Monday, February 3, 2014

Product trumps marketing: Stop telling me Goldie Blox is revolutionary

As the only football lover in my house, I used all kinds of tactics to lure everyone in to watching the Super Bowl with me. Snacks work, and so does the promise of a showcase of some of the best commercials of the year. So together we sat yesterday, me watching/tweeting the abysmal game, John looking up how to build our new house (another blog post on this forthcoming) and the kids grazing on a buffet of snack foods and gathering for the commercial breaks to critique the ads.

When the commercial for Goldie Blox came on, I not only paid attention to the commercial, but also to my 7 year old daughter's reaction. She is the target audience for Goldie Blox, my princess who loves to read, create art, hike, cook and build things. She received Goldie Blox as a gift for Christmas, and she knows that it's supposed to inspire her to learn engineering and math and engage in problem solving. doesn't. And as we watched the ad together, Sallie simply said as the commercial ended, "I have that toy. It's not that fun."

Exactly. And that's the problem with Goldie Blox in general. It's a great story, and it's marketing is targeted at adults who want their daughters to know that they can do or build anything. It sells itself as the solution to parental guilt. It tells parents, "you don't want to discriminate against your daughters in the toys you buy them, do you? Buy this toy to teach your little princess that she can do anything that boys can do."

There are so many problems with this. For one, Goldie Blox are still overwhelmingly pink and feminine. So much for "disrupting the pink aisle." But if you look past the feminization of non-gender specific activities, if you accept that maybe the first step in getting girls interested in STEM education and careers is by making them pink, there is an even bigger issue, as my 7 year old so simply noted: Goldie Blox are "not that fun."

The commercials, both the Super Bowl spot and the Rube Goldberg machine video that went viral where the use of Beastie Boys' "Girls" was used and is now in a legal dispute over copyright infringement, show girls creating all of these elaborate contraptions to complete simple tasks (as a designer, I could also cast a mark against them for promoting "over-design," but there are bigger fish to fry). None of those things are actually possible using the Goldie Blox toy. As an instructional designer and a game designer, one of the things that I talk about a lot is replayability. A game isn't much fun if you play it once and win...what's your motivation to play it again? And that's basically what happens with Goldie Blox. A few simple pieces that can be put together to create a contraption, following the accompanying story about Goldie, and then the toy is done. Boring. Not obviously replayable. Not that fun.

My 7 year old daughter has the luxury of having older brothers, brothers who play Minecraft and have a bazillion LEGOs and who have Snap Circuits. We are also a "maker" family that builds robots and upcycles old cake pans into lights, who sews each other presents and that has a hot glue gun on the ready next to our spare circuit boards and googly eyes. We often discuss as a family what 3D printing projects we want to take on, and whether or not it's worth getting an Arduino kit (it is). She sees me building and making things right alongside "the guys" and coming up with my own solutions to science, math and engineering problems. She does enjoy the pink aisle when we visit a toy store, but she also enjoys figuring out how to solve a problem when we're building something.

I see a lot of people praising Goldie Blox as revolutionary. Ugh. Do these people have a 7 year old daughter? Have they tried to play with Goldie Blox with a little girl? More than once? Yeah...not that fun. Just because the marketing messages tell you that a toy is revolutionary doesn't mean it is. Just because you make engineering tools pink doesn't mean girls will want to use them. If you want to get girls into STEM, then don't make it about them being girls. Give them an interesting problem to solve and the tools and support to solve it. Inspire their creativity and their problem solving skills to address an issue that they are passionate about. Don't tell girls that they need different toys than boys, or reinforce for boys that LEGOs or circuitry is only for them because they aren't pink. Stop reinforcing gender bias through color and marketing. Girls don't need separate toys to learn science and engineering, they want and need role models.

You aren't supporting a revolution in girls' involvement in STEM by heaping praise on Goldie Blox. You are supporting gender differentiation in non-gender specific activities, and supporting a company that's making a pretty crappy toy. Just ask a 7 year old girl.

More articles on Goldie Blox:
Another girl's review
Another take on dumbing down engineering toys for girls


  1. Excellent. Very thought-provoking. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Joe! I had a conversation today with a dad on Twitter whose 5 year old daughter loves Goldie Blox, so I'm thinking about this more. The experience designer in me is kicking in :)