Cartoon by cartoon, watch what’s inside young girls TV advertising

di Gianluca Suanno*

The guy with dreadlocks who is watching cartoons is Gianluca Suanno, the author of this post. Next to him was supposed to be his girlfriend (the reason will be explained later on), but she left the couch in the meantime.

The guy with dreadlocks who is watching cartoons is Gianluca Suanno, the author of this post. Next to him was supposed to be his girlfriend (the reason will be explained later on), but she left the couch in the meantime

«I can not enter in the homes of all families around the world, but it is common thought that children are placed in front of the TV when, especially in times of high stress, parents can not handle their requests. The gesture is certainly not the best, in fact it has been found that individuals, especially children, are more susceptible to the messages of the television when they are just looking at it alone, while the presence of others resets the pressure of the message and reinforces the desire to express what they think. (Hansoon and Jones 1981 cited in McGuire, 1985)».

Last year I attended the Psychology of social influences course, whose teaching approach, flanked to the ever-useful basic theory, a process of analysis of masculine and feminine worlds in the Italian context. This course made me realize that social issues are more and more complex than I thought, and also deepened my knowledge in the field of sexism. In fact, Professor Paola Ciccioli, one of the co-ordinators, and journalist by profession, presented to us students a course full of information on women’s rights and gender discriminations, above all in the last two decades in Italy.


The sign, if so may be defined it, for my exam paper, came from the combination of two events. The first was to play a videogame with my girlfriend one day in December. The second is not really an event but it comes from my limited experience in the care of my three nephews in recent years. With them, I often watched cartoons, first on cable TV channels, and since 2012 exclusively on digital terrestrial TV.

I’m not a fan of TV spots and I always look at them without thinking. But, in spite of this, I have noticed that, apart from different brands, the typology of toys always remained the same in time: there’s a limited number of products with countless variations.

So I decided to record for one week all the advertising I’ve seen together with my nephews from 4th to 10th January 2014 on DTT cartoon dedicated channels, like Boing, Cartoonito, Rai YoYo, Rai Gulp, Super!, Frisbee and K2.


I want to clarify that I will describe what I saw, without claiming to have achieved an objective truth. In fact, to reach objectively valid conclusions , we require a larger number of analyses and more experience in understanding the micro-signals that advertising communicated to us every day, for years.

I have divided the advertising based on 3 main targets: feminine, masculine, both (with and without the presence of live testimonials).


– Magic: in almost all the advertising there are beams of magical light, halos, glitter, toys or accessories appearing from nowhere.

-Amazement: the girls are surprised by everything created by the games even when the games simply appear.

– Beauty: testimonials dressed with make-up even if children, cosmetics sold as games, fake nails,hair extensions and accessories, fashion terms repeated so insistently (fashion, glitter, style, glamour). Sometimes, little girls in miniskirts assume adult poses and expressions (…)

suanno-foto-violetta 4

“Violetta” is a Disney icon for teenage girls all over the world


For example in one of the ads Violetta, Disney actress and singer, tells that she is a very busy girl, but thanks to her beauty case, she will face any of her daily tasks without a problem.

I’ve noticed, at least in the 65 advertising I viewed, I haven’t seen any books, at best coloring books. When I was child, I distinctly remember that there were at least the series of books “Il battello a vapore” (an Italian book series).

Finally, I conclude with the issue that struck me most, because – being a man – I had never watched carefully at the advertisements about girls’ toys: “uniformity” may be the word that describes the reason for my surprise. First of all, toys and games are almost always the same and, more importantly, they did not look funny. It seemed to me that the beauty, in addition to the magic, which is not a real component of the game but only a way in which the product is presented, is the most important factor. There aren’t creative games, it is not important if the girls focus on the game or take any decision. The only ambitions are to be beautiful, to care, and at most to sew fashion clothes or cook pasta.

suanno 5

In boy targeted ads, girls do not appear often. The only two girls in an advertisement for boys are female fans, admirers of male skills (specifically football) .

* I have summarized the thesis of Gianluca Suanno, one of my best students at the University of Milano Bicocca, entitled “Gender Bias in the advertising of toys.” From his work another confirmation that, students and others, when people are stimulated, they can surprise you with keen and original observations, and find sexism and stereotypes everywhere, getting used to look at “daily life” with new and curious eyes.

Gianluca comes from Basilicata, he is also a musician and he belongs to the category of college guys that, in order to pay for their studies, adapt in doing any kind of work and job. The images of the post are included, along with many others, in his research. Except for the opening photo which is a self-portrait made especially for the publication of the abstract of the thesis.


Questa è la versione in inglese del post E cartone dopo cartone, guarda cosa passa nelle pubblicità per le bambine. L’autore, Gianluca Suanno, si è avvalso della collaborazione del fratello Daniele. La supervisione per il blog è di Luca Bartolommei.


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