youth, young men and women, adolescents, sales training

How to market to boys and girls Conducting Business with Boys and Girls in Mind

Published in Specialty Toys And Gifts Magazine, June 2005

By Michael Gurian, Co-Founder, The Gurian Institute

National Corporate Speaker
Did you know the reason girls are so drawn to dolls and boys to toy trucks has as much to do with innate brain differences as it does with socialization? With advanced technologies like the MRI and PET Scan, science can prove this like never before. Understanding that these differences are scientific differences and not the reinforcement of age-old stereotypes is an important distinction. It’s also an important step in helping the industry to create items that aid in child development based on each gender’s innate tendencies.

When my daughters were young, my wife and I often enjoyed taking them to buy toys. Once inside, Gabrielle and Davita moved immediately to the girls’ section. After they got what they wanted they would come over to where I stood lingering in the boys’ section. Almost wistfully I would stare at an action figure, and remember my brother and myself wrestling in the back yard, or slamming our GI JOE and Superman together, or building a castle out of blocks and then knocking it down.
My daughters are not stereotypes—both are athletic, competitive, go getters—but still, they are not boys. I was a sensitive, emotional boy—but still I wasn’t a girl. My daughters know their gender; I knew mine. Standing in a toy section or toy store, every parent and child knows there’s something going on inside them that makes this world of people and children into male and female, “boy” and “girl.” Manufacturers, retailers, and advertisers know in their guts that boys and girls are inherently different.

I’ve been studying and applying brain sciences for 20 years, and the growth in information I’ve seen in the last five makes me cautiously optimistic that we can now move the sciences to the business sector—from product creation to marketing to retail. When we do, each business can increase its competitiveness, integrity, and success in children’s products.

None of us is just doing business with children; we are all doing business with “boys” and “girls.” Understanding how boys and girls are naturally different (not just socialized to be so), we have completed a complex puzzle dating back millions of years.


By looking at PET scans, MRIs, and SPECT scans of the brain, scientists are able to see more than 100 differences in the brains of boys and girls. Most of them directly impact the world of toys. Here’s just one example. Girls’ brains are activated more greatly than boys’ by a chemical called oxytocin. This is a primary human bonding chemical. If you’ve ever wondered why girls tend to enjoy bonding with a number of dolls, this chemical is a major reason why. Girls also use an average of twice the verbal centers in their brains than boys do. They rely on words (talking to each other and/or to dolls) more than boys do.

Boys, on the other hand, use more of their brains for what are called “spatial-mechanical” activities—actions in which they become or manipulate objects moving around in physical space. If a SPECT scan is done on a girl’s brain and a boy’s brain during playtime, you will tend to see more of the boy’s right hemisphere light up (especially its spatial-mechanical centers) and more of the girl’s whole brain light up (especially its verbal centers).


People are often curious about why the male and female brains are wired differently. Here’s what we know. On the Y chromosome (the male chromosome) there are chromosome markers for the development of both the male brain and male body. All fetuses start out looking female, but the Y chromosome is already working on the fetus to create the male body (sexual organs, muscle mass, chemical ratios of iron, calcium, etc.) and the male brain (structural and functional differences from the female like the ones I noted earlier).

If you enjoy evolutionary theory, you will remember that for millions of years, our male ancestors hunted (a very spatial-mechanical task) and our female ancestors ran markets, took care of kids and the elderly, and gathered food (tasks which required more words, sensual stimulation, and ability to read emotional cues). According to evolutionary theorists, the Y chromosome hard-wired male/female differences developed in humans over these millions of years.

Leap forward to now—while a baby is gestating in the mother’s uterus, the gender of its brain is largely developed through chemical interactions. The male baby is bombarded with chemical “hits” of testosterone, especially between about two months and six months of gestation. These are stimulated in the mom’s ovaries then in the baby’s testicles by the Y chromosome marker signals. In other words, the mom’s gestation chemistry (and the baby’s) read the fetus as a male, and start the testosterone bombardment on the brain system. This is how a “fetus” becomes a “boy” in utero.Then, when the baby is born, the culture he or she lives in reads the baby as male or female, and begins socializing the child that way. Cultures often push stereotypes on children—stereotyping all girls as being passive and all boys as active; that is too limited a view of male/female hard-wiring, and can harm children.

