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Was a Gender-Neutral Doll the Right Move for Mattel?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Oct 04, 2019

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Did I ever tell you about my dissertation…? Wait, don’t go! I promise it’s interesting.

It was 2002. My advisor and I had been studying gender stereotypes, which we found were still depressingly pervasive. Then, for my dissertation, I examined reactions to men and women who broke the mold. I thought that people would dislike stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious) women and feminine (e.g., sensitive) men, but try to hide it—so I measured their emotional reactions using facial EMG.

Facial EMG involves placing pairs of electrodes over muscles that contract when we frown or smile, as shown on the Mona Lisa. (My apologies to any art history majors out there.) People can’t mask the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions that register in their faces. Most of that muscular activity is too fast and too subtle to be captured by human or computer/AI-based facial coding, but EMG captures it well. At CMB, we have a method of measuring emotional reactions tailored to market research—it does an excellent job and doesn’t involve electrodes. But if you expect people to actively lie about their feelings, facial EMG is the way to go.

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What did I find in analyzing literally millions of milliseconds of facial activity? Feminine men elicited warm smiles from women—but were laughed at by other men. And masculine women were universally reviled. Lots of eyebrow furrowing. People didn’t even try to hide it.

Add this to the many other forces that encourage adherence to gender norms—like the manly men and womanly women portrayed in everything from blockbuster movies to local ads—and it’s no shock that kids learn gender roles early. Kids are perceptive. They see stereotypical male and female characters held-up as ideals in toys and on TV, and can easily infer what’s expected of them.

In this way, gender stereotypes are both pervasive and constraining, like invisible straightjackets we wear everyday—we don’t have to let them confine us, but the pressure is always there.

That leads me to Mattel and Creatable World, their new gender-neutral doll. According to their official tagline, it’s “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in—giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

Here is a major toymaker refusing to communicate an expectation that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” This is huge. Especially when we consider the crucial role of play for kids in imagining possibilities, exploring interests, connecting with others, and discovering oneself.

So did Mattel do the right thing from a moral perspective?

Yes. No doubt in my mind. When kids don’t feel the need to live-up to masculine and feminine ideals, they get to be who they are without pressure or fear of reprisal. They can be smart, compassionate, strong, expressive, ambitious, fashionable, funny—or all of the above. It’s up to them!

But Mattel is a publicly traded company looking for healthy profits. Particularly nowadays, when so many things—online and off—compete for kids’ time and attention. So it’s also worth asking:

Was a gender-neutral doll the right move from a brand perspective?

Again, I’d say yes. It’s exactly the right move. Why? Because of the crucial role identity benefits play in driving brand appeal.

At CMB, we’ve identified four key psychological benefits brands need to deliver in order to drive appeal:

  • Functional Benefits (e.g., “checking-off” goals or to-dos; saving time; saving money)
  • Social Benefits (e.g., sense of community; conversation; social connection)
  • Emotional Benefits (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced pain)
  • Identity Benefits (e.g., pride and self-esteem; self-expression; a positive self-image)

We leverage all four in BrandFx, our proprietary approach to helping clients achieve brand growth. In fact, we recently fielded a BrandFx study with over 20,000 U.S. consumers. In total, they provided nearly 40,000 evaluations of major brands across multiple industries. We’re still knee-deep in analysis (more blogs to come as we roll-out our results!), but so far this much is clear:

Identity benefits are particularly important.

That holds true across brands and industries—even “rational” industries like financial services. But it’s especially true for brands in the entertainment space, like Mattel. With Creatable World, Mattel is helping kids explore, express, and embrace their unique identities with a doll that offers more possibilities and imposes fewer constraints. This will pay off in kids’ interest and engagement.

Yes, many parents may be against it. But I have two things to say about that based on what we’ve seen across multiple studies:

First: Kids tend to drive toy purchase trends. They see, they like, they ask… and ask… and ask… And parents want their kids to be happy, so kids often get what they want—even when their parents feel ambivalent about it.

Second: Most parents aren’t morally opposed to their kids playing with toys associated with the opposite gender. It’s that they’re afraid of other kids’ reactions. As a parent, I can relate. There are times I’ve steered my boys away from things that I thought might lead to the spirit-crushing, innocence-busting experience of being ridiculed by peers. But when parents see evidence of shifting norms and acceptance among kids, their fears will diminish—and the fact the Mattel has released a gender-neutral doll is evidence in itself. After all, Mattel knows kids, and they put a lot of money on the line. So, if my boys want a Creatable World doll, it’s theirs. Because what I really want is for them to be able to choose their paths—and feel valued for the amazing, unique individuals they are—without having to squeeze themselves into a narrow vision of what it means to be a man.

