Apparently, the people behind Peppa Pig have a problem.
Kids love Peppa Pig. When kids love things, there is a big opportunity to sell them toys and merchandise.
But there's the problem. Kids love Peppa Pig - not "boys" or "girls". And if you want to sell toys and merchandise, you need to put them on the shelves — which, in a typical supermarket, are neatly divided into the "boys toys" (with spaceships and cars and superheroes) or "girls toys" (with dolls and princesses and dressing-up).
When you've got something that appeals to both, you can't just ask the shops to put them in both sections. One option is to do what Lego did, and start making "girls lego", featuring pink and purple bricks ("Pink Brick Buckets") and "Friends", which is separate from the "boys lego", which is… oh, its a broken link, because there is no "boys" category. I guess everything else — superheroes, spaceships, castles, cities, robots, trains, videogames etc. etc. is, by default, the "boys" category.
Oh - and Star Wars…
When the Peppa Pig producers find themselves in a position to have to make a choice based on how retailers have chosen to organise their shelves, its understandable that they have to make a business decision around the limitations that they have to work within. But Star Wars is now owned by Walt Disney. The days of Star Wars being George Lucas' "vision" are over — Star Wars can be whatever Walt Disney want it to be — whether thats for kids or grown ups, boys or girls. And that goes beyond the films — the merchandise can be whatever they want to manufacture. And — in the Disney Stores, at least — the shelves can be arranged any way they want it.
When the Disney purchase was announced, some people were excited that Princess Leia would be joining the ranks of the Disney princesses. It looks like that isn't the angle that the Disney Company has chosen to go with.
At least, based on what happened when Star Wars arrived in the Disney Store, with a line of exclusive merchandise. It seems that there are no plans for Princess Leia to feature in the line up.
I guess my point here is that, through one thing and another, we are in a position where businesses will be driven by business needs and goals. Kids toys and merchandise will be driven by the usual business decisions around audience targeting, segmentation — the usual "Go To Market" strategies. Which is going to mean a continuation of the divides that already exist. The only way around it that I can see is if enough people are vocal about what they want (and don't want) to see, and back it up by voting with their wallets. Much as I despise the idea of social media/hashtag activism, tweeting the #WeWantLeia hashtag seems to be a reasonable way to start — its a pretty good bet that someone, somewhere on Disney's payroll (or one of their agencies) will be looking at what is being said and thinking about how big a part it should play in their future marketing plans. The toys & games industy has got us into a position where lines are clearly drawn between "boys things" and "girls things", and that line is getting more clearly defined as time goes on. Arguably, Lucasfilm and Star Wars accidentally kicked off the crossover between entertainment and merchandise. They might have got us here, but I don't think they have a plan for getting us out…
In the meantime, I'll be thinking about how I can vote with my wallet. I think I'll be looking out for any of the existing Star Wars merchandise with Princess Leia (Lego sets, action figures etc.) My old figure has been on some adventures of her own, and it would be useful to have a spare…
UPDATE Time.com has an impressively swift response from Disney: it's coming.