Imagine a world where toys reign supreme, and where only the most enduring brands survive the test of time. In this world, there is one brand that has stood tall for over 60 years, captivating the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. That brand is none other than Barbie.
What is it about Barbie that has allowed her to endure for so long? Is it her stunning looks, her endless array of accessories, or her ability to transform herself into any role imaginable? Perhaps it is all of these things, and more.
Barbie is not just a toy, but a cultural icon. She has evolved with the times, adapting to changing social norms and fashion trends. She has represented everything from a fashion model to a doctor, an astronaut to a presidential candidate.
Barbie made her debut at the New York International Toy Fair on March 9, 1959, and has since become an enduring cultural icon that is of interest to many in the fields of culture, sociology, and psychology. Despite being marketed to children three years and up, Barbie is a brand with special meaning for fans of all ages, and toy company Mattel has successfully extended the Barbie brand’s lifespan for over 60 years.
While the brand is a celebrated role model, she is also a polarizing figure, with some critics blaming her for creating unrealistic expectations for women’s appearances. However, unlike most toys that lose popularity within a few years, Barbie’s continued success reflects Mattel’s ability to adapt to changing societal and cultural discourses around the doll. Mattel’s responsiveness and adaptability are key factors in the longevity of the brand.
The Barbie craze era
Mattel has used a “multiply” strategy to build and sustain the Barbie brand character. This has involved introducing supporting characters that portray Barbie’s relationships with friends and family. Ken was first introduced in 1961 as Barbie’s boyfriend, followed by Skipper (1964), Midge (1963), and Christie (1968), the first black Barbie character.
The individual characteristics of these characters connect to Barbie’s persona and increase brand visibility. Mattel has also used storytelling tactics to sustain interest in the brand, such as announcing Barbie and Ken’s official breakup on Valentine’s Day in 2004 (they got back together in 2011).
To sustain true brand longevity, Mattel has successfully extended Barbie’s brand beyond dolls into other profitable categories such as clothes, accessories, cosmetics, and entertainment. This has enabled the brand to capture new audiences, drive growth, and expand into new types of products. However, this is a risky endeavor if the brand is stretched too far.
Barbie’s successful extension into new categories is due to the brand’s ability to evoke nostalgia, a key strand in Mattel’s successful branding strategy. After several computer-animated, direct-to-video, and streaming television films, Barbie’s first big-budget, live-action movie will be released in cinemas in July. Helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who directed Little Women (2019) and Lady Bird (2017), early reports suggest that the movie is likely to be rated PG-13, hinting at the nostalgia element.
Mattel’s “multiply” strategy, introducing supporting characters that portray Barbie’s relationships with friends and family, has enabled the brand to sustain longevity. The brand’s successful extension into new categories and its ability to evoke nostalgia has also contributed to its success. Barbie’s upcoming live-action movie, directed by Greta Gerwig and likely to evoke nostalgia, is a testament to Mattel’s successful branding strategy.
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The negative perception of Barbie
The iconic doll has faced criticism over the years for promoting unrealistic body standards and objectification of women. Despite this, Mattel has successfully evolved the brand over time by introducing supporting characters and expanding into other product categories, such as clothing and entertainment.
To address criticisms of Barbie’s body image, Mattel launched “Project Dawn” in 2016, which included the launch of a line of dolls with different body types, skin tones, and abilities. However, research showed that young girls still preferred the original tall and petite dolls.
In 2017, Mattel introduced ethnically and racially diverse dolls, including the first hijab-wearing Barbie. However, this approach was criticized for commodifying culture.
Mattel’s marketing strategy has included creating storylines and individual characteristics for supporting characters, such as Barbie’s boyfriend Ken, and her younger sister Skipper. These characters connect to the persona and increase brand visibility. Mattel has also used storytelling tactics, such as announcing that Barbie and Ken had broken up on Valentine’s Day in 2004, to sustain interest in the brand.
The success of the Barbie brand has also been attributed to Mattel’s expansion into other profitable categories, such as cosmetics and entertainment. Barbie has starred in computer-animated, direct-to-video, and streaming television films, with a big-budget live-action movie set to be released in cinemas soon.
While Barbie has been a subject of cultural and psychological interest for over six decades, criticisms of the brand continue to be a challenge for Mattel. However, the brand’s longevity and iconic status are a testament to Mattel’s astute marketing and reinvention efforts.