The Problem With Pink Gadgets: Not Enough Of Them

My son's favorite color is pink. It's not even close. He's three years old. Whenever he is offered anything, he wants it in pink. He's always loved the color. His favorite lovey is pink. His favorite toy cars are pink. When we drive through at Starbucks, he always wants a cake pop, and the only one he'll eat is the Birthday Cake flavor. It's pink, with sprinkles. This is, of course, a problem, but not in the way you might think.[Image credit: Lassi Kurkijärvi]

We were heading into Target the other day and he asked for a toy. I don't oblige him every time, I like to keep it random and special. This time, I said yes. He wanted a dump truck. A big dump truck. A big pink dump truck.

That's kind of awesome. I would have loved to buy him a big, pink dump truck, but guess what? Target doesn't sell any. They have blue. They have green. They have a bunch of different colors and sizes. But no pink.

[aquote]Let's get the stereotypes out of the way now[/aquote]

Let's get the stereotypes out of the way now. It would be ignorant to say there is not a stigma associated with pink and masculinity, especially in our country, and even more down here in Texas, where we live. Pink is for girls. Boys don't wear or own pink. There's no question of what a boy with pink toys 'means,' because it just isn't done. You can't buy toys that interest my boy in the color pink.

It seems to me this is among the more stupid of all our gender-based stereotypes. Pink is a color. It's an unsaturated shade of red. It's pretty. It's one of my favorite colors, too. Would you rather see the sky when it's royal blue, or at sunrise, when it's streaked with orange and luscious pink? Do you want your steak brown and grey, or moist and pink? When Apple released the iPod mini in a variety of hues, I went straight for the pink one. I still have it, even though it doesn't work. For that device, it was an awesome color.

I don't care how pink was saddled with this stigma. It's stupid. It's just a color. It would be equally ridiculous if we associated specific musical notes with gender. Sorry, your daughter can't play an E above Middle C on the piano. That note is only for boys. Sorry, your son isn't allowed to have hot fudge. Hot fudge is for girls. Boys eat caramel sauce. For my son, at least, that caramel sauce will have to be served on strawberry ice cream, because when we go to our favorite scoop shop, that's the only flavor he'll tolerate.

Gadget makers often release gadgets in lovely shades of pink, almost invariably targeted at women. I've long wrestled with how I feel about that. On the one hand, it is odd to market a device to one gender or the other based on color. On the other, if people want to buy a pink television, then somebody should make a pink television. If market research shows that women are not buying television sets, but women love buying things in the color pink, then it would be good strategy to make a pink television. I'm not sure if this is what the market research actually says, but based on the preponderance of pink aimed at female buyers, there must be some statistics to back up this idea.

Here's where I disclose that in my day job I work for Samsung. But I also see phones from other companies. I remember one company released a phone in a gorgeous shade of purple. It wasn't explicitly called a woman's phone, but most of the marketing seemed headed in that direction. But I loved that color. I wanted a phone in that color. So why didn't I buy that phone? Well, it's not just because I work for a major competitor. It's because the phone didn't have all the features and specs I desire.

[aquote]The answer is to start making pink devices that everyone will like[/aquote]

I think the answer to this problem is not to stop making and marketing pink devices aimed at women. The answer is to start making and marketing more pink devices aimed at men. Or, more generally, make pink devices that everyone will like. Treat pink like the appealing color that it is, and not some super-inflated symbol of gender and sexuality.

I know it won't work. If all the laptops in the world were painted pink, there are too many people who simply would not own a laptop, no matter the inconvenience that causes them. The pink devices will not sell as well. Not for a while.

It is also difficult to make gadgets in a variety of colors. It causes problems at every step of the retail chain. The unpopular colors die out very quickly, or are left to rot on shelves. It would be hard to imagine a gadget maker, with profits and a board of directors at the top of its hive mind, investing in a style choice for the benefit of changing the perception of society. That's not the job of the manufacturer. The manufacturer should provide what the customer wants in the best way possible. It is rare that a manufacturer can dictate taste in such an extreme way.

But if your goal is to change perceptions — and that is my goal here — the way to do that is not to stop selling pink gadgets to women. You need to remove the gender from the equation altogether and start selling pink gadgets to men. I would buy, and in 10 years when my son is ready for his first cell phone, I can make a guess as to which color he'd choose. I just hope that the masculine army of blues and reds and brown and drab does not pummel the beauty out of him before we get there.