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In a telling scene in an old episode of The Simpsons,  young Lisa complains, “It’s awful being a kid. No one listens to you.” (Homer then notes that, as a white male between the ages of 18 and 49 years, everyone listens to him—as he pulls a can of “Nuts and Gum” out of the cabinet.) But Lisa might simply have been too early, because today, companies in a range of industries are finding that they had better listen to children if they want to ensure their success, avoid a public relations nightmare, and keep their customers happy.

Two recent examples explicitly involve young girls demanding goods that their male counterparts already can enjoy. A six-year-old girl in Arkansas, having earned a fistful of tickets at a local game arcade, exchanged her winnings at the toy counter and requested a bag of army soldiers—those little green figures that can be lined up in various ways. But when she got home, she realized all the figures were men, even though she was well aware that women, including her best friend’s mom, serve in the military as well. Prompted by her mother, the girl wrote multiple toy companies, asking them to produce a new line of female toy soldiers.

Most of the companies simply ignored the request. One toymaker responded, noting that the expense of designing and producing new variations would be prohibitive, especially considering that the demand for toy soldiers was relatively slight. But once the girl’s mother posted the exchange on social media—complete with a picture of the girl’s handwritten, sincere request, with its honest and adorable spelling errors—the toymaker was inundated with additional requests, from both other buyers who wanted female toy soldiers and news media asking for reactions. Recognizing they had misjudged the need, the company initiated production of a new product line, promising it would be available to shoppers soon.

Steph Curry reacted a bit more quickly when a 9-year-old girl from California wrote him, in care of her favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, to inquire why she could not buy a girl’s version of his signature Curry 5 shoes from the Under Armour website. Once the letter reached him, Curry leveraged his vast social media presence and issued a rapid answer on Twitter: “We are correcting this now!” he promised. The shoes were introduced just a few months later, with the 9-year-old instigator in attendance. She also modeled the new sneakers at the product launch and contributed a design for sock liners to go with the shoes.

In both these cases, the new products do more than change just the surface features. In the past, a line of male toy soldiers had been produced with pink instead of green coloring, but that cosmetic change was insufficient to satisfy consumer demands. Indeed, it even implied a certain level of dismissiveness, as if “girl soldiers” were somehow cute or delicate, as opposed to respected members of the military. The new line depicts realistic figures, performing military operations. The Curry 6s for girls are designed to fit their feet, rather than just making a pink version of boys’ shoes. Doing any less would be risky; carefully crafted letters written on construction paper are valuable communications that companies would be wise to read closely and attentively.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can companies solicit input from younger or underserved consumers more effectively, rather than waiting for them to complain?
  2. What other industries might proactively introduce versions to appeal more to underserved markets, such as girls?

Source: Mihir Zaveri, “A 6-Year-Old Asks Why There Are No Female Toy Soldiers. Now, There Will Be,” The New York Times, October 21, 2019; Joel Anderson, “Steph Curry’s Latest Sneaker, Co-Designed by 9-Year-Old Riley Morrison, Releases on International Women’s Day,” ESPN, March 7, 2019; “Nuts and Gum,” The Simpsons, YouTube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t28ZB1t6gg8