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Unisex Series, Gendered Merchandise

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Sokka: There's no girls in the Avatar universe.
Aang: There's not?
Sokka: Of course not. Just ask Mattel.

Merchandise is a tricky thing. Often times, merchandise producers don't seem to take note of what the work is about. A lot of merchandise will blatantly go against a work's morals or feature the characters doing things they'd never do. Merchandise also has a tendency to be aimed at one gender that isn't the entirety of the audience. A work with a unisex audience will end up with merchandise aimed at either mostly men or mostly women.

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Children's works are especially prone to this. Gender neutral toys exist, but in general, toys are broken into "boy toys" and "girl toys". This leaves unisex works in the middle area, forcing them to appeal to only one gender. The protagonists are mostly boys? Make a bunch of boy toys. Mostly girls? Only make girl toys.

This often results in a work falling into the Girl-Show Ghetto. Female characters will rarely get any promotion if the merchandise is aimed at boys, no matter how much of the main cast is made up of girls; likewise, any work with merchandise aimed at girls will either ignore or heavily downplay the existence of its male cast. Gendered merchandising can actually affect the work's longevity (especially works that become popular with a completely different demographic than intended). The demographic of a work failing to match the heavily gendered marketing has resulted in works being prematurely canceled.

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Compare to Misaimed Marketing and Audience Shift. See also Menswear Ghetto, when clothing in a virtual economy heavily favors female player characters even when the game or site in question is intended for a gender neutral audience.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Although it wasn't aimed at a specific gender, the merchandise for Osomatsu-san is almost exclusively marketed towards young women.
  • Hamtaro averted the trope in the west, where all of the marketing and merch was gender neutral, but played completely straight in Japan where toys for the series were primarily aimed at girls, with the series getting girlier and girlier as it went on.
  • Zig-Zagged with Digimon. Unlike many examples, a few of the female characters did get toys, but only the androgynous or masculine looking ones like Garudamon or Taomon got any of the good ones (and even then, the toy commercials would only show the male Digimon), with the more overly girly Digimon like Lillymon and Angewomon only getting cheap crappy toys, if any at all. Kari was also the only 02 character not to get a Digivice toy, for the crime of... being the color pink. This got even worse starting with Digimon Frontier, with even androgynous female characters not getting anything beyond mini figures. The rare young-girl oriented Digimon merch would invert this by omitting the human male characters and any Digimon that doesn't fall under the Ridiculously Cute Critter category. Starting with Digimon Adventure tri. this was averted, as the marketing became gender neutral and the female characters finally got more merch. Of course, the franchise having a big adult fandom helps as well. Funny enough though, explicitly female targeted merch and ads for Tri and Last Evolution Kizuna will sometimes still omit the human female characters, but for a completely different reason.
    • Note this only applies to the anime, marketing for the games were gender-neutral from the start.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney Animated Canon films are aimed at a general audience. Their merchandise? Not so much. While gender neutral Disney merchandise exists, a good chunk of it is aimed at female audiences (especially little girls). This reached its peak when the Disney Princess line was created. Almost all Disney films starring royalty (even Aladdin, where Jasmine is a secondary character) get pinned under the line and end up with mostly girl-aimed merchandise. On the opposite end, there was Lilo & Stitch, where most of the merch and advertising completely omit Lilo in favor of Stitch, even though Lilo is co-protagonist alongside Stitch. Even the original movie poster didn't include Lilo in it. The only exception is The Lion King, and this is mostly due to its entirely non-human cast.
  • Pixar merchandise is mostly aimed to boys, even when their audiences include both boys and girls equally. Some notable examples are Cars and Toy Story series, whose toys are aimed at boys only. Brave and Inside Out are the two exceptions, with Merida being lumped in with the Disney Princesses despite not being part of the Disney canon and most of the tie-in merchandise for Inside Out focusing on Joy, Sadness and Disgust, with no male characters shown most of the time with the exception of Bing Bong because he is pink, which in turn causes him to be eliminated from merchandise for boys.
  • Trolls is a unisex movie, but most of the merchandise is aimed at girls because the protagonist is female.
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Force Awakens: Despite the lead character being female, merchandising for the movie completely ignored her existence and focused on the male characters. This led to the popular #WheresRey hashtag, and to calls to boycott licensed toys unless the toy line included a Rey figure. It was around this time that the Forces of Destiny subline was released, with prominent purple packaging and larger fashion dolls of female characters seemingly meant to stop the proverbial rioting. The main line subsequently got more female representation.
  • There was a backlash when the toys based on the family-targeted films The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron were released because there was no action figure for Black Widow (the only female member of the team). Notably, in the latter film, she rides a motorcycle and uses Captain America's shield in conjunction with it, but all the toys had Cap riding the bike himself. The toylines for Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers End Game notably avert this, with Black Widow being a prominently marketed character in the toyline.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Cited reasoning from the creator states that this was why Tower Prep was canceled. The creator said that it was mostly made as a gender-neutral show, but apparently was being more favored by girls more than by boys, which is what the marketing didn't want to happen.

