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Barbie Turns 60 - Has age brought change?

Rebecca Hains, Professor of Media & Communication at Salem State University sits down with Marketing Matters to discuss her article in The Washington Post: ‘Barbie is 60. And she’s reinventing herself.’ 

Rebecca talks about the iconic brands Barbie and Mattel and how they have grown and changed over the years. More specifically, how they have strategically reinvented Barbie to meet the needs of our diverse world. Rebecca explains how new changes have been made to win over parents who may have originally said no to barbie, due to its lack of diversity.

The original Barbie was known to be a white, skinny, blonde with blue eyes. Even in the 80's and 90's they just dipped the barbies in dye to change skin or hair color, not paying any attention to skin gradations or tone, different hair textures, or even bone structures. Rebecca informs us that Mattel now has more diverse barbies. They have more hair colors, hair textures, and even hair styles. They now have barbies with various eye colors and skin tones.

The Fashionista Barbie now comes in 4 types: Skinny, tall, petite and curvy. Rebecca noted that although these are all steps in the right direction it is still problematic. This is because the curvy barbie looks normal on her own, it is only in contrast to the very thin original barbie that she actually looks curvy. In all reality, the curvy barbie only scales up to 5'6" and a size 4. Rebecca mentioned that some children don't even want the curvy barbie because they say she is too fat.

Americus also brought to the conversation how there is a big fear to strategists of changing too fast. It is understood that we need to reflect whats around us but at the same time there is this iconic brand and imagery, so do we completely give up on that or just phase it out slowly? Barbara noted that there was research that shows people look for inspiration in ads and so if the ad looks how they look, then they think, "why should I even buy it?"

Rebecca also addresses the topic of sexual orientations. She said Mattel has a strategy underway on their Instagram account where they are trying to reach out to the inclusive values that are common among millennials. Marketers are aware that millennials can be very values orientated in there shopping, they look for brands that reflect there ethics.

On Mattel's Instagram they have been posting inclusive imaging of barbie, for example, images of two female barbies, holding hands with the hashtag love wins. So what happens is they are showing parents, who are making the purchasing decisions, that they as a brand are open to these other play options.

 

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