Mattel Adapts to Cultural Shifts with Iconic Barbie Doll
By: Veronica Pistek
Over the last few years, Barbie has experienced some back-lash and criticism for the lack of diversity across Barbie’s looks, body-type, ethnicity, gender representation, and career choices.
With this in mind, Barbie has expanded the variety of dolls on the market, thus embarking upon the Dream Gap Project to address and educate gender biases in the workplace.
In October of 2018, Mattel, Inc. put forth a press release announcing their Barbie Dream Gap Project, “a multi-year global initiative to raise awareness around limiting factors that prevent girls from reaching their full potential.” This campaign that lasted until October of 2019 hoped to inspire and empower young girls to unlock their full potential in choosing a future career.
Looking at the events leading up to the campaign, Barbie had more than one catalyst for deciding to launch this feminist doll movement during the fall of 2018. Specifically, in April of 2018, Hulu launched a documentary called “Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie,” which analyzed the cultural impact placed upon Barbie’s shoulders.
The film goes behind the scenes at Mattel, Inc. in 2016 during a tremulous shift of time in America. According to an interview with film director Andrea Nevins in The Los Angeles Times, Nevins got the idea for the film when speaking with a friend who worked at Mattel.
As stated by Nevins, “Her work meant puzzling through who we are right now, where we’ve come from, and where we should be going as women, and what we should be inspiring girls to do.” So, not only did this documentary enhance the idea of Barbie acting as a cultural symbol, but it also put pressure on Mattel to adapt to the current shifts in culture, politics, and leadership through the means of this powerful doll.
In addition, Barbie utilized the time correctly to make sure this campaign aligned with their 60th Anniversary that occurred in March 2019. The Women’s History month of March also happens to harbor International Women’s Day.
Taking full advantage of Barbie’s birthday and celebrating women all around the globe, Barbie decided to go on tour all across the nation on International Women’s Day. In New York City, there was a pop-up Barbie event; in over 30 Walmart locations there were Barbie birthday parties; and the Empire State Building even lit up pink in honor of Barbie’s anniversary. These in-person events acted as a means for Barbie to revive as an entity in the minds of their young consumers—allowing Barbie to become a “person” that they can aspire to be.
Though these events were the company’s main focus throughout the month of March, Barbie has also been utilizing its platform across social media as the number one girls brand on YouTube to connect with their audience about this cultural revolution.
In this particular campaign, Barbie took to YouTube to showcase young girls advocating to “#CloseTheDreamGap” in a short press kit utilized by media outlets like Time Magazine, USA Today, ABC, CNN, and various news broadcasting channels. In this video, the young girls describe how “by age 7, we are more likely to think boys are smarter than us. We are also 3 times less likely to be given a science related toy. We need to see brilliant women being brilliant to imagine ourselves doing what they do.” These key statements summarized the fuel behind Barbie’s ultimate goal: to inspire young girls to dream limitlessly.
Following this impactful video, Barbie continued to release vlog series on her YouTube channel addressing different careers such as a dentist, news broadcaster, and astronaut—garnering millions of views and likes as a result. This specific vlog format is appealing to the young audience that prefers immediate content that they can relate to.
According to media coverage by NBC News, “Barbie has had over 200 careers, that is a core pillar to what the brand stands for—showing women they can be anything they want to become.” So, by broadening the inclusiveness for girls, Barbie intended to broaden the opportunity to gift a Barbie doll to a young girl and feel good about it.
The Barbie role models that were at the center of this campaign were broadcasted on Barbie’s Instagram on International Women’s Day and included women such as Yara Shahidi, Naoimi Osaka, Chen Man, Tessa Virtue, and Ita Buttrose. According to News 5 Cleveland, “The Barbie role models are women from around the world who have inspired young girls of today to close the dream gap and make their dreams a reality.”
Moreover, Barbie’s public relations agency that assisted in the 60th Anniversary Tour specifically “piqued broadcast attention with media kits featuring ‘News Anchor’ Barbie dolls, resulting in features on nightly segments and anchor’s social feeds,” according to Mitchcommgroup.com.
In hopes to capture even more interest about Barbie’s birthday and Dream Gap Project, the agency broadened their strategy and invited elementary schools to their tour and captured video content used for pitching to the media for the rest of the tour. As a result, this campaign garnered 300 news stories, 220 million social impressions, and most importantly a significant increase in sales at event stores and surrounding stores.
Ultimately, this campaign has been successful in terms of its media exposure and the rising sales of Barbie products. In the Public Relations industry, a campaign is considered to be successful if it is engaging and enhances brand recognition.
This campaign by Barbie has not only gained major in-store and online exposure to their young audience, but also appealed to the parents with the purchasing power. In light of the Dream Gap Project, hopefully parents worldwide see the Barbie brand as more inclusive, progressive, and empowering for their children.
Measuring the true impact of the #CloseTheDreamGap campaign to raise awareness and empowerment is difficult to quantify. In the original press release, Mattel, Inc. stated that they were dedicated to “raising awareness through impactful content, showing girls more role models, leveraging Barbie as a role model, and continuing to offer empowering products.”
Though one can observe Barbie’s massive viewing on social media and increase in doll purchases following this campaign, this is an ongoing awareness that Barbie has to build in order to resonate and make a lasting-influence on their young girl audience.