Here’s to the Next 50 Years?

Already being that Barbie is 54 years old, what’s in store for the future of every girl’s favorite plastic friend?

In recent years, Mattel has struggled to sell the iconic doll what with changing times and economic hardships around the world. She’s reigned as top doll for the past 50 years, but what can she do to survive the next 50?

Barbie has had a distinguishing trait that I think will last her into the future: she adapts with the times. This is a key factor in finding her way into young girls’ hearts. In this great evolution of Barbie (photo), you can see how she has adapted her style and also looks to keep up on the times. She’s always in style, and she’s always doing different things to reinvent herself. Mattel purposefully follows trends to develop new dolls and keep up with customer demand on the latest craze. She has a prominent digital and film presence, making her highly recognizable and relevant to young girls everywhere.

Right now, it’s important for Mattel to focus on innovation. How can they make a Barbie that has something no other toy has? A Barbie that’s different from any other Barbie or Bratz doll or Monster High doll? This will carry Barbie forward not only with young girls and their parents, but also with collectors. Barbie collectors are a serious market, but they’ll only buy and only want to buy if the doll is especially unique and limited in quantity.

I don’t know what to say about Barbie’s future except that, judging from her past, I think she’s managed to stay relevant for 50 years. FIFTY YEARS! Isn’t it crazy when you think about it? How many toys can say they are 50 years old and still relevant and still being bought? You can pretty much count them on one hand. She is the ultimate girl’s toy. She is timeless. That’s her key to sticking around for the next 50 years.

As you can tell, she’s staked her claim to this generation already, making a scene on social media with her breakup with Ken. And she’s still packed on store shelves in every department store toy section.

Basically, my advice for Barbie to keep up and stay in touch with young girls for the next 50 years is to keep doing what she’s doing. Who knows what trends will come up, and who knows what the future really has in store. Maybe it will someday be acceptable for there to be a Lesbian Barbie. I don’t see why not, as long as she remains true to her values of strong feminism and beautiful dreams. That’s what every girl, and really, every person wants, right?

In that case, maybe it’s safe to say that the world will always be, indeed, a Barbie World.



Let’s Be Friends!

Barbie has been social since her girly persona got developed in the late ’60s through various marketing campaigns to make her appealing to young girls who looked up to teenagers.

But Barbie has gotten social in a different way in the last several years: through social media.

With an online presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube, Barbie has staked her claim to a variety of audiences. Here’s a peek into her standings:

Facebook: 9,809,620 likes

Typical posts from Barbie include things like Barbie fun facts, showcasing the latest doll edition, highlighting on a craze (like showing the Katniss doll on the eve of the latest Hunger Games movie release), and “Which outfit should I wear tonight?”

Twitter: 191,144 followers

@BarbieStyle features pictures, videos, and similar posts to what she has on Facebook.

Pinterest: 6,370 followers

Barbie gets it–you’ve got to be visually appealing to make it on Pinterest. However, being such a niche market itself, Pinterest doesn’t have a lot of love for Barbie, and I’m guessing it’s mostly collectors and die-hards.

Instagram: 110,935 followers

A lot of what Barbie does on Instagram is copied onto Twitter and Facebook, but she does it well with more appealing, perfect-in-that-Barbie-esque-way photos.

YouTube: 353, 629 subscribers

Videos about new dolls and new trends. Accessible in all kinds of different languages.

Barbie also has Tumblr and Foursquare accounts.

Should be harmless right? Well, if her material is aimed at the right audience.

A problem with Barbie being on so many different social platforms is the fact that she has an unidentified target market. I’ve discussed this in a previous post–the fact that Barbie technically has to market herself to children and parents alike, to collectors, and, one I failed to mention, department and toy stores. But what I really mean by this is the fact that Barbie is not specifically geared toward teenagers and people in their 20s. Who are often the people who are making comments on Barbie’s wall on Facebook, for instance:

Retrieved from Facebook

Retrieved from Facebook

Little kids look at this, Jenny and Brittney.

Barbie’s social media also doesn’t offer prizes or incentives (don’t be so snobby, Mattel!), but she is famous for her fan votes. For instance, social media brought Barbie and Ken back together in 2011. During their split (which occurred in 2004), Ken and Barbie took to separate social media accounts, and in honor of her impending 50th Anniversary, in January 2011, Ken started tweeting that he wanted Barbie back! And, to get the fans involved in all the excitement, the minds behind Barbie’s social media got them to vote whether or not Barbie should take him back.

