NEW YORK (AP) — Hasbro created confusion on Thursday when it removed the gender from its Mr. Potato Head brand, but not from the actual toy.
The company, which has been making the potato-shaped plastic toy for nearly 70 years, announced Thursday morning that it was dropping Mr. from the brand in an effort to make sure “all feel welcome in the Potato Head world.” It also said it would sell a new playset this fall that will let kids create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads. The announcements set off a social media frenzy over the beloved toy.
Later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified in a tweet that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still exist, names and all, but the branding on the box will say “Potato Head.”
“While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD,” the company tweeted.
Many toymakers have been updating their classic brands in recent years, hoping to relate to today’s kids and reflect more modern families.
“It’s a potato,” said Ali Mierzejewski, editor in chief at toy review site The Toy Insider. “But kids like to see themselves in the toys they are playing with.”
Hasbro said Mr. Potato Head, which has been around for about 70 years, needed a modern makeover.
Barbie, for example, has tried to shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. The Thomas the Tank Engine toy line added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll.
Dropping the “Mr.” from its brand name could encourage other companies to stop assigning genders to its toys, a trend that has already been happening, said Mierzejewski. Barbie maker Mattel released a gender-neutral doll line in 2019. But Mr. Potato Head is one of the biggest brands to do so.
“It’s setting this new standard,” Mierzejewski said.
Kimberly Boyd, a Hasbro executive who works on the Potato Head brand, told Fast Company that kids love the toy because it provides a canvas onto which they can project their own experiences.
“The sweet spot for the toy is two to three years old. Kids like dressing up the toy, then playing out scenarios from their life. This often takes the form of creating little potato families, because they’re learning what it means to be in a family.”
GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, applauded the more inclusive Potato playset.
“Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys, which encourages them to be their authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer, in a statement.
The Potato Heads played into this tendency to create families over the decades. In 2012, the toy giant celebrated Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head‘s 60th wedding anniversary with a boxed set featuring the couple.
Today, the company wants to stop leaning so heavily into this traditional family structure. “Culture has evolved,” she tells Fast Company. “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences. The way the brand currently exists—with the “Mr.” and “Mrs.”—is limiting when it comes to both gender identity and family structure.”
Mr. Potato Head first hit the toy scene in 1952, when it didn’t even come with a plastic potato — kids had to supply their own vegetable to poke eyes, a nose or mustache into. Hasbro, which also makes Monopoly and My Little Pony, bought the brand and eventually added a plastic spud.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.