Empowering Girls to Build the Future: Goldieblox Mission + Viral Branding = Leadership

Toys for Future Engineers — that’s the tagline for GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.”  According to Slate Magazine, “The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. (For a long look at the Gordian knot that is women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields, check out this New York Times article from October.) As the GoldieBlox website attests, only 11 percent of the world’s engineers are female. Sterling wants to light girls’ inventive spark early, supplementing the usual diet of glittery princess products with construction toys “from a female perspective.”

Check out the video and more praise at Slate.

Marketing as leadership — that’s too often a half-baked idea. In 2005, McDonalds marketed exercise along with its high calorie, addictive fast food.  A little scary, since it reportedly takes “a female two hours of brisk walking to burn off the calories in a quarter-pound double cheeseburger.” (From MSN News) That doesn’t include the fries and coke.

But once we move into niche markets, where a product has a message because it’s speaking to less mainstream consumers, leadership might well be more possible. It’s all about the story, remember — and companies like Goldieblox want to change the experience of girls (and ultimately women) — not just sell toys.

From the website -- Goldie set to help her dog chase his tail

From the website — Goldie set to help her dog chase his tail

Here’s the story behind Goldieblox, according to the FAQ on their website: “Our founder, Debbie, spent a year researching gender differences to develop a construction toy that went deeper than just “making it pink” to appeal to girls. She read countless articles on the female brain, cognitive development and children’s play patterns. She interviewed parents, educators, neuroscientists and STEM experts. Most importantly, she played with hundreds of kids. Her big “aha”? Girls have strong verbal skills. They love stories and characters. They aren’t as interested in building for the sake of building; they want to know why. GoldieBlox stories replace the 1-2-3 instruction manual and provide narrative-based building, centered around a role model character who solves problems by building machines. Goldie’s stories relate to girls’ lives, have a sense of humor and make engineering fun.

That does seem to be leading with a product — marketing something that teaches skills in a way that attracts story-loving girls to explore construction. What’s more, they’re not merely reacting to criticism, as McDonald’s seemed to do in 2005. They’re creating a market based on a perceived cultural need.

Goldieblox goes deeper than most products. All the kits work together, and there are pages of online spaces where girls (and boys) share the inventions they’ve created. It’s a social network as much as a toy.
Maybe that’s the key that makes marketing leadership, not the ads but the intent behind the product itself — combining social marketing, social networking, and (potentially) social change. Certainly, Goldieblox sees itself as a kind of playful leadership training opportunity for girls.

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