Thank goodness she said yes, thanks to all her fans’ votes.

But in all honesty, I will say that was a win on Barbie’s social media’s part and probably the best strategy they could’ve taken.



But Is It Really?

The title of this blog is “A Barbie World,” taken in reference to the popular Aqua song “Barbie Girl.” But is this world really a Barbie World after all? Is Barbie everything she is in the United States globally as well?

The picture above shows a few dolls from Mattel’s “Dolls of the World” line. When I was a kid, my mom gave my sister and I Norwegian and German Barbie dolls as that was our heritage. I remember thinking that these must be the Barbie dolls that they give kids in other countries, which of course isn’t true. The dolls are made, according to Mattel, to boost American children’s understanding of other cultures. But, in fact, Mexican Barbie generated backlash just this year.

Every doll of the world is released with a passport and a pet. Mexican Barbie, of course, came with a passport. And her pet was a Chihuahua. This, apparently, didn’t sit well with Hispanics across the globe. Mexican blogger Adriana Velez said, “All girls deserve dolls that enlighten them, not that talk down to  them with this half-assed ethnic tourism,” suggesting the doll stereotypes Mexican women.

While Dolls of the World aren’t specifically marketed to their “native” countries, Mattel has adapted to each country with their dolls. In China, for example, there is currently a generation of “tiger parents” who want their children to be very well educated and achieve diverse skills. So Mattel is marketing a Violin Soloist Barbie. It’s not thrilling the parents, however, according to parent Luo Chongzong. “My daughter loves those dolls, but … they distract her from her studies,” 33-year old Luo said in the report. “She’ll spend hours braiding her hair, dressing and undressing her.”

This quote brings us back to 2011 when Mattel closed a major, six-story Shanghai Build-your-own Barbie store due to poor profits. Apparently they didn’t do their research, marketing dolls with more American features than Chinese.

The Middle East isn’t full of Barbie-lovers either. In Arab nations, Barbie has faced opposition on political, religious and social grounds. She is all things American in an anti-American area. With all the cultural hostility prevalent in the Middle East, Mattel has heavily backed off its marketing.

While Barbie might have some kinks to work out in Asian and Latin American nations, she’s apparently thriving in Europe. Slate author Moira Redmond writes, “Barbie’s only problem is an American inferiority complex. In the rest of the world, Barbie is seen as one of the USA’s great exports. She is brash and colorful and plastic and American, and she makes proper European craftsman-like toys seem dull or flawed in comparison.”

While Barbie is getting some hate from certain voices around the world, I think it’s fair to say that she’s not a global icon for nothing. Where she’s allowed and where she’s properly marketed, she’s still everything a young girl wants.


Getting Through Mom First

When I was a kid, there was always a certain kind of Barbie doll that I wanted. And I wanted them because I saw them on TV.

I remember seeing the very advertisement seen above. If you viewed it too, you’ll notice that they highlight all of Blossom Beauty Barbie’s unique features. That was what always set a Barbie apart from another. I wanted Veterinarian Barbie because the cats and dogs that came with her would make noises, and I wanted Equestrian Barbie because she came with a walking horse.

And if you know any little girls, you’ll know that they’re always interested in bigger and better. They always want to one-up their friends or play with the next cool thing. That was certainly true for me. After seeing a commercial about the latest Barbie, the one I was playing with at the time seemed a lot less appealing and attractive. You’ll also note from watching Barbie advertisements that there are always two or more friends playing with Barbie. If you have the latest Barbie, you’re also sure to have friends to go with her and tons of fun as well.

So we know that Mattel is a pro at marketing Barbie to their target market: young girls. But let’s get real here. Little girls don’t have the wallets and they don’t have the money. Their parents do. Barbie has to get the green card from the parents of young girls before they can even reach their target market. That’s why Barbie has to uphold her clean-cut, perfect image. That’s why Barbie’s identity and image have to fit what any mother would want her daughter to grow up to be. And that’s why, when Barbie is anything less than that, parents freak out and Barbie’s are taken off the shelves.

