package design will not sell your product. It will cause your item to fade into the background of mass products in any major retailer.

Image 1 Star Wars

2. Not Thinking About Your Audience

Do not forget this golden rule: Always think about whom you are talking to. Think about your audience as you are choosing a design for your product. Design for your consumer. You need to tug at their emotions. You need to stand out and keep your customers coming back. A clear but eye-catching design is paramount.

Language also matters. Keep your message simple and use a clean, legible font to get your message across to the consumer.

When we created a series of boxes for Star Wars: Episode I for KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, we carefully considered who the fans of the film were and what they expected from the product. We spent eight weeks building packaging that could stand alone for the average consumer, or combine to create a poster for serious Star Wars collectors. We understood that both collectors and children would have a desire to keep the packaging—rather than unwrap and throw away—and we sought to create a design that spoke to their fandom.

Think back to the last time you bought a product for a child in your life. Chances are you bought it because the box made the product stand out to you.

3. Not Seeing the Packaging as Part of Your Product

How you choose to package the merchandise you are selling will have an impact on the consumer’s decision to buy the product. The amount of attention you put into your product should be mirrored in the product’s package design. We are told not to judge a book by its cover; however, when it comes to a product, we do just that. The package is the first thing people notice and must reflect the product itself. The packaging is just as much a part of the brand as your product and should not be compromised.

We once created a multipurpose case that served as both the packaging and a high-quality display stand for a football. The box had gloss varnish coating that gave the product a more premium feel. We also added a transparent sheet with the stamped college logo to reflect the pride of the college alumni.

This layered packaging allowed fans to feel as though they were getting a more premium product that not only had play value but added to their collection. The packaging design adds to the consumers overall experience opening the box to reveal what’s inside.

Image 2 Star Wars

4. Forgetting the Unboxing Experience

Be user-friendly. If the product is too hard to get out of the package or the design is overly complicated you can create unnecessary frustration in your consumer’s unboxing experience. If the package is too big or the product is too difficult to get out, it could deter customers from purchasing your products again.

When we create a new package, we think about the excitement a child will have when opening the box. Opening a package is an emotional experience that engages the consumer. It should be about the excitement of getting the prize that’s inside. It should not be a lengthy experience that leaves the child frustrated. The feel, the smell, cutting the tape—it’s all a part of the fun!

5. Staying In-House

Whenever you work on a project, it is easy to get tunnel vision. Bringing in an outsider will help provide fresh eyes and new insights. Manufacturers specialize in manufacturing, not packaging design. A company specializing in package design can deliver high-quality packaging that is in-tune with the needs and wants of your audience. With effective product packaging you are creating an ad for your company, not just your product.

C2C Studio Inc. is a creative design agency built on makers, creators, and storytellers that take concept to creation. Offering creative solutions for design and production for consumer products and entertainment and gaming experiences. Delivering one-of-a-kind creative solutions for each unique product, C2C Studio Inc. turns every client’s dreams into reality.  To learn more about C2C Studios, please visit:

Fall Toy Preview Yields Positive Outlook for 2016

Tens of thousands of new toys for 2016 made their debut at the Toy Industry Association’s (TIA) Fall Toy Preview held last week in Dallas. Industry analysts called the fall marketplace “more optimistic” than any show in the past several years, thanks to an abundance of creative and innovative toys that are sure to drive industry sales through next year’s holiday shopping season.  [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: The More Things Change with Star Wars Licensed Toys…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Kylo Ren 20-inch figure, from Jakks Pacific

A long weekend ago, in a toy store far, far more crowded than I had anticipated (Toys “R” Us Times Square, though I really should have known better at that point), I checked out Destination: Star Wars—The Exhibition, which showed off Star Wars toys past and present. It closed this past Monday, but photos of all the exhibits can still be found online. Besides the opportunity to see vintage Star Wars toys, it was worth visiting because located over in its own themed corner of the store were all the new toys launched in anticipation of the upcoming, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

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COMMENTARY: In the Doll Category, Diversity Is Finding Common Ground

Journey Girls2Dolls are getting more diverse all the time, and that diversity extends beyond ethnicity. Peek online or at your local toy store, and you’ll see that the doll aisle offers a wider variety than ever before, including boy dolls, ones featuring characters with interests in science and computers, and models depicting disabilities. Truly, we are living in a Golden Age of doll play, given how many niches are represented. And that’s leading to something pretty interesting: that the different niches themselves are starting to blur together.

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COMMENTARY: Everybody’s Game at ASTRA Game Night

A version of this commentary first appeared in the July/August issue of The Toy Book.

ASTRA Game Night Pic 1

ASTRA Game Night took place in Ballroom CD of the Charlotte Convention Center.

Game nights are a terrific way to unwind, and the one hosted by the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) during its Marketplace & Academy in Charlotte, N.C., this past June was no exception.

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COMMENTARY: Shoppers Offer Their Takes on Target’s Decision to Drop Gender-Specific Marketing

Resized large Target-LogoIn recent days, the toy industry has been abuzz with the news that Target will remove gender labels from its in-store marketing. That means for the retailer’s toy department, there will no longer be signage referring to certain toys as being girls’ and others as boys’, nor shelves swathed in pink or blue paper, which traditionally have had gender-specific connotations (pink for girls, blue for boys).

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COMMENTARY: Oversized Toys Are the New Big Thing

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo, from Jakks Pacific

There’s the old saying, “Go big or stay home.” Well, at the recent Sweet Suite event that was part of this year’s Blogger Bash, a lot of toy companies gathered in New York City to show off their wares, and many of them brought big toys. And by big, I mean that if placed side-by-side the average action figure, doll, ride-on, etc., these toys easily dwarfed the competition.

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COMMENTARY: Toy Pets Are Becoming Man’s New Best Friend

Zoomer Kitty, from Spin Master

Pet ownership is a rite of passage for many children (and families), but it can also be a real hassle. After all, the vast majority of pets must be fed, cleaned up after, groomed, etc. They require constant care and semi-regular attentiveness, in other words, and that can be a real challenge for young ones (and some adults, too), who may not be used to that level of responsibility.

[Read more...]