Diversity and inclusivity have emerged as powerful catalysts for change and growth in the toy and entertainment industries, and across the licensed consumer product landscape as it relates to these brands. These defining themes are reshaping the marketplace and redefining the relationship between brands and consumers. As society progresses, consumers are increasingly seeking representation and authentic connections with the brands they support. In response, we’re witnessing a transformative shift, with toy and entertainment brands and their licensees embracing inclusivity as a core value and a cornerstone of their strategies. In this article, we explore the significance of inclusivity and diversity in today’s toy and entertainment marketplace and its positive impact on consumers, brands, and society as a whole.
The changing face of the consumer
Historically, licensed toy and entertainment consumer products often leaned towards a one-size-fits-all approach, with limited representation and lack of diversity in product offerings. However, as demographics of the global population are becoming increasingly diverse, reflecting a rich tapestry of cultures, ethnicities, genders, and abilities, consumers are seeking products and experiences that resonate with their identities and values. Brands that recognize and celebrate this diversity are forging deeper connections with consumers, fostering loyalty, and driving market success.
The rise of social media and digital communication has also amplified the voices of marginalized communities, demanding representation and inclusivity in all aspects of life, including consumer products and brand licensing. Brands that recognize the fact that genuine inclusivity goes beyond token gestures and respond proactively to these demands stand to benefit significantly, not only in terms of consumer loyalty but also in becoming agents of positive social change.
Authenticity and the need for inclusivity
Authenticity has become a fundamental pillar of successful branding. Inclusivity goes beyond merely paying lip service to diversity; it requires brands to embrace genuine representation in their products, marketing campaigns, and collaborations. When brands demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity, consumers perceive them as authentic and trustworthy.
Authentic inclusivity involves more than just using diverse models or showcasing various skin tones in advertising. It requires brands to authentically integrate diversity into their brand DNA, value chain, and collaborations. The toy and entertainment industries play a crucial role in achieving this authenticity by allowing diverse perspectives to be heard and celebrated through product development and collaborative brand licensing partnerships.
Inclusivity in licensing collaborations
The brand licensing marketplace provides a unique platform for inclusivity by facilitating collaborations between brands and licensees. These partnerships allow for the seamless integration of diverse elements, values, and perspectives into licensed products and experiences.
For instance, by collaborating with artists and designers from different cultural backgrounds, brands can create unique designs that celebrate diverse art forms, visual aesthetics and storytelling traditions. Similarly, partnering with organizations that promote social causes, inclusivity, and accessibility enables brands to align with meaningful initiatives and make a positive impact on society.
Representation matters: shifting the narrative
Representation matters profoundly, especially for children who are still forming their identities. When they see characters, role models, and consumer products that reflect their experiences and backgrounds, it boosts their self-esteem and nurtures a sense of belonging.
In the world of licensing, representation can lead to powerful storytelling. Diverse characters and narratives help break down stereotypes, challenge prejudices, and foster empathy. By showcasing people of different abilities, ethnicities, and gender identities in empowering roles, brands can be agents of social change, promoting inclusivity and acceptance.
The business case for inclusivity
Beyond its social impact, inclusivity and diversity in the toy and entertainment marketplace offer compelling business advantages. Brands that prioritize inclusivity are tapping into new and underserved markets. The purchasing power of diverse communities is significant, and brands that cater to their needs and preferences can gain a competitive edge.
Moreover, inclusivity fosters innovation. Diverse perspectives in the creative process lead to fresh ideas, unique product offerings, and out-of-the-box marketing strategies. Inclusive brands are better equipped to adapt to changing consumer demands and stay relevant in an ever-evolving marketplace.
Creating inclusive licensing guidelines
Inclusivity starts from within, and brands should reflect their commitment to diversity in their licensing guidelines. By explicitly promoting inclusivity and diversity in their style guides, licensors can inspire licensees to create products that respect and celebrate differences.
Guidelines should encourage licensees to think beyond the traditional and embrace inclusive design principles. This includes considerations such as gender-neutral branding, adaptive and accessible packaging, and product development that meets the needs of diverse audiences.
Championing social causes
Brand licensing offers a powerful platform to champion social causes and support non-profit organizations. By collaborating with charities or foundations that align with their values, brands can use their licensing partnerships to raise awareness and funds for critical social issues.
This approach not only benefits the causes being supported but also reinforces the brand’s commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity, resonating positively with consumers who seek purpose-driven brands.
The path forward: nurturing change
As the brand licensing marketplace continues to evolve, nurturing a culture of inclusivity and diversity becomes an ongoing journey. Brands must recognize that the pursuit of inclusivity is not a one-time endeavor but a continuous commitment to positive change.
Licensing International, in partnership with the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and Netflix hosted a live event back in the fall of 2022 to announce the results of the Global Study of Diversity in Licensing conducted that year. The study was first established in 2020 to measure benchmarks across the licensing industry to hold the industry accountable for its diversity and inclusion commitments. Notable findings from this study can be found here.
Transparency, accountability, and active listening are essential in this process. Brands should engage with their diverse consumer base, listen to their feedback, and respond with action. Embracing inclusivity as a core value requires an open dialogue with consumers, licensees, and stakeholders to ensure that the brand remains on the path of progress.
Toy and entertainment brands getting it right
Barbie, Mattel’s iconic doll brand, has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Acknowledging the need for inclusivity, Barbie introduced dolls that represent a wide range of ethnicities, body types, and abilities during the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. The “Fashionistas” line includes dolls with different skin tones, hairstyles, and body shapes, promoting self-acceptance and empowering young children to embrace their uniqueness. The Barbie website states that the line now includes “25 different skin tones, 97 hairstyles, 9 body types …and counting.” Most recently, Mattel introduced the first Barbie doll with Down Syndrome, which was designed in close partnership with the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).
Marvel’s Diverse Superheroes
The Marvel universe, known for its vast array of superheroes, has made strides in representing diverse characters in its licensed consumer products. Characters like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and Ms. Marvel have broken barriers and resonated with audiences worldwide. Through licensing partnerships, these diverse superheroes are featured on a wide range of products, from action figures to apparel, inspiring fans of all backgrounds.
Disney’s Inclusive Storytelling
Disney has been actively promoting inclusivity and diversity in its entertainment and licensing initiatives. Films like “Coco” and “Moana” celebrate diverse cultures and showcase characters from underrepresented communities. Disney’s licensing partnerships extend these messages of inclusivity, featuring characters from various backgrounds on toys, apparel and other licensed products representing a broad range of consumer product categories.
Seizing a unique opportunity
Inclusivity and diversity have become transformative forces in today’s consumer product marketplace. As toy and entertainment brands and their licensees embrace authentic representation, they forge deeper connections with consumers, champion social causes, and drive positive change in society. These industries have a unique opportunity to be at the forefront of this movement, leveraging its collaborative nature to celebrate diversity and empower underrepresented communities. By fostering an inclusive culture within the consumer product and brand licensing ecosystem, brands can unleash the true potential of diversity and create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued.