Hasbro just announced that they are going to be dropping the ‘mister’ from their iconic Mr. Potato Head brand of spudly toys. Yup, the new name of the iconic anthropomorphized shapeshifting plastic tater is now going to be known simply by the gender-neutral name ‘Potato Head’.
This latest move is an attempt to draw in a broader base of customers. The mix-and-match toy kit typically comes with facial features like a mustache, nose, mouth, eyeglasses, an goofy looking ears. Until now, Mr. Potato Head and his female counterpart Mrs. Potato Head have been sold separately as individually gendered characters. This latest tweak takes aim at appeasing growing consumer demand for LGBTQ friendly products.
Yes, Mr. Potato head can now be married to another Mr. Potato head if you please. Potato Head can also identify as non-binary or trans. Hasbro simply has opened up a world of new opportunities for consumers to explore.
The new incarnation of the classic toy will also be made more sustainably by utilizing plant-based plastics and decreasing the amount of plastic in it’s packaging.
Like we’ve already touched on, consumer trends have evolved substantially in recent years. For one thing, green consumerism has become a bigger trend and ‘socially-aware’ gender-neutral branding is also starting to become the norm. Hasbro’s competitor, Mattel has also jumped aboard the progressive bandwagon by announcing a line of gender-neutral Barbie dolls in a wide variety of skin tones, body types and other incarnations.
Starting this fall, Hasbro will be offering the toys as a family unit that they’ve dubbed the ‘Potato Head Family Pack’. The kit will include two gender-neutral ‘adult’ potatoes, a ‘baby’ potato spud-lette, and 42 accessories.
The idea is that kids can decide for themselves the parents’ gender without being forced to label them Mr and Mrs. Hasbro did make it clear in there press release that Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head dolls will continue to live on as part of the brand, but now kids are given more freedom to model the toys as they see fit.
News of the name change emerged at an investors meeting on Thursday February 25. Rich Ferraro, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD pointed out that offering a toy outside the gender binary gives kids the opportunity to simply see toys as toys, which he says encourages them to be their more authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms.
Not surprisingly, Hasbro’s press release was met with both praise and ridicule. Some see the move as progressive and inclusive while others have criticized it for being unnecessary, unwanted, and trivial.
Over the years Potato Head has actually gone through a number of changes and incarnations adapting to the changing times. Regardless of how you view this latest change, it’s worth taking a closer look at the history of everyone’s favorite root vegetable.
A Brief History Of The Potato Head
Mr. Potato Head was conceived in 1949. He was the brainchild of a Brooklyn-born toy inventor by the name of George Lerner. He came up with the idea after experimenting with the idea of inserting small, pronged body parts and facial features into various fruits and vegetables to create what he called ‘funny face man’.
You have to understand, World War II had just ended and times were…well, they were tough. A lot of families simply didn’t have a budget for flashy new toys and gadgets, so parents had to do a lot of improvisation to keep their kids occupied on a budget.
What Lerner was doing really wasn’t that revolutionary. In fact, a lot of folks would grab sturdy vegetables straight out of their garden to create crude yet functional dolls for their children.
When Lerner was a child growing up in the great depression, he used to make dolls out of potatoes for his sisters. He would use produce like grapes and carrots as facial features.
Not everyone was thrilled with Lerner’s ideas. Some saw what he was doing as being a waste of good produce that someone could have eaten. Remember the war was still raging on. Everyone had to do there part back then to conserve what little resources they had.
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And stick around to see how Mr. Potato Head has evolved over the years.
A Spud In The Right Direction
Eventually a food company reached an agreement to pay Lerner a small licensing fee to include a packet of plastic potato facial features as a prize inside of cereal boxes. Lerner saw this as a victory but he still knew that he was on to something bigger with his starchy invention.
Lerner got lucky when he ran into the opportunity to show off a prototype of his creation to two brothers; Henry and Merrill Hassenfeld, who happened to operate a school supply and toy company called Hassenfeld Brothers. If that name sounds kind of familiar, that’s because they would eventually shorten it to ‘Hasbro’. Ever hear of it?
