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Superheros and Princesses

What are you going to be for Halloween?  It’s a question I begin asking children in my life around Labor Day, remembering the excitement of planning, purchasing (or making!), and finally wearing the perfect costume.  Halloween is a day for dress-up and make believe, when kids get to be their favorite supblog-picerhero or character.

This year more kids are answering the question of what they want to be by dressing up as superhero than a princess. After an 11-year run at the top of the National Retail Federation’s Costumes Survey, the mighty princess has fallen.  Direct explanations for the change include the popularity of shows like Supergirl and a new Wonder Woman reboot along with a three-year lag since the release of a new Disney princess movie.

More broadly, the rise of the superhero and comparative fall of the princess costume may be another sign of a changing culture when it comes to gender.  Last year Target moved away from gender-based signs in their stores, marking Toys, Home, and Entertainment products by theme rather than gender – for example, “Action Toys” rather than “Toys for Boys”.  Similarly, 2015 and 2016 Superbowl advertising included two campaigns that flipped common gender scripts: Always’ “Like a Girl” commercials that featured active girls running and throwing, and Dove’s “#RealStrength” ads depicting emotional men caring for their children.  While you will still find plenty of rough-and-tumble truck commercials when tuning into a football game, marketers are finding that new messages of what it means to be a woman or a man are resonating with their customers.

Who knows, maybe next year the princess costume will be back on top, driven by boys who finally get to be Elsa for Halloween.

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