G Is For G.I. Joe, Giochi Preziosi & Gender
G.I Joe is the iconic toy which created the action figure category. And G.I. Joe has been a major presence in the toy business ever since it launched in 1964. Originally, toy executives were not convinced that boys (in the 1960s) would want to play with ‘Dolls’, and this perception led to the invention of the phrase ‘action figure’. An African American figure was introduced the following year, and over the years there have been many different iterations of the G.I. Joe brand. Movies based on the franchise released in 2009 and 2013 performed ok at the box office. Snake Eyes, a G.I. Joe spin-off is due to launch within 3 weeks of the publishing of this article. Generations of children (primarily boys, see GENDER section below!) have grown up playing with G.I. Joe, and the brand looks set to enjoy success in the future.
Giochi Preziosi – founded in 1978 in Italy by Enrico Preziosi, Giochi Preziosi is a powerhouse of the toy industry, especially in Southern Europe. The company owns brands including Gormiti (monster like figures) and Cicciobello dolls. Following on from the acquisition of UK toy company Flair Leisure back in 2008, recent acquisitions of Spanish toy company Famosa and Trudi (a Plush toy company) have increased the presence and power of the company. All those doing toy business in Europe will know that Giochi Preziosi is a company with substantial and growing presence.
Gender as a topic in relation to toys is a very contentious area these days. To try to explain this as succinctly as possible: rightly or wrongly over time toys have been used by parents to help children explain traditional gender roles. Historically speaking, these were perceived to be as follows: boys/men – aggressive, physical play to reflect aggressive, physical persona. Girls/women – a softer, more nurturing outlook. We aren’t going to get into why and how those traditional perspectives of gender roles are right or wrong, but what we can be sure of is that media and social perceptions of prescribed gender roles have changed massively over the last few decades. Toy stores once labelled aisles in store as ‘Boys’ or ‘Girls’, and some toy companies still report their business on these gender specific grounds. Today though the best approach for toy companies is to create toys which they feel the market wants, but without telling people that a particular toy is for one gender or another. That isn’t always easy, but therein lies the challenge for modern day toy people – we are trying to meet the needs of traditionalists and those who are more progressive and finding that balance is really hard. In more than a decade of writing articles on the toy business, this topic of gender and toys is the only one which has consistently delivered angry backlash, so for that reason we’re going to leave this one here for now!
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