Take Happy Family Midge, for example. In this edition of Barbie’s long-time friend Midge, she had started a family with her husband and was visibly pregnant with her second child. In fact, you could remove the baby from her stomach. Parents thought this was a little too real for their kiddos. Take a listen:

“There’s enough teenagers getting pregnant as it is. I think they’re glamorizing it, and it’s horrible. I work in maternity and I see 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds coming in pregnant — and they’re crying because they don’t even know what’s going on.”
-Jackie Ellis, 43

So Happy Family Midge was quickly pulled from the shelves due to her lack of appeal toward radical parents. So Mattel has become more careful at taking note of what parents want and providing that to their daughters.

Mattel also markets classic and collector Barbie dolls to their faithful collector sector through which little marketing is necessary, merely newsletter and web campaigns.

It’s clear that Barbie has her work cut out for her when marketing to both parents and young girls, wanting to stay cool but not too cool. It’s a tough line to draw, but Barbie can do anything, right?


Beauty & Strength

Since her inception in 1959, Barbie has been the image of a strong, beautiful and independent woman, capable of taking on the world. She is the image of what every young girl should want to be. From her beginnings, Barbie has her makers to thank for her undying success as a brand identity: the masterminds of Mattel.

Barbie is notably known for its innovative television advertising campaigns, a pioneer in the toy industry. Her marketing campaign began the same year she was released with Mattel capitalizing on trends of clothes, cars, and accessories having their own television commercials. Since Barbie represents living large and stylishly, why not do the same thing? I’ve posted Barbie’s first television ad on this blog before, but countless others followed. Paired with other marketing techniques, 351,000 Barbie’s were sold her first year.

In the advertisement above, Barbie is marketed as an astronaut in 1986. This is pretty typical of the fact that Barbie seeks to be the perception of dreams. With Barbie, you can be anything to be and do anything you want to do.

Barbie has not only capitalized on consumer trends, she has capitalized on iconic imagery and personalities as well. After President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Barbie took on a very all-American look similar to Jackie O. That was only after she ditched her iconic Marilyn Monroe-esque look she was first introduced with. In the 1970s, Barbie debuted the look that is typically associated with her today: a pristine smile and long, flowing blond hair. This image was created to mimic the Malibu style that was rapidly permeating throughout America at the time. Throughout the decades, it’s very visible that with the changing times, Barbie also changes. In the 1990’s, Barbie’s with more “street cred” looks were released and toward the dawn on the new millennium, more and more Barbie’s were made to emulate pop star Britney Spears. Reinvention is a constant in Barbie’s longevity. She thrives on adapting to the changing time, so Barbie’s image is ever changing.

Barbie has partnered with major corporations over the years including Facebook, MAC cosmetics, Oreo and Volkswagon to promote both brands. At times, the partner brand would also support Barbie. Notably, during the “Barbie loves MAC” campaign, MAC created and marketed products featuring the hot pink silhouette of Barbie. Both ads  These ads work to promote their own company as well as their partner company, meaning that they can divide the advertising costs and increase profit even more.

I don’t know that Mattel has ever used one specific image to sell Barbie. I think her image sells herself, and she clearly sells other products as well. She is an icon of strength and beauty, one that appeals to girls and women everywhere.

Barbie Turns 50 – Photo Essays – TIME,29307,1883083,00.html#ixzz2jDU23btU

Cracked Spines


The original Barbie waist, which would measure 18 inches on a full scale, was criticized for fostering negative body image. Mattel issued a redesign of Barbie’s figure in 1997, as seen on the right. Retrieved from:

We’ve heard it a million times, but it’s the one thing that Barbie just can’t shake about her image–the fact that she’s unrealistically skinny.

In the age of fighting negative body image, Barbie is a scapegoat for bashing perfection. For bashing the stereotypical idea of beauty, an idea that some believe is used to force upon young girls who then grow up believing that they are not perfect if they don’t look like Barbie.

The argument often used in this case is that Barbie, when compared to human standards, would realistically be 6 feet tall, would weigh around 110 pounds, have a bust measuring 36 inches, an 18-inch waist and 33-inch hips. According to multiple studies done, Barbie’s bust would be so heavy in comparison to her waist that her spine would crack. She would lack “the 17 to 22 percent body fat required for a woman to menstruate” according to a University of Central Hospital study. Her weight of 110 pounds is also widely criticized as it is around 35 pounds underweight for a woman her height.

Mattel argued for years that Barbie’s waist was made small because the waistbands of her clothes, along with their seams, snaps, and zippers, added bulk to her figure. But they could no longer avoid the irate criticisms of Barbie’s figure in 1997 when they changed her mold to a more realistic and athletic build.

Barbie’s not only been criticized for her looks in general. Numerous special edition dolls have been released that raised eyebrows and caused outcry. Here are a few:

Oreo Fun Barbie, African-American edition, caused a stir for being derogatory toward African-Americans. Retrieved from:

Oreo Fun Barbie, African-American edition, caused a stir for being derogatory toward African-Americans. Retrieved from:

  • Growing Up Skipper (1975) – This edition of Skipper featured a string you could pull to make her breasts grow. What?!
  • Teen Talk Barbie (1992) – This Barbie would say around 270 phrases. One phrase said, “Math class is tough!” This led to flack from women’s rights organizations arguing that it made women seem dumb. The phrase was eventually eliminated from those dolls.
  • Oreo Barbie (1994) – Caucasian Oreo Barbie sold well, but her African-American counterpart was highly criticized, as “Oreo” can be seen as a derogatory term.
  • All African-American Barbie’s in general – Let’s face it: black Barbie’s have gotten so much lip from the African-American community as being “not  black enough.” They often have long, straight hair and light eyes whereas it has been argued that she needs an afro and dark brown eyes. The accessories she comes with have also been labeled as “too white.” These notions come from the idea that young girls want to play with dolls that look like them.
  • Pregnant Barbie (or Midge) (2002) – Midge, Barbie’s friend, came with a detachable stomach with a baby inside that you could remove. This doll was met with so much backlash from parents that she was pulled from the shelves just weeks before Christmas 2002.
  • Tattoo Barbie (2011) – This doll caused some complaints from parents with daughters wanting some tats.
  • Drag Queen Barbie (2012) – Enough said.

Mattel has fought back as best as it can to these various controversies from over the years, but it appears that with great creativity comes great backlash, especially for an all-too-perfect toy.


Barbie Through the Years

If you took a look at the first Barbie that was created in 1959 and compared it with today’s Barbie, you’d note a vast amount of changes. For one thing, you’d see that Barbie was no longer gazing off to the side with sultry eyes and  pouted lips and short hair. You’d see that she now had a happy smile baring her bleach-white teeth and glint in her eyes with a long flowing mane of blond hair. You’d also see that she was much more mobile than the very stiff Barbie from the ’60s. From a very model physique, Barbie has a now more athletic body complete with a belly button.

The physical change of Barbie illustrates how the brand has changed in the last 54 years. Barbie has also undergone multiple life changes of her own. She has had over 100 jobs, impersonated nearly 100 popular culture figures, has traveled to nearly every country, and has had around 50 friend dolls made to accompany her, infamously including Ken, who she infamously broke up with in 2009 but got back together with shortly thereafter. Almost had a heart attack in 2009. She’s also been transformed into every race to accommodate every girl in the world.

Barbie has gone from a plastic Twiggy to a little girl’s best friend. And not just any best friend. Barbie is a cool best friend. She’s a trendy best friend. She’s always in style and always on top of the times, doing it all to never disappoint any little girl with that one particular dream.

Even the logos from years past show the evolution of how Barbie has become more child-friendly and up to date with the times:

The evolution of the Barbie logo. Retrieved from:

The evolution of the Barbie logo. Retrieved from:

This new image of Barbie, who can do it all, appropriately targets her target market of young girls, but Barbie has also evolved with technology. As the video above stated with bold titles (“Barbie Goes Online” “Barbie Meets PlayStation”), Barbie doesn’t just roll with the times, she rules an entire tech franchise. She started out early with her iconic television ads (one of the first toys to ever do so), featuring young girls, even Marcia Brady (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”), playing giddily with their new Barbie dolls. When the late ’80s and early ’90s rolled around, however, Barbie got animated in her own television series and movies. Following that, she got interactive on the screen, starring in her own video games, computer games, and online scenarios.

Barbie is wicked-cool. But as the video so cleverly pointed out at the end, maybe Barbie has even outdone herself with her own digital empire. It’s an interesting problem–the product itself being on the back burner to her digital accompaniments. It’s not necessarily a bad problem, but it makes you wonder how much steam Barbie really has once kids realize there are computers out there to play on. Barbie has evolved from simply a girl’s toy to not only a cultural icon but a digital icon.