It may walk the line of legality but considering the Beastie Boys had long disavowed the more sexist lyrics of their smash-hit major label debut Licensed to Ill, they might get a kick out of this.
For the first ad to promote its line of toys designed to “inspire the next generation of female engineers,” new toy brand GoldieBlox takes the catchy “Girls” and makes it something you wouldn’t actually mind your daughter using as a personal anthem.
In the spot directed by The Academy’s Sean Pecknold and shot over two days in early November, three little girls kick off an impressive Rube Goldberg machine created by Brett Doar, as the lyrics cheer on ditching the pink princess trap and embracing their brains. “Girls! To build a spaceship/Girls! To code a new app/Girls! To grow up knowing they can engineer that/Girls!”
The company was founded by Stanford engineer Debbie Sterling last year with a Kickstarter campaign to give young girls a toy option that was more R&D than Disney, and are now in the running for a free Super Bowl ad, funded by Intuit.
Sterling says the idea for the spot came out of a brainstorming lunch the company had a few months ago. “I made everyone watch that OK Go! video because it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and Rube Goldberg machines are just the epitome of how cool and fun engineering is.
“We just thought it would be really cool to make one out of toys and then we thought ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could find the same people who made the machine for OK Go! video to make ours?’ We found out that Brett Doar was the guy to talk to and that we had a mutual friend and got in touch. It turns out he had seen me speak a few months ago at Google Zeitgeist and was a huge fan of GoldieBlox. So he agreed to work with us.”
When it came to a soundtrack, the GoldieBlox team were talking about all sorts of options, until someone piped in with the Beastie Boys’ “Girls.” “We’re all huge Beastie Boys fans so it was perfect, except the words are a bit mysogynist. That’s when we came up with the idea to make the lyrics all about girl power.”
But Rube Goldberg machines always have an ultimate task. What would their machine actually do? “That’s when we came up with it starting with a typically cheesy girl toy commercial we all hate and the whole point was to change the channel,” says Sterling.
In the battle for girls’ (and their parents’) attention, the start-up is up against global powerhouses like Lego, Mattel and Hasbro that boast multi-million dollar ad budgets. “In order to succeed in mass retail you need to get the word out and the competition is pretty stiff,” says Sterling. “We can’t compete with the big brands’ budgets so we have to find creative ways to get our message in front of people.”
That message is about finding ways to appeal to girls without relying on the pink princess industrial complex. “We get a lot of parents that say, ‘Well my daughter loves princesses and I love her so I support her no matter what,'” says Sterling. “And there’s nothing wrong with those things but I’ll argue that girls are absolutely inundated with those themes and of course they love them because they’re not really presented with a lot of other options or ideas.
“They have plenty of princesses, beauty queens and pop stars. But they deserve to see other things too, and I can tell you that girls do have varied interests–shocker! Just because a girl loves princesses doesn’t mean she doesn’t also love karate or building bridges.”
UPDATE: After an awkward exchange and the threat of legal action from Goldieblox (yes, Goldieblox filed a preemptive lawsuit against the Beastie Boys despite the fact that the band hadn’t started any legal action), the company has switched the music on the spot. See below.