    Toys 
  • While Tamagotchi avoided this trope in the 90's in Japan, this happened in Japan when the franchise was relaunched in the 2000's with the tie-in merchandise for the franchise, which was either pink, featured Mametchi, Memetchi and Kuchipatchi alongside a few female characters like Violetchi, Mimitchi and Makiko, used symbols girls like such as candy and hearts, or was a girl's activity toy like an accessory maker or a diary. In addition, apparel with the characters on it only came in girls' sizes and styles with no boy ones to be seen. It got worse when the anime came out, with most merchandise not only mainly using the tactics described above, but prominently featuring new female character Lovelitchi and having many of the male characters not named Mametchi and Kuchipatchi not appear on it. It got to the point where the toys themselves were then marketed exclusively to girls. For instance, most of the recent Tamagotchi Meets note  devices have feminine shell designs featuring hearts and rainbows on them, and many of the post-2009 collaboration Tamagotchis are with franchises aimed at young girls like Sanrio and Aikatsu!. Some signs of this were visible even back in the 1990s: for instance, Digimon was originally envisioned as the Spear Counterpart to Tamagotchi. Overseas, this was inverted, as the merchandise for the franchise is mostly gender neutral with the exception of the Tamagotchi Friends line, which was mostly marketed to girls.
  • Transformers has had this happen a few times in its history. The original series was definitely aimed specifically at young boys, but later cartoons were more popular with general audiences (such as the Unicron Trilogy and Transformers: Prime) while still aiming toys mostly at boys. The first real example of a unisex toyline appears to be Transformers: Cyberverse, with its the colors of its packaging being less gender oriented and having far more female characters than any previous toyline.

