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ViacomCBS Releases ‘More Than Dolls’ Study on Diversity and Inclusion

By Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

A study by ViacomCBS Consumer Products shows that a doll is not just a doll, and that representation of minorities in toy choices can dramatically impact how children view diversity.

ViacomCBS unveiled the results of  More Than Dolls on Nov. 18, a new study commissioned to examine diversity in the Dolls category and factors that fuel the purchasing decisions of Black, Hispanic, White and Asian moms.

The Top Driver of Doll Choice Among Girls is that the Dolls Look Like Them; 51% of Moms Say They Have Become More Conscious of their Choices Around Doll Purchases in the Past Year; 77% of Moms Surveyed Feel that Having Dolls of Diverse Race/Ethnic Mix Can Help their Girls Learn about Racial and Cultural Diversity

Ameeta Held, Vice President of Insights & Business Strategy at ViacomCBS Consumer Products, says the dolls parents buy has a direct and measurable impact on how children view other cultures and races as they grow older.

“Dolls are more than just toys, they are reflections of our society, showcasing the cultural standards of beauty that so many young girls internalize,” Held said. “The relationship that dolls have to girls’ self-esteem and their perceptions of themselves is a powerful one. It plays an important role in the development of their own aspirations and dreams.”

The study was inspired by the pivotal doll test conducted by Drs. Mamie and Kenneth Clark in 1947. More Than Dolls delves into diversity in the doll category, showcasing the positive impact that the greater availability of diverse dolls has had on Black, Hispanic, Asian girls, while highlighting the strides that still need to be made to fuel ongoing changes in the doll category that offer authentic representation and aspirational role models.

Shontae Savage, head of Black Lives Matter Licensing in the US.

Shontae Savage, the head of Black Lives Matter Licensing in the US, praised the research paper, and said it shows exactly why representational licensing is so important to society as a whole, and particularly for children.

“As a child everything that happens at that developmental stage in life is a lesson and that includes play,” said Savage. “Doll-play is an important form of play for impressionable children because it teaches the child to care and nurture others. Because at its core doll-play is teaching a child how to love and nurture another, it is crucial to that child’s development and identity that they are represented.  Otherwise, they are learning the wrong message.”

Pam Kaufman, the President of Consumer Products at ViacomCBS, says the research reinforces the company’s commitment to continue or even increase its goal of creating dolls and toys that reflect the cultural and racial diversity of the countries in which it operates.

“ViacomCBS Consumer Products is committed to creating products that speak to and depict the full spectrum of diversity in the world consumers live in,” Kaufman said. “Through our “More Than Dolls” study we aim to inform and help guide our amazing partners across the Consumer Products industry, where we have the ability to make a significant impact and contribute to positive and long-lasting social change.”

That statement means that licensees or licensors working with ViacomCBS Consumer Products will also have to embrace the concept of diversity and inclusion in creating consumer products, a trend that has already been growing rapidly in the toy industry.

Examples of that can be seen in many doll lines now available, from LOL Surprise to various Barbie lines, such as the Frontline Heroes series (pictured above) that was produced by Mattel to depict positive, multiracial role models from real life caregivers facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another example can be seen in the release in September of a new character added to the Masters of the Universe product line. As reported at the time, the new character Sun-Man is part of the Rulers of the Sun collection, and will be the first Black superhero in the fictional world of Eternia, as a powerful ally to title character He-Man. The announcement took place at the September Power-Con in Anaheim, CA during a live panel among Masters of the Universe fans.

“Originally created by a mother who realized her son needed a hero that looked like him, Sun-Man has given people of color much-needed representation, and Masters of the Universe fans reason to celebrate,” said Mattel spokeswoman Raquel Felix.

Yla Eason, a Harvard professor and mother, actually created the Sun-Man character in 1985 in response to what she saw as a need for black representation in children’s stories and toy lines. Now, Mattel says it is uniting the two worlds of Masters of the Universe and Rulers of the Sun, and reintroducing Sun-Man after a long absence from TV screens and toy aisles. Sun-Man and related characters will appear in TV shows, comic books, and have already been developed as a toy line related to the popular Masters of the Universe franchise.

Savage says that change is critical for children in minority families, who in the past were not represented in entertainment or in toys. “Representation or lack of representation in dolls speaks volumes to children,” she explained. “The message representation tells children is that you matter, you belong. When that representation is missing on toy shelves and reinforced through a lack of representation in figures of authority and again in their favorite TV shows, it sends a completely opposite message: you don’t matter.

Savage also says that’s something she was very aware of as a child.

“As a Black child growing up in the 80’s, my mom was very cognizant of buying dolls that looked like me,” she recalled. “At the time, dolls were either white with beautiful blond or brown locks of hair and various facial features, or dolls had a dark complexion with painted-on black plastic hair to convey the coils of black hair.  I had spirally curly hair and did not look anything like the typical black baby doll.  So, my mom sought out dolls, intended for Hispanic children, that looked more like me with a similar brown complexion, big brown eyes and spirally curly hair. In doing so, she imbued a sense of pride in me and reinforced that my baby, and I, were beautiful and deserved to be cared for.”
The ViacomCBS study came out with several key findings, one of them being that Black children tended to own dolls reflecting their own race; Hispanic and Asian children tended to have a diverse mix of dolls; and white children tended to own predominantly white dolls.
Those findings suggest that white parents should be looking more at buying a more diverse range of dolls and other figures.
The full list of key findings from the “More Than Dolls” study include:
  • When surveyed to find out what girls owned in terms of the perceived race and ethnicity of their dolls the results were: Black girls were most likely to own dolls that reflect their own race.  Both Hispanic and Asian girls tended to own a diverse mix of dolls, followed by white dolls.  White girls owned predominantly white dolls by a wide margin (61% owned predominantly white dolls); and while a diverse mix of dolls ranked as their number two choice, they were the least likely to own diverse dolls.
  • 51% of moms surveyed agree they have recently become more conscious of the choices they make around the dolls they purchased this past year.
  • 66% of moms surveyed said they encourage their daughters to play with dolls of a different race/ethnicity than their own.
  • 77% of moms surveyed feel that having dolls of diverse race/ethnic mix can help their girls learn about racial and cultural diversity.
  • The number one driver of doll choice among girls surveyed was that the doll looked like them.  It was also the top driver of doll choice for moms.
  • However, 52% of Black moms and 49% of Hispanic moms say there are not enough dolls of their race/ethnicity in general.
  • Specific variables that were top of mind for moms of color as they considered dolls for their girls include:  matching skin tone (71% average), matching hair (56%), the same body type (31%) and matching eyes (26%).
  • 53% of moms surveyed said there not enough dolls/toys that represent strong, positive, Black/Hispanic/Asian role models – but beyond that moms want authentic dolls that reflect possibilities for their daughters.
  • Nearly 66% of Black and Hispanic moms go out of their way to buy brands that are making the effort to be more racially inclusive and diverse.
  • It also extends beyond just appearance, as the doll’s identity was also important to the moms/daughters. Elements like clothing/accessories, the doll’s name, profession/hobbies and reflections of her culture all needed to be authentically relatable.

Conducted in 2021, in partnership with Horowitz Research and C Space, the “More Than Dolls” study included surveys with 900 moms and their daughters (aged 2-9), as well as interviews and video diaries to expand on the findings. The questions explored what kind of dolls the girls had and why, how they play with them, and unmet gaps in the marketplace. An additional deep dive was designed to probe how attitudes around racial awareness are shifting in today’s consumer landscape.

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