I believe ethical marketing is a marketing strategy as well as a philosophy that can affect all marketing efforts in how a product or company is seen. Ethical marketing seeks to showcase morality, honesty, fairness, responsibility, and inclusive in all forms of advertising as a reflection of the enterprise. For a company to generate customer interest in their products and/or services, as well as build strong loyalty, a company will want to take social and environmental considerations in their products and promotions. Ethics is a notoriously difficult subject because everyone has their own individual judgments about what they believe is “right” and “wrong.”.  All aspects of marketing should be considered, but especially how they present themselves in the form of marketing.

Advertisements is a form of media I take very close to heart. I hope to one day pursue a career in advertising, so anything relating to weak advertising in the media I pay close attention to. One thing that I have learned while pursuing my degree in Graphic design is how important it is to know your audience. It was something ingrained in us from the very start of the program, however, who it really mean to know your audience is to assume what will appeal best to your target audience. At times this can become an issue when your assumptions fall too closely to stereotypes that can end up offending your audience more than appealing to them. A common ethical problem in advertising is found in children’s toys that far too often play into gender stereotypes. Growing up as a tomboy, this was a huge problem for me as my mother would never allow me to wear clothes or buy toys that were advertised for boys. Therefore this a particular subject that hits very close to home for me.

barbie-stemIn an article entitled “Selling Gender: Exploiting stereotypes for profit,” it states that experts find toys to be more gendered than ever, “and a lack of ethical media is leaving American youth vulnerable to gender-specific ads that segregate play, stunt intellectual growth and encourage sexist stereotypes that often cause bullying.” In recent news, A newly created Engineer Barbie doll has caused a stir after experts and consumers realized children could only build washing machines and clothing racks while playing with her. The doll is part of a range designed by Thames and Kosmos to encourage kids to get involved with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) toys, which is meant to promote experimentation. The Barbie kits were the only toys predominantly marketed towards girls, yet despite the criticism, the Engineer Barbie won the Toy Insider STEM Award of 2016. Experts and consumers have criticized the Engineer Barbie, saying that it limits girls to household chores and clothing, and sends them confusing signals about what they can accomplish in science and technology. This issue has been affecting and gotten the attention of the organization Let Toys Be Toys, that is asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for one gender or the other. Jo Jawers from campaign group Let Toys Be Toys said that the Engineer Barbie is ‘pinkify-ing’ science and that it tells children that domestic matters are mainly a woman’s concern. The products that engineering Barbie encourages girls to build are limited almost entirely to the realm of fashion and household chores: dresses, a moving clothes rack and a washing machine. All of which are in fact pink. Let Toys Be Toys Facebook has been posting the stories of outrage against this product, after offering news sites like the Telegraph, their negative opinion on the newly awarded “Barbie STEM Kit.” The responses to the shared stories have been receiving many comments agreeing with Barbie and STEM’s unethical choice, as well as multiple shares. A viral image Let Toys be Toys shared on their social media pages shows the Barbie in question with pants that a supporter made to show how a female scientist should be dressed for safety. Through the organization’s petition asking retailers to Screen Shot 2017-02-19 at 12.27.35 AM.png“Let Toys Be Toys,” letters to retailers and supporters on Twitter and Facebook, fourteen retailers have made changes or promised to do so, including Toys R’ Us.

Thames & Kosmos defended “Barbie STEM Kit,” which is targeted at girls aged between four and eight, saying it contained several items children would expect to find in a home, disregarding the limits it shows. The company stated in a statement”The kit includes seven different experiments including a greenhouse with an integral fan to prevent plants from wilting to building a mechanical washing machine from scratch, all of which reinforce some critical STEM skills,.” Although this is true and I find it a good step in the right direction for Barbie it is not enough.  In 2010, Barbie created a book titled “I Can Be a Computer Engineer” which clearly had good intentions, but attracted the same sort of criticism after suggesting that Barbie couldn’t achieve technological success without the help of male friends. Barbie manufacturer Mattel apologized and withdrew the book from online sale. No other responses or edits have yet to be made for”Barbie STEM Kit,” and I believe it is because the marketers and designers in this field still don’t see the problem with directing hugely stereotyped and limited messaging towards young girls. From a marketers standpoint, they believe the best way to market anything towards girls is by making everything pink and relating it to stereotypical “girly items,” which is not always ethically correct. From an article by the Guardian, it states, “While recent attempts, such as engineering Barbie, represent a significant step forward in recognizing that action is needed to tackle the underrepresentation of girls in science, technology, and engineering. It’s ridiculous to think that the solution lies in perpetuating the very stereotypes that are partially responsible for the problem in the first place”. Showing stereotypical marketing as the ethical challenge that it is. From an article by The Drum, it states that Nearly 70% of 9,000 men and women surveyed across eight markets believe the world would be a better place if today’s children were not exposed to gender stereotypes in media and marketing.

If I were STEM or the creators of “Barbie STEM Kit” I would release a better response admitting to what is wrong with their current design and the messages it might be sending to current children. STEAM showcases themselves on their website with their message, “Today’s students are the innovators and pioneers of the future. Join us as we work to give all kids a high-quality STEM education that will open doors and expand their dreams”. However, with their choice of “Barbie STEM Kit” to receive their award, I believe they should retract the award and release a statement defending how they market themselves, as not limiting girls opportunities for their future. A girl who desires to be an engineer can build more than just household, and fashion related items. I feel Barbie should, instead of retracting their toy, create an expansion pack that is more geared toward equal opportunities for girl engineers and Barbie. Perhaps an expansion pack that includes the opportunity for young girls to build computers, cars, or planes that aren’t pink. Only them I feel the creator should be reviewed for their new effort in promoting STEM, and be reconsidered as being re-awarded by STEM. Barbie’s original design should efforts in the right direction but was not enough to be a truly ethical form of marketing towards young women.


The Inquirer Provided additional information on the story and ethical issue covered in this post specifically relating to the toy and Let Toys Be Toys reaction.

The Guardian Provided additional information on the story and moral issue referred to in this post as well as Barbies past mistakes and other ethical issues surrounding stereotypes.

Good To Know Provided additional information on the story and moral issue covered in this post. Specifically what the toy included as well as opinions on its ethical issues.

Thomas Reuters Foundation News News article provided information on the Barbie creators response to the criticism.

Let Toys Be Toys Website of the organization affected, provided information on their cause as well as their social media sites that I linked with in my post.

Aljazeera America News article that provided more information on how marketers are exploiting stereotypes for profit. On other products and the product in question.

The Drum News site used for the statistic of gender stereotypes in media and marketing being damaging and undesired.

STEM Website I used to better understand STEM’s mission and initiative to end educational inequality.