    Video Games 
  • Super Mario Bros. is a gender-neutral franchise, but a large amount of Mario merchandise gets put in the "boy's" aisle, with merchandise of the Princesses (Peach, Daisy and Rosalina) and Toadette being the exception. This was a reason given for making Tetris a pack-in game for the original Game Boy over Super Mario Land, since Nintendo didn't want the console to be viewed as exclusively a "boy's toy."
  • Similar to the Super Mario Bros. example above, Sonic the Hedgehog is aimed at both genders and includes a cast of female characters (Amy Rose is obvious). Half of the merchandising is marketed with and to young boys, probably because a blue hedgehog with an attitude and robots fit in the "boy's" section. The female characters are more likely to appear in the gender-neutral merchandise, most are to appeal to the adult Periphery Demographic. What girls merchandise there is often only has Amy.
  • Splatoon:
    • For a unisex series that uses the female Inklings as the default and has very prominent female NPCs, this is surprisingly averted with most of the series' merchandise and promotional material. The heavy focus on unisex fashion and music in the games might be behind it.
    • Despite this, out of the three manga made for the series, the two shonen series (Sankichi Hinodeya's manga and Squid Kids Comedy Show) promote the male Inklings over the female ones despite having Gender Equal Ensembles. Team Blue is split down the middle but is led by the male Goggles, while Hit is typically accompanied by Maika. The only manga that doesn't follow this pattern, fittingly, is the Honobono Squids manga that runs in the general-audience Weekly Famitsu.
    • While advertisements for Splatoon 2 avert it, North American commercials for the first game were clearly targeting young boys more than the unisex commercials seen in Japan and Europe. The ads are sountracked with noisy rock tunes, emphasize the chaotic action of the game, and focus most closeup shots on male Inklings, in stark contrast to the prominence of the girls in other media.
  • Zig-zagged with Pokémon:
    • On one side, most of the manga are predominantly aimed at boys. Pokémon Adventures and the anime are considered kodomomuke and feature elements that appeal to both female and male fans, but are rather shonen-leaning. (The anime most visibly in the Kanto and Johto seasons; later seasons tend to flesh out their female companions more and include elements aimed more at female viewers, like May and Dawn's Pokémon Contest arcs or the XY seasons' romantic subplot.) The franchise had only one shoujo manga for decades before another one based on the anime came nearly 20 years later.
    • Game merchandise tends to be gender neutral. There is also plenty of merchandise aimed at boys and girls, of different ages.
  • Animal Crossing is a gender neutral franchise, but most of the manga adaptations have been Shoujo and most of the merch and ads are targeted at girls, because cutesy animals in a cutesy village are often considered "girl material". Additionally, the merch heavily favors the cutesy female animal villagers. To date, Stiches, Poncho, and Champ are the only male animal villagers that aren't main NPCs and weren't in the movie to be given official plushies.
  • Atelier is for a gender neutral audience, and most games have a Gender-Equal Ensemble or even a Cast Full of Pretty Boys. In fact, a survey revealed most players are women. Despite this, most of The Merch seems targeted towards a male demographic, with things like scantily-clad figures and fanservicey art prints that make the series look more like a Bishojo Series.
  • Starting in The New '10s, most of The Merch for the gender-neutral Tales Series became more geared towards women, consisting mainly of Bishōnen goods.
  • Kirby remains gender-neutral even with its Sugar Bowl aesthetic, though most of its merch skews towards older women with goods like accessories, makeup and plush toys.
  • Dragon Quest is aimed at all ages and genders, in fact Dragon Quest III was one of the first console RPGs to allow you to choose the protagonist's gender, and this feature returned in IV and IX. In spite of this, only the male protagonist option ever gets to appear in any merch and on the box art. When the Heroes from various Dragon Quest games were added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, none of the female hero options were included in spite of the Fire Emblem avatar characters allowing you to choose either gender. This is averted with the female party members at least, as some of them do get merch.
  • Mega Man (Classic) is a gender-neutral series, but, due to the overwhelmingly male cast of characters, almost all merchandise for it ends up in the boys' section (merchandise featuring Roll being an exception). The same holds true for any animated adaptations that use the classic series as a base, like the 1990s series and Mega Man: Fully Charged, as well as later spinoffs like Mega Man X and Mega Man Battle Network.
  • In Japan, Yo-Kai Watch is a unisex franchise. In America, however, marketing treats it as a "boy's series". Most clothes, even adult-aimed ones, are aimed at males. The original female protagonist, Katie, is barely advertised (including Nate being on the front cover of Yo-kai Watch but not Katie, unlike the Japanese cover which didn't feature humans) and her Yo-Kai Watch has never been exported outside of Japan. Even a shoujo manga starring Katie was never translated, while the more unisex manga starring Nate was.
  • Medabots has a gender-neutral premise, but its anime and manga adaptations are clearly aimed at boys. Even an attempt to make a female-focused spinoff, Girls Mission, is still aimed at boys due to the addition of Bishoujo Game elements such as visual novel interfaces and Male Gaze (namely, Clothing Damage on the girls).

    Web Original 
  • Neopets was gender-neutral from the beginning and had features that appealed to both male and female players of all ages. However, back when The Merch was first being made, most of it was exclusively sold at Limited Too and Claire's, stores that deal in clothing and accessories for young girls. Eventually averted, as the toys started being sold in more shops, although the plushies were still heavily biased towards cute pets and colours like Faerie that appealed to girls, with the more masculine, tough, or "ugly" looking pets and colours, like Grarrls, Skeiths and the Darigan and Mutant colours, getting the short end of the stick, with some species and colours not even getting any plushies at all.

