Despite the fact that most parents put an awful lot of time and effort into selecting only the most suitable and age-appropriate toys for their children, companies seem hell-bent on putting out products whose inappropriateness beggars belief. Of course, this almost always leads to a backlash from concerned consumers, leaving the company with egg on its face and an awful lot of products to recall. Let’s look at some of the most inappropriate children’s products ever.
10. Hasbro’s “Spastic” Transformer
People might think that such a long-standing company as Hasbro would do some elementary market research to make sure that their product names don’t have people staring at the toys in disbelief. Apparently not, as they decided to name one of their Transformer toys “Spastic with Stunticons” in 2010, apparently unaware that the term “spastic” is a derogatory term used in the United Kingdom to refer to people with disabilities. When contacted about this cross-cultural blunder, Hasbro denied ever having planned to release the toy in the UK — though some reports say such plans were scrapped. They declined to rename the figure in the US.
9. Primark’s Padded Bras for Children
The cut-price UK fashion retailer, Primark, caused a wave of public outrage in 2010 when it emerged that they were selling padded bras and bikini tops for little girls. The products sparked calls for a boycott of the store and were widely condemned by those opposed to the sexualization of children, including parent groups and the British Prime Minister David Cameron. After a whole lot of angry recrimination, Primark not only stopped selling the clothing, but pledged to donate any profits they had made from this sexual targeting of children to charity.
8. Mattel’s Oreo Barbie
A toy company partnering with a company that sells sugary treats might be seen as problematic in the first place, but Mattel took such a union into the realm of the unacceptable when they partnered with Nabisco’s Oreo cookies to produce a black Barbie back in 1997. Clearly there was not a single black or even somewhat socially aware person in the room when this decision was made, nor through the lengthy design and marketing stage. If there was, they probably would have mentioned that “Oreo” can be used as an ethnic slur to describe a black person who is “white in the middle.” The dolls were met with outrage and disbelief, and as soon as Mattel understood the nature of the problem, they quickly pulled all the Oreo Barbies from stores… and, one would hope, instituted racial sensitivity classes for their employees.
7. Twin Towers Attack Toys
Someone would have to be from another planet to not realize that they really shouldn’t make light of the September 11th terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. And yet, in 2004, toys depicting the attack and a man appearing to be Osama bin Laden at the Twin Towers began turning up in bags of candy. Consumers and Lisy Corp, the company that distributed the candy, were shocked. The distributor had bought the toys from an importer as part of a mixture, where the offending figures had been labeled as plastic swing sets. Lisy quickly sprang into action, recalling the candy, and doubtless directing extremely sharp words the manufacturers’ way.
6. Dick Tracy Tramp Figure
One of the action figures from the 1990 movie Dick Tracy depicted a character called “Steve the Tramp.” Somewhat insensitive already, this toy became downright offensive towards the homeless when parents read the packaging, which stated such nasty sentiments as “Ignorant bum… You’ll smell him before you see him,” and proclaiming him to be “Stinking up the city sewers.” At least one church leader contacted the manufacturers to explain to them why this was not the kind of thing children should be taught about the homeless, protests were held, and thankfully the manufacturers were shamed into withdrawing the product.
5. Mattel’s Teen Talk Barbie
Mattel has often been criticized by those who feel that Barbie gives little girls unrealistic ideas about women, but Teen Talk Barbie really took the biscuit. While each doll could only say four of a possible 270 phrases, there was a chance that they would say such harmfully stereotypical phrases as “Will we ever have enough clothes?”, “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!” This led to criticism from the American Association of University Women and was even satirized by the pop-culture institution that is The Simpsons. In a matter of months, Mattel altered production so that the phrase “Math class is tough!” was not part of any of the dolls’ verbal repertoire, and offered to swap any which had been programmed with it.
4. Morrisons’ Misspelled Toddler Toys
Educating a child starts with teaching them to read. It’s one of the best things a parent can do for their child, so the last thing any parent needs is to be undermined by the learning tools on which they’ve shelled out their money. British supermarket Morrisons was left red-faced in 2009 when they discovered that educational toddler toys that were supposed to help small children with their letters and spelling were themselves rife with spelling errors (“yacht” misspelled as “yatch” and “umbrella” as “umberlla”). At first, the supermarket chain refused to withdraw the toys until existing stock had run out, but complaints from concerned parents forced them to pull them from the shelves and issue an apology.
3. Mattel’s Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 Vibrating Broomstick
Mattel were yet again in the firing line, this time for the release of a toy that sought to capitalize on Harry Potter mania. The idea of a real Harry Potter broomstick would appeal to any child, but one would have thought that Mattel might have realized that a long vibrating stick that was designed for children to put between their legs might raise some eyebrows. Tongue-in-cheek rave reviews for the product from adults quickly sprang up online, and a contrite Mattel pulled the vibrating broomsticks from the market.
2. Costco’s Cuddle With Me Dolls
Diversity in hiring isn’t just a good PR exercise; it can help stop companies from releasing products whose inappropriateness seems blindingly obvious to anyone with even an ounce of real-world experience. It’s shocking, then, that Costco didn’t realize that packaging a black doll (wearing a hat proclaiming it to be a “lil’ monkey”) with a small monkey teddy would cause concern and upset in the African-American community. They couldn’t even claim that the dolls simply liked monkeys, as no dolls representing other ethnicities were packaged with them (while panda bears were an equal-opportunity accessory). At first, many parents were simply shocked, but the growing outrage led to an apology from Costco and the dolls’ manufacturer as well as a recall of the product from stores.
1. Tesco’s Peekaboo Stripper Pole
Anyone who does not believe that companies target children with inappropriately sexual toys should simply be pointed towards this product. While many women (and some men) are now taking up pole dancing as exercise, the fact is that it is still, and probably always will be, linked with stripping for money. In fact the Peekaboo Pole even comes with a “sexy garter” and fake money. After some pointed questions and utter disbelief from the media, parents and family organizations alike, British retail giant Tesco moved the product from the “Toy” to the “Fitness” section of their store, but refused to admit that they had targeted children, maintaining that it was for “adult use.” Funny that it was put in the “Toy” section then…