State of the Art: PC Toys and Games
Native American Barbies. Recycled Lego bricks. "NIMBY -- the Game of Toxic Waste." It was only a matter of time before the politically correct movement migrated from the boardroom and the classroom down to the sandbox. Politically correct toys -- ones that strike environmental, multicultural, ethnic, or nonviolent notes -- are slowly and steadily making their way into the hands of tomorrow's responsible citizens. While Stevanne Auerbach, a child psychologist, author, and consultant known as "Dr. Toy," laments the fact that "an NRA mentality" still permeates much of the toy industry, she calls PC toys "a consistently expanding market, one I definitely watch."
Some start-ups playing on the politically correct theme:* * *
Privately funded with an investment in the high six figures, Career Pals manufactures a line of 26 dolls in five cultural and ethnic variations that represent careers from A to Z (from Alysa the Architect to Zoe the Zookeeper).
"I've had just about every one of the doll's careers," says Linda Stockdale, a corporate lawyer whose rÉsumÉ also includes stints as a teacher, real estate agent, secretary, reporter, and fashion model. She launched Career Pals out of frustration when she had trouble finding toys for her four-year-old granddaughter that depicted women in entrepreneurial or professional positions.
Stockdale runs Career Pals out of her home and outsources production and marketing. Career Pals' introduction in gift shops, airports, and upscale retail stores is timed to coincide with Take Your Daughter to Work Day in April 1995. Stockdale expects revenues of $1.2 million in 1995 and $10 million by 1997.* * *
After nearly 10 years of lecturing to students about the dangers of drinking and driving, Gary Degen thinks the most effective way to get his message across is to have people play Roadblock. The board game Degen developed rewards players for their knowledge about drunken-driving statistics and for responsible behavior like ignoring peer pressure or driving a drunk friend home.
"I know what it's like to stand in front of a group of kids who couldn't care less about what you're saying," says Degen. Involving students actively in a competitive game in which they are penalized for irresponsible behavior (go back two spaces for getting caught with a fake ID or with an open beer in the car) is more motivating than any gory video, he says.
Degen and two partners have invested six years and $15,000 in refining the prototype of Roadblock, which they plan to sell through educational, highway-safety, and special-interest groups. The projected retail price is about $10. "We see Roadblock as both a tool and a fund-raiser," notes William Cullinane, executive director of Students Against Driving Drunk. Degen expects first-year revenues to be at least $100,000.
Jacob Miles lost his manufacturing-executive job of 20 years when his company, Tonka Corp., was acquired by Hasbro, in late 1991. He invested his severance pay and retirement savings into his own multicultural-toy company, one that would have "a social mission as strong as its economic one," he says. Cultural Exchange develops dolls, preschool and infant toys, videos, and books that depict characters of diverse cultures living in a nonviolent society and pursuing a wide range of activities: donning graduation caps, piloting airplanes, practicing medicine, and even attending day care. A line of stuffed animals called Hollywood Hounds, with names like Shaneequa and Spike, are also featured in puzzles and videos. Cultural Toys are distributed through discount retailers like Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart. Miles projects that the company will have revenues of $1.5 million to $2 million for 1994, up from $660,000 last year.
-- Alessandra Bianchi