At the same time, as most toy manufacturers and retailers have noticed, “boys are boys and girls are girls.” If a toy company decides to bring out a toy line for boys that involves “playing house,” using a lot of words, using less action and physical movement but more sitting and talking to dolls, that toyline will let both the manufacturer and the retailer down.

What works better for kids (and for people in business with children and families) is to use boy/girl hard-wired differences as the baseline, realizing that we all start in genetics and chemistry and thus are not going to get “rewired” by giving the boy a doll or the girl a truck. After understanding the baseline brain differences between boys and girls, success and integrity come for people in business (and indeed for families, schools, and communities), by adding diversity of individuals onto the baseline. The right mantra, then, for businesses is, “I am not just doing business with children—I’m doing business with boys and girls.”


Business with “boys and girls” translates into billions of dollars for media, entertainment, toys, food products, fashion and more. Some businesses have recognized and leveraged the boy/girl differences. One of the trailblazers has been Nintendo, which understands how important competitive, aggressive play is for boys.
Likewise, there have been success stories on the girls’ side. The Disney Corporation’s Princess line has generated $2 billion in sales annually with everything from dolls to plush to clothing and more.

Overall, unfortunately, most businesses have not yet understood the differences between males and females. Many product designers, manufacturers, retailers, and marketers know instinctively there is a difference, but they haven’t looked at the brain scans; they haven’t spent a day (generally, a one day training is all it takes) to understand many of the more than 100 differences we now know exist between boys’ and girls’ brains. As a result, they often “shoot in the dark,” and lose money. A quick review of various trade journals reveals:

• Videogame producers see a multi-billion dollar gap in their ability to sell to girls. “A slew of video games now star female characters such as Lara Croft of Tomb Raider and Joanna Dark of Perfect Dark that attempt to appeal to teenage girls but fall short because of the violent nature of the games themselves.”

• Many companies are taking the route of simply making something “pink” in order to market products to girls as well. Examples include Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man (almost identical except she wore a pink bow) and Nintendo’s Game Boy (available in bright pink).

selling to kids, target your sales to the children's market


In my UNDERSTANDING THE MINDS OF BOYS AND GIRLS program, I bring PET and SPECT scans to corporate audiences working with children. I enjoy (and still feel in myself) the “aha” experience of looking inside children’s minds and proving, scientifically, how subtle our children’s minds are, especially their inner need to feel alive and comfortable as male and female when they engage in play activity.
After about a half day of revealing the science of male/female difference, we can work as workshop participants on new ways to design, build, market, and retail for the two genders. One potential activity in a workshop is to make a list of bullet points that grow from understanding boy/girl science. Here are some comments:

• Boys Seek the Following from Their Toys: a best buddy; action of self-sacrifice; nurturing each other through aggression; competition that hurts, but then empowers; victory which brings independence; don’t need soft objects like girls do; enjoy harder objects; not as wide a need as girls for range of secondary colors; success as a quick goal rather than a slow process; hunting, questing; risk-taking (more physical than emotional); challenged by dark, gloom; toys need to fit into hierarchy development; underdog, wounding, overdog; weapons; violence.

• Girls Seek the Following from Their Toys: colors (both primary and secondary); texture (more soft than hard); best friends; asking: am I lovable?; asking: am I attractive?; enjoy family cohesion; like to feel superior to boys; show empathy quickly; less need for aggression; competitive, but more subtle than boys; asking: is anything wrong with me?; looking for self-talk and self-empowerment; enjoy independence, but not if it means losing group bonding; less need for doom and gloom; dislike violence.


For a retailer, understanding the whole picture leads to better choice in what toys to stock. The retailer can learn now, with some real scientific certainty, what toys will actually have the most success in appealing to boys or girls.

Over the last few years, genetics and neural science research has permeated most parts of our culture—not a day goes by that you don’t read something in the newspaper about their application to your family, your children’s school, your own health and well being. Similarly, studies come out daily about the innate differences between men and women—at work, at home, in relationships, and marriage. You can barely read Cosmopolitan or other women’s magazines these days without mention of these differences.

I believe that right now, businesses are poised to bring this popular cutting-edge work inside the four walls of the corporation. The new brain sciences are ready to help. One day when my grandchildren walk into a toy store or into a toy aisle, I hope to be a doting grandfather who thinks, “Look at those toys—they are a perfect fit not just for ‘kids,’ but for boys and girls.”

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