Well, the brothers Hassenfeld were so intrigued by Lerners invention that they paid the cereal company $2,000 to cease production of the plastic parts and they bought the rights for the toy for $5,000. Mr. Potato Head officially came into this world on May 1, 1952.
A Sight For Sore-Eyes
The original toy kit was actually pretty horrifying to look at. For 98 cents you’d get a set of hands, feet, ears, two mouth pieces, two sets of eyes, a collection four noses, three hats, a toy pipe, and eight felt pieces that were meant to simulate facial hair.
The original Mr. Potato Head Kit didn’t come with a torso piece. Children had to provide their own spud to enjoy the toy, although the packaging boasted that any fruit or vegetable would do in a pinch.
Mr. Potato Head was actually the first toy to ever be advertised on TV. That means, he was the first star of the very first advertising campaign to be directed at kids. More than a million units were sold in the first year alone.
A Wife And A Makeover
Mrs. Potato Head was added to the Hasbro line-up the following year. Together they formed a little nuclear family with all of the 20th century trimmings. The potato family had their very own car, kitchen set, boat trailer and even a cute little stroller perfect for lil’ baby spudlettes.
The Potato Clan ran into a bit of a problem in the 60s when parents started realizing that their children were injuring themselves by ingesting the small pieces and cutting themselves on the sharp pointy ends.
The Child Protection Act of 1966 and a follow-up bill in 1969 gave the FDA the power to ban toys that they deemed unsafe. Hasbro quickly responded by replacing Mr. Potato Head’s components with less sharp, more kid-safe pegs.
This change-up presented kids with a new roadblock. The new blunted pieces were incredibly difficult to jam inside of a potato, so in 1964 Hasbro decided to include a plastic potato torso in each kit. This new incarnation was a step closer to the Mr. Potato Head that we all know and love today.
In 1975, the company increased the body size the inflated the accessory dimensions to make the toy even safer for children. Another change was made a couple years later when Mr. Potato Head’s holes were replaced with flat slats making it more difficult for kids to place the face pieces inn the wrong places. Not everyone was pleased with this move so Hasbro reverted back to the older hole design in the 80s allowing kids to make little freakish Frankenstein potatoes once again.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
Mr. Potato Head’s life story is one that is complete with twists and turns, controversy, surprises and he’s even broken a few records. In 1985, Mr. Potato Head received four votes for the mayor of Boise, Idaho. Guinness World Records ended up creating an entry for ‘most votes for Mr. Potato Head in a political campaign.
In 1987, Mr. Potato Head put down his signature pipe and became a ‘spokespud’ for the Great American Smokeout, an annual event to raise awareness to the dangers of consuming tobacco products.
Mr. Potato Head was even featured in a highly ambitious art installation in Rhode Island when Hasbro commissioned 37 six-foot-tall Mr. Potato Head Statues to be displayed throughout the state to commemorate the toy’s birthplace. Bizarrely, the statues omitted noxious fumes that sent several of the artists to the hospital with respiratory infections and skin burns.
Mr. Potato Head made his big-screen debut in 1995, some 50 years after his inception, with the release of the first Toy Story film. Sales of the toy went through the roof after the release of the film. Toy Story didn’t just give a boost to Mr. Potato Heads sales figures, but other classic toy sales, like Slinky and Etch A Sketch also soared.
So what lies ahead for the Potato Head family? Well, we’re not really sure but it’s fairly clear that Hasbro will keep updating their toy line to keep up with the changing times. Some have criticized the company for dropping the honorific title of ‘Mr’ from the iconic toy, accusing the company of needlessly participating in so-called ‘cancel culture’ while others have praised the latest marketing move for its attempt at making the toy more inclusive to a larger assortment of diverse consumers.
In the wake of the controversy following the name change, Hasbro tweeted that Mr. and Mrs. Potato head aren’t going anywhere. What’s changed is the over-all blanket branding of the product. ‘Mr. Potato Head’ hasn’t been canceled. Rather, the Potato Head family has grown beyond the restraints of two binary gender choices.
But what do you think? Are you happy with Hasbro’s decision to rebrand the toy or do you think the name-change is a little too-much? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section below.
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