Toying with Disruption

Laura Colton / Social Media and Content Marketing

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Barbie dolls have long sat on store shelves with an array of trendy outfits, fashionista accessories, and feet ready to slip into heels at any given moment. They’ve taught girls that being forever stylish and beautiful are something to aspire to, and that going shopping and finding the right outfit triumph over having hobbies, or for that matter, a career.


Although women have made incredible strides over the last decade, there is still a significant lack of women in jobs like engineering and building.  Which is how Debbie Sterling, an engineer out of Stanford, came to the conclusion that there needed to be more toys on the market that encouraged young girls to value creation and brains, over beauty and materialism.  It was this realization that helped lay the foundation for Sterling’s company GoldieBlox, which was created as a way to ‘disrupt the pink aisle’ and potentially inspire a new generation of girls to have larger aspirations. Here’s how Sterling decided to revamp the toy industry and grow her company from a startup idea into a successful and empowering message.

Promote A Clear Message


As of late, female empowerment and girl-power messages are sweeping the nation as more women are uniting together to proudly promote self-confidence and independence. Thanks to outspoken women such as Sheryl Sandberg and Gloria Steinem, it has become increasingly apparent that there is a significant lack of women in leadership roles. This rings particularly true in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), which have historically lacked women and have always been something of a ‘boys club’.

This begs the question as to why there is such a blatant gender divide in these careers. One underlining problem may partially lie in the fact that young girls are seldom encouraged to pursue jobs in these arenas. At a young age, girls play with toys that rarely deviate from the spoon-fed pink and glittery assortment that marketers push out: Pink cooking sets, sparkly hairstyling tools, and bedazzled fashion wardrobe. Boys, on the other hand, are encouraged to play with toys like Lincoln logs, racecars, police trucks, army men, and superheroes. The gendered toy divide is in full effect. While toys may seem minor in the great scheme of things, it has actually been proven that they have a long lasting impact on the way kids interact and learn to view the world.


Which is why the demand for a company like GoldieBlox, which works to dismantle the current structure, has been so widely accepted and applauded by parents and children alike. What began as a simple idea to change the way girls play and learn, has now become an extremely lucrative business that has produced a number of viral videos, a successful Super Bowl ad, and a presence in more than 6,000 retail stores worldwide. The company’s message has opened a dialogue about the long-term effects of gender marketing and addressed that there is as greater desire for neutral products that appeal to a wider market.

Think Outside of the Box


The origin story of GoldieBlox is a great case study of a startup with a simple message, disrupting a whole industry through savvy marketing and a forward-thinking business plan.

GoldieBlox began as a series of educational books starring an inquisitive young girl named Goldie who has a strong passion for engineering. Goldie embarks on adventures with her friends, and along the way must solve problems by building various machines.

Since the industry never believed GoldieBlox could go mainstream, Sterling self-funded her company for the first 9 months with her own life savings. In an effort to raise more money to help fund the cost of tools, Sterling decided to create a Kickstarter campaign that reached a goal of $150,000 in only four days.


Following the immediate overwhelming interest in GoldieBlox was a Kickstarter video that got picked up by Upworthy and quickly went viral. The video was hugely successful and resulted in tens of thousands of people fighting to pre-order their very own GoldieBlox set for their children.


One of the most amazing elements to the success of GoldieBlox, especially from a marketing standpoint, is how the company’s campaign took off in such a huge and viral way. The Internet buzz around the video, “Princess Machine”, works on so many different levels. For one, the video begins with a group of three unimpressed girls watching three girls dressed up in pink, singing and dancing on TV. Clearly bored and fed up, the trio decides to take matter into their own hands. With a toolbox in hand and goggles in place, the three turn on a record player and begin setting off a series of events by knocking over various toys throughout the house and across the front yard.

The domino effect leaves viewers with the last image of a switch turning the channel on TV to feature the GoldieBlox ad. Ok, but why did this work? First and foremost, the ad felt original and unapologetic. Although the video lasts a little over two minutes, there’s a sense of satisfaction in sitting through the entire video to find out the end result. The idea and message behind the ad feel simple, yet the video itself is clearly complex and has many revolving components.  The ad clearly pokes fun at ads that use similar marketing tactics to girls, and decidedly tries to move away from that thought process. And lastly, the video is largely in line with the cultural shift and movement that is presently changing the landscape of gender marketing. The key to marketing to kids shouldn’t be so hung up in segmenting gender, but should instead show that girls too can build and create, and have fun while doing it.

Reassess the New Demographic


If there’s one thing most people can agree on, it’s that GoldieBlox has shed light on the pink/blue aisle segregation and gender coding that is very much alive in the toy industry and in stores.

The reality is that a lot of brands need to re-evaluate their core principles and re-asses the way in which they connect with consumers. Long gone are the days that it is enough to simply put women in campaigns and expect for them to automatically align with the company.

Brands need to realize that this is a new generation of women who are fed up with being cast on the sidelines and not given the chance to play on even footing with their male counterparts. Times are rapidly changing, and archaic marketing techniques that still pander to an old-school way of thinking are quickly going out the window.

Sterling pinpointed a huge, unspoken problem in the toy industry and took action to build a brand that encouraged girls to try new things and break away from outdated gendered stereotypes. What is refreshing is that we live in a time where we will continue to see more companies emerge in an effort to disrupt industries… the question remains on how this will continue to transform the landscape of marketing as a whole.