Targeting the Super Ladies

Target’s superhero ladies are out in force this season…

Seeing more than a symbol meant for someone else.

When I talk about women and superheroes there are two different approaches I like to analyze. One is superheroes for ladies and the other is lady superheroes. Not to say the two can’t overlap, but they both serve superhero fans out there in different ways. Right now, Target is CRUSHING IT on both fronts.

Superheroes for Ladies

There is a market out there of women and girls who love superheroes! This isn’t news (or it really shouldn’t be) and this market has been criminally under-served in the past.

From a marketing perspective, it’s important for fans to see women and girls have access to merchandise like this for the health of the brands. The number of men who own a Superman T-shirt, classic flag-blue with that iconic S-shield, far outnumbers the number of men who actually read Superman comics. It’s an icon that surpasses the brand owned by DC/Warner Bros. and has entered the normative culture. So far, women haven’t had the same access to iconic imagery, leaving them somewhat excluded from participating in that culture (and leaving their money on the table!) Not to say a woman can’t wear a men’s t-shirt, or that women’s cut super-shirts don’t exist, but it was just another thing that is so commonly a men’s brand that it helps to segregate women from it. For a man to like Superman he just has to be male. For a woman or a young girl to like Superman she would have to be a nerd. On a more destructive note: Young boys are taught at a young age that they are a superhero. Young girls are taught that they are the princess. It’s tragic.

However, that convention has been changing. With companies like Her Universe and Black Milk catering towards the high end super fashionista, the invested adult female fan now has many options to choose from. Hot Topic is also an excellent source for specialty nerdy styles for young women. However, for a more moderate income, for ladies that may just enjoy super imagery without being dedicated enough to shop at specialty online outlets, and for young girls these options may be a bit too exclusive, so mass market stores like Target are where it’s at. Target has the national influence and accessibility to make superheroes a common language across genders and ages, and lately they have been doing a great job offering many options of clothing and toys for young girls, as well as superhero themed clothes and accessories for adult women. Black Widow, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Captain America and Spider-Man have all been spotted on everything from boy-short panties, pajamas, t-shirts and even sunglasses all uniquely designed with fun patterns and fit for girls and women.

The marketing here is spot-on, just enough pink and purple for the girliest princesses, tons of blue and yellow for girls that don’t want to fit that mold.

Lady Superheroes

Target has recently done away with strictly gendering their toy isles, but that doesn’t tend to stop the toy manufacturers from insisting that Barbies are for girls and Legos are for boys. Traditionally, this means excluding existing female characters from toy sets that were pre-determined to be “for boys.” This serves to further segregate women and girls from boy’s lives as equals, and also sends a clear message that those toys are not for girls (again, leaving their money on the table!)

Recently, when it comes to superheroes, we’ve seen an outpouring of support for including the female characters. When Black Widow was replaced by Captain America in the toy set from Avengers: Age of Ultron, we saw the birth of a new hashtag, #wheresblackwidow and since then the call has been taken up by additional ones for #wheresgamora and #wheresrey. It looks like Target intends to make up for that oversight in this next generation in the toy isle.

Both Black Widow and Wonder Woman are spotted in these sets.

Not only is the merch itself on point, with a nice mix of Wonder Woman for every Bat/Super thing, but Black Widow herself appears on the point of purchase display for Civil War, looking like she’s ready to get down to business.

This seems like a fairly innocuous thing to include, but it’s incredibly important from a marketing perspective that Black Widow has been shown prominently in the key art used for these types of displays. It normalizes her presence in the toy isle, and send a clear message that women and girls have a place next to Captain America and Iron Man. These toys shouldn’t be considered “boy’s” toys, but they do tend to be marketing this way, but by including Natasha right there on the end cap, they are saying that it’s okay for boys to enjoy girl characters and inviting girl consumers over to the non-pink isles.

We even get to see the return of Black Widow on a motorcycle in the Lego isle, which helps somewhat make up for the fact that she was so wrongfully removed from her Age of Ultron motorcycle toy, and both Sharon Carter and Scarlet Witch appear in the airport battle set.

Let’s also point out the nice diversity that Marvel is finally approaching by having Falcon, Black Panther and War Machine included in these sets.

When I talked to a Target employee about the recent influx of both superhero merch for and including female characters, she had this to say:

I’m really proud that the company I work for has fully embraced the idea that heroes aren’t just for little boys. Every child deserves role models to look up to.
Corinne McCreery, www.supergirlpowerhour.com

The superhero world still has some hurdles to get over when it comes to marketing to women and girls. The fact that we’re 10 years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and still have no female-lead film is a particularly nasty stain on an otherwise exciting, diverse superhero landscape and we’re still one year away from the very first Wonder Woman movie, ever.

Marketing and merchandise drive so many decisions when it comes to the fates of superheroes, it’s good to see it catch up at least somewhat in stores like Target, which are big enough to start influencing consumer culture. Hopefully in my lifetime it will be just normal for every woman and girl to own a Black Widow t-shirt without having to be a nerd first.

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