The advertising tips that have kept Barbie’s model alive for over 60 several years

Rejected by the toy field at very first, Barbie is now one of America’s most trusted models. “She” – the 11.5 inch blonde doll, but also her model persona – created throughout the world sales of all-around US$1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) in 2022, and has a manufacturer worth of US$590 million.

Barbie debuted on March 9 1959 at the New York International Toy Truthful as Barbie Teenage Manner Model. Sixty-four a long time later, the doll continues to be the topic of cultural, sociological and psychological fascination. By generating an legendary brand with unique this means for enthusiasts of all ages (Barbie is promoted to little ones aged a few and more mature), toy company Mattel has efficiently prolonged the lifecycle of the Barbie manufacturer for perfectly over 50 percent a century.

Barbie is also a polarising determine. The manufacturer embodies the notion of a “double bind”, celebrated as an inspirational function model although at the exact same time blamed for generating unrealistic expectations of females, significantly when it will come to how they must glimpse.

But while most toys stay preferred for only two or 3 yrs, Barbie’s lengthy-time period success displays Mattel’s responsiveness and adaptability to the altering cultural and political discourse in modern society and all around this doll. So how has the enterprise finished it?

Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie.
Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photograph

A Barbie woman, in a Barbie globe

Investigation demonstrates there are quite a few means to make and sustain brand characters, but Mattel has utilized a “multiply” technique for Barbie. This has associated introducing other figures that enjoy supporting roles in Barbie’s “world”.

About the decades, these supporting acts were released to portray Barbie’s romance with buddies and loved ones. Initially there was Ken (1961), Barbie’s boyfriend, then her young sister Skipper (1964), adopted by good friends like Midge (1963) and Christie (1968), the 1st black Barbie character.

The storylines and particular person features of these further characters join to Barbie’s persona and improve model visibility. Mattel has also employed storytelling methods these kinds of as asserting that Barbie and Ken had formally broken up on Valentine’s Day in 2004 (they bought back jointly in 2011). These tales resonate with fans’ thoughts, sustaining curiosity in the manufacturer.

These techniques usually operate for a though, but how has Mattel sustained correct brand name longevity for this lengthy? There are a lot of methods designed to revitalise experienced brands. Mattel correctly extended Barbie’s brand to seize new audiences, generate progress and extend into new types of goods beyond dolls.

This is a risky endeavour if the manufacturer is stretched also much. But Barbie’s brand name has been effectively prolonged into other lucrative groups these as dresses, extras, cosmetics and entertainment (audio, films and online games). And now, soon after numerous computer system-animated, immediate-to-movie and streaming television movies, Barbie’s first massive finances, are living motion movie will be produced in cinemas in July 2023.

Early stories advise the film – helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who also directed Minimal Gals (2019) and Lady Chicken (2017) – is probably to be rated PG-13. This is not the “universal” ranking you may well expect for a film about a common toy. It hints at another strand of Mattel’s successful Barbie branding technique: nostalgia.

Lifestyle in plastic, it’s fantastic

Together with ongoing endeavours to charm to young girls, Mattel also intentionally targets older people. Specific objects – not just toys but garments, food stuff these as sweets, or even things like vinyl data – can give a bodily variety to a set of attitudes, interactions and conditions for people. This evokes a powerful feeling of the past.

This kind of nostalgia generates have faith in and positive attitudes in direction of a model, influencing customer preferences when it will come to selecting in between toys.

In addition to the approaching film, Mattel has attempted to capitalise on the nostalgia Barbie evokes in other approaches. It sells a lot more innovative designer and confined edition lines of collectible dolls aimed at grownup admirers, for instance. These items are commonly sold in speciality or boutique outlets, and have greater value tags than the typical doll.

New York City, New York/ USA - February 16, 2019: Toy Fair New York Barbie signage at the Jacob Javits Center
A Barbie banner at the 2019 New York Toy Good.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

Criticism of Barbie

As Barbie’s model has expanded and developed, the doll has also encountered criticism. More than the decades, Barbie went through a lot of transformations to glance much more assured, and was promoted as having several lifetime possibilities, specially when it arrives to get the job done. There are now Barbie dolls representing far more than 200 careers – from astronaut, surgeon, paratrooper, sport developer, architect and entrepreneur to movie director and even US president.

But critics have argued that these vocation dolls are a “misfire try at inspiring ladies”. This negative notion of the brand’s ethical vision is connected to the idea that Barbie is rooted in an excellent of femininity that still characterises women of all ages by their physical look.

Barbie has been accused of advertising unrealistic body criteria, stereotyping and objectification of ladies, as perfectly as obtaining a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem and system impression.

Toy Fair New York, Mattel Barbie dolls on display, New York City, February 24, 2020.
Mattel has tried to deal with criticism of Barbie around the many years, for example by providing customers several career possibilities to opt for from.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

So, faced with declining gross sales and level of competition from smaller sized manufacturers providing dolls with extra reasonable body types (these kinds of as Lottie and Lammily), Mattel released “Venture Dawn” in 2016. This incorporated the launch of Fashionistas, a line of Barbie dolls with distinctive overall body kinds (curvy, petite and tall) and qualities, pores and skin tones and eye colors, as well as hairstyles and outfits.

But research recommended that younger ladies aged between a few and ten prefered the first tall and petite dolls. They had been unfavorable about “curvy” Barbie, and this doll also obtained rigorous community scrutiny.

In 2017, Mattel took another considerable step by introducing ethnically and racially various dolls of various nationalities, which include the first hijab-sporting Barbie doll. On the other hand, this approach prompted criticism that Mattel was managing race and ethnic discrepancies as “collectible”, and commodifying tradition.

Irrespective of this, Barbie continues to be a toy that several little ones enjoy with. The longevity and iconic status of the doll is a tribute to Mattel’s astute advertising and marketing and reinvention endeavours. These have assisted the model keep on being applicable even now, 64 years soon after it was released.