If change is on our doorstep, I’m ready to welcome it in, and I’m likely not the only parent who feels this way.

 


Erica CarranzaErica has a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, Identity, emotion, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Live Sports: Fans' Last Connection to Cable is Fraying

Posted by McKenzie Mann

Wed, Jul 18, 2018

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Earlier this year, I was trying to watch my beloved Patriots play in the AFC East Divisional Championship game while standing in the airport security line. After numerous failed attempts at downloading streaming apps that promised an uninterrupted game, I resorted to real-time game updates in the form of a line with how many yards the ball went each down and a description of the play.

I was frustrated, to say the least—a missed opportunity as we know fostering the right positive emotions is key to building and maintaining loyal and engaged customers.

When I finally made it through security, I went straight to a restaurant where Tom Brady was on every screen. This time, cable television saved the day.

Live sports is one of the last threads tethering people to traditional cable packages. For most other content, consumers have a plethora of services to choose from—traditional streaming like Netflix, premium network streaming like HBO Now, and even broadcast network streaming like CBS All Access. And with Netflix recently becoming the number one choice for television viewing, it’s no surprise an estimated 22.2 million people cut the cord in 2017—a whopping 33% increase from 2016. 

As more consumers leave the traditional model for “à la carte” style, nontraditional services like Yahoo, Facebook, and ESPN are challenging cable providers’ last bastion of sports. While there have been hiccups in some of these services, like poor streaming quality and cutting out of games altogether, the technology is improving and eventually will offer sports fans a legitimate alternative to watch games on.  

To combat this rising competition, CBS and the NFL recently extended their agreement to stream all games on CBS All Access through the 2022 season—safeguarding their rights to the coveted (and profitable) football games, at least for now. 

New technology is disrupting the industry and cable providers will need to adapt and embrace innovation to stay competitive. This is already happening for some. Charter Communications’ Spectrum now offers à la carte channels instead of the traditional comprehensive packages, Comcast has expanded their on-demand library (including full seasons), and DirecTV now offers DirecTV Now, a streaming service separate from their satellite plan. Some major providers are even exploring new verticals to add to their portfolios, as is the case with Comcast’s Xfinity Mobile.

There’s tremendous opportunity for traditional providers as the competition in the digital streaming market heats up. But companies must carefully consider these opportunities—with so many options (and more to come) available to consumers, solutions must impress off the bat, or lose fans to a competitor for good.

We’ve seen this play out in other emerging tech categories, like virtual assistants. As big players like Apple, Google, and Amazon pour millions into making their virtual assistant tech smarter, they need to embrace a new kind of customer-centricity—one that’s built on an understanding of the functional, emotional, and social identity benefits that drive adoption, engagement, and loyalty. To learn more, watch our quick 20-minute webinar and learn how brands can win the virtual assistant war—lessons for any brand experiencing disruption in their category:

Watch Now

McKenzie Mann is a Project Manager II at CMB. She spends most of her spare time trying to convince her friends that it’s funny to replace the word “man” with “mann.” It's a work in progress, but mann will it be great when it catches on.

Topics: technology research, television, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, emotion

The New Math of Media Disruption

Posted by Lynne Castronuovo

Tue, Mar 13, 2018

 

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During February’s Winter Olympics, NBC tried to measure exactly how many people tuned in to watch the games. This sounds like standard practice—and it is—but this time NBC strayed from the traditional Nielsen system by combining broadcast and cable channel viewership with streaming platform audiences to produce a single number—attempting to account for multichannel consumption

NBC isn’t the only one struggling to get a valid headcount. As I was reminded at last month’s Media Insights and Engagement Conference: no one in the media industry seems to be able to measure the crowd anymore.

The media and entertainment industry has been upended. Viewers are spread far and wide across devices, platforms, and time—no longer huddled around a single television set to watch primetime. We’ve said goodbye to the days of the standard 18-49 year old viewer group.

Further, the explosion of high quality, award-winning content from nontraditional producers like Hulu has fragmented audiences with niche tastes and demographics. There’s programming for nearly every interest.

Conversely, the meteoric rise of programs like Stranger Things underscores the emergence of programs that are beloved by a blend of demographics—from parents to young teens—making it increasingly challenging for advertisers to know what will resonate with such diverse audiences.

From splintering audiences to multichannel consumption, the disruption within the media industry is coming from all sides. It’s become harder for broadcasters to know who and how their content is being consumed and for advertisers to measure the ROI of ad spend. Data is coming in from a variety of sometimes incongruent sources, so it can be challenging to get the full picture.