    Western Animation 
  • Word of God is that The Powerpuff Girls was a gender-neutral cartoon. However, as the protagonists were cute little girls in bright colours, almost all merchandise was aimed at girls. This was taken to its natural extreme with both the Magical Girl adaptation called Powerpuff Girls Z and the 2016 reboot being explicitly aimed at girls.
  • Zigzagged with DC Comics adaptations. On the surface, the shows look gender neutral. However, they are Merchandise-Driven, and all of the toys are aimed at boys. DC has not taken kindly to the female Periphery Demographic in the past and caused shows such as Young Justice to be cancelled due to not selling enough toys to boys. They have, however, made works aimed at girls such as DC Super Hero Girls.
  • Modern day Betty Boop merchandise is almost always aimed at women. This is despite the original shorts being gender neutral and, if anything, Betty was Ms. Fanservice eye-candy aimed at men.
  • Dora the Explorer is a gender-neutral cartoon meant to teach kids Spanish (or, in some dubs, English). Despite this, most merchandise is aimed exclusively at girls. This came to the point where Go, Diego, Go! was created as a Spear Counterpart (despite being equally gender-neutral) and the sequel spinoff was aimed only at girls (with The One Guy Pablo), complete with Dora getting a Girliness Upgrade. Oddly enough, the merchandise started off unisex, but after a few years it began being aimed at only girls.
  • PAW Patrol is a preschool cartoon about dogs (and it even has two female puppies on the team), but most merchandise is aimed at boys, with some pieces of merchandise even omitting Skye and Everest. The exception to this is merchandise featuring just Skye and Everest (the two female members) and the occasional male character (usually Marshall), which is geared towards girls. After a campaign to get the female characters on merchandise in 2015, the North American products now tend to feature all pups on most products for boys and girls.
  • In terms of marketing and merchandise, The Lion Guard is treated as a Spear Counterpart to Sofia the First. This is despite it being a unisex Edutainment Show based off an equally unisex Disney series.
  • Infamously, Avatar: The Last Airbender toys excluded the female characters, especially Katara, which might explain why they stopped making them by the end of the first season. What made this particularly conspicuous is that many characters who were far less significant than Katara (including Bumi and Jet, who are each in only one episode of the first season, and Avatar Roku, who's flat-out dead) still got toys. Its female-led sequel series The Legend of Korra outright didn't have toys.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes had prominent female members and a fanbase of boys and girls. Toys however, were aimed entirely at boys. The cartoon attempted to change the unisex fanbase by drastically reducing the screentime given to female team members, but it was eventually cancelled after its second season.
  • Peppa Pig is a gender-neutral cartoon about a pig family, but because the protagonist is female, she mostly appears on female-oriented products, and usually by herself. If something was made for boys from the franchise, it will only have her little brother George on it, and oddly enough have Peppa only appear on the packaging. The only exception to this is the toyline.
  • PJ Masks features three child superheroes, with one of them being female. Like PAW Patrol, the merchandise is aimed at boys and occasionally excludes Owlette entirely.
  • Thomas the Tank Engine isn't aimed at a specific gender, but most of the merchandise tends to skew towards boys. Outside of the toyline, it's rare to see any of the female characters on merchandise, as usually Thomas, James, and Percy are the only characters included. When Mattel realized that just as many girls were watching the show as boys, they created Nia and Rebecca to appeal to girls, and they're included in the female-oriented merchandise.
  • Phineas and Ferb was largely considered to be a gender neutral cartoon, despite being on the largely female oriented Disney Channel. It featured a handful of female charactersnote  that were very popular among fans both male and female. However, most of the merchandise that Disney would release were often focused around either the titular characters or Perry the Platypus, with the female characters occasionally being excluded from merchandise like t-shirts and stationary items.
  • The Simpsons is a unisex show, but most merchandise aimed at kids is for boys and soley features Bart. Even adult-oriented merch and general marketing for the show seem to focus on Homer and Bart almost exclusively.
  • Miraculous Ladybug is a relatively unisex superhero cartoon, but a vast majority of the merchandise has been aimed at younger girl, likely because the protagonist is female. As a result of this, the female characters get far more focus than the male characters — while toys of Chloé/Queen Bee as a hero are still being heavily marketed even after she had a Face–Heel Turn on the show, toys of Adrien/Chat Noir are rare, and Nino/Carapace is basically the marketing equivalent of Bigfoot.
  • All Grown Up! is a Spin-Off of the gender-neutral series Rugrats, but most of the merchandise for that show was aimed at girls, compared to past Rugrats merchandise being aimed at both genders.

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