Mr. Potato Head brand goes gender neutral, sort of

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NEW YORK — 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.” That 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.

Toy makers have been updating their classic brands to appeal to kids today. Barbie has shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. Thomas the Tank Engine added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll.

Hasbro said Mr. Potato Head, which has been around for about 70 years, needed a modern makeover.

The toy manufacturing giant announced the change as it also launched a “Create Your Potato Head Family” kit with two potato parents and a potato baby. The video announcing the kit said it was for “modern families” and featured a variety of family makeups, including with same-sex potato parents.

“Hasbro is making sure all feel welcome in the Potato Head world by officially dropping the Mr. from the Mr. Potato Head brand name and logo to promote gender equality and inclusion,” the company said in a statement on its website.

“The name change will come with a fresh branding look with a whimsical color palette and more inclusive messaging along with new product to appeal to the modern consumer,” Hasbro said.

Dropping the “Mr.” from its name could encourage other companies to not assign 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 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.”

“It’s setting this new standard,” Mierzejewski said.

GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, applauded the genderless toy potato.

“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.

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 potato.