The media industry needs researchers now more than ever to help uncover who, how, and why content is being consumed. Understanding the who, how, and why is critical for creating content and advertising that will resonate most with viewers and ensure advertisers are targeting  and reaching the right audience.

The changing media and entertainment landscape is daunting, but this is a tremendous opportunity for market researchers to innovate and rise to meet these new challenges. We can’t rely solely on traditional audience tracking methods—we need to dig deeper into the consumer psyche understand how media is being consumed.

The most successful researchers will be those who can balance the art and science of collecting insights—those who can parse vast amounts of data and stitch together a holistic story. I welcome these new challenges within the media and entertainment industry and encourage other researchers to help our clients face them head on.

 

Topics: digital media and entertainment research

CMB + ABC @ TMRE 2017: Attracting Viewers (& Customers) in the Golden Age of Content

Posted by Megan McManaman

Mon, Oct 23, 2017

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We're less than 24 hours into TMRE 2017 and it has been a whirlwind of sessions and great conversations with researchers and marketers from all over the world. If you're not one of the 1000+ people who've converged on Orlando for one of the biggest market research events in the U.S., don't worry—we won't let you miss out. 

This afternoon, CMB's own Judy Melanson and ABC's Lyndsey Albertson presented an in-depth look at how ABC is building a deep understanding of what drives content discovery and what keeps viewers watching! You don't have to be ABC Disney to know how critical it is to gain traction for new products while navigating a market in flux.  As you navigate your customer journeys, amid seismic shifts, are you asking and answering these 7 critical questions?

  1. What does “new” mean to your consumers; what content, products, and materials can you re-merchandise?
  2. Do you understand how your industry’s disruptors are meeting customer needs?
  3. Are you regularly evaluating your schedules to ensure offerings break through and remain relevant?
  4. How well is your brand’s story connecting with your customers’ emotions?
  5. Are you fully leveraging the power of social to engage?
  6. How are your distribution points ensuring relevance and stickiness?
  7. Have you adapted your product availability to better fit with consumer needs (that may be changing due to competitor offerings)?

Learn more about how we're helping leading brands ask, answer and act on the questions that matter, drop us a note or give us a call:

Contact us!

At TMRE now? Stop by Booth 409 to chat! 

 

Topics: conference recap, digital media and entertainment research, customer journey

Hulu's Emmy Win Marks a New Age for Content Creators

Posted by Savannah House

Thu, Sep 21, 2017

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Hulu made Emmy and television history on Sunday night when “The Handmaid’s Tale” took home the award for Outstanding Drama Series. Hulu’s dystopian drama beat out heavy hitters like Netflix, NBC and HBO to become the first streaming service to win the coveted award.

We’ve seen the rapid maturation of streaming services ever since Netflix released “House of Cards” in 2013. It was the first time a streaming service delivered Emmy-nominated original content that could compete and win against powerhouses like HBO and Showtime. And while “House of Cards” put Netflix on a path to become an award-winning and prolific content provider, a best series award eluded them.

That’s not to say that Sunday wasn’t a big night for other networks—HBO snagged the highest number of awards with 29 wins and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” was the top winning program with 9. But Hulu’s big win is a game changer—securing a seat at the table and putting networks on notice.

The sheer volume of award-winning content means there are literally thousands of quality programs available on every device imaginable. With that sort of competition, how do content creators ensure their programs will get visibility and retain viewers?

Gone are the days of linear viewing—people can access what they want, when they want, and how they want. Empowered consumers are more decisive and critical than ever before. For that reason, it’s important to understand what’s motivating people to discover, watch, and stick with shows.

Next month at TMRE, CMB’s Judy Melanson and ABC’s Lyndsey Albertson will share findings from a comprehensive content discovery initiative that gets to the heart of a viewer’s path to engagement, loyalty, and advocacy. While this is a case study on the disruption within the media and entertainment space, the challenges and solutions will resonate with any brand looking to gain traction with new products while navigating a market in flux.

The shift towards consumer-centricity transcends the entertainment space, but Hulu’s shining moment at the Emmy’s underscores the rise of streaming services as legitimate content providers and the need for all entertainment players to start considering what is motivating their customers if they are to be content kings.

Are you going to TMRE next month? If so, let us know! We’d love to connect you with one of our lead researchers to brainstorm upcoming projects. If you’re not going, tell us know anyway and we’ll send you the ABC presentation!  

Savannah House is a Marketing Manager at CMB whose list of shows to watch is longer than Game of Thrones season 7.

Topics: digital media and entertainment research