The marketing and advertising tips that have held Barbie’s model alive for about 60 yrs

Turned down by the toy marketplace at to start with, Barbie is now one of America’s most reliable brands. “She” – the 11.5 inch blonde doll, but also her model persona – created all over the world profits of close to US$1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) in 2022, and has a brand value of US$590 million.

Barbie debuted on March 9 1959 at the New York Global Toy Reasonable as Barbie Teenage Trend Product. Sixty-four decades afterwards, the doll proceeds to be the subject matter of cultural, sociological and psychological interest. By generating an iconic brand with exclusive which means for admirers of all ages (Barbie is promoted to little ones aged 3 and more mature), toy firm Mattel has effectively extended the lifecycle of the Barbie brand name for very well in excess of 50 percent a century.

Barbie is also a polarising determine. The manufacturer embodies the notion of a “double bind”, celebrated as an inspirational role product whilst at the exact time blamed for producing unrealistic expectations of women of all ages, significantly when it will come to how they should seem.

But although most toys continue being preferred for only two or 3 several years, Barbie’s very long-term achievements displays Mattel’s responsiveness and adaptability to the shifting cultural and political discourse in modern society and close to this doll. So how has the company performed it?

Black and white photo of Ruth Handler, Barbie inventor, standing behind a display of male and female dolls.
Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie.
Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Inventory Photo

A Barbie lady, in a Barbie globe

Research reveals there are quite a few strategies to create and maintain brand characters, but Mattel has used a “multiply” tactic for Barbie. This has associated introducing other characters that participate in supporting roles in Barbie’s “world”.

Over the a long time, these supporting acts have been launched to portray Barbie’s relationship with friends and loved ones. Very first there was Ken (1961), Barbie’s boyfriend, then her younger sister Skipper (1964), adopted by mates which include Midge (1963) and Christie (1968), the very first black Barbie character.

The storylines and person properties of these additional figures link to Barbie’s persona and improve model visibility. Mattel has also used storytelling practices these types of as announcing that Barbie and Ken had formally broken up on Valentine’s Working day in 2004 (they received back collectively in 2011). These stories resonate with fans’ feelings, sustaining interest in the model.

These tactics ordinarily perform for a when, but how has Mattel sustained true brand longevity for this very long? There are lots of strategies created to revitalise mature brand names. Mattel properly prolonged Barbie’s manufacturer to seize new audiences, push progress and broaden into new sorts of items outside of dolls.

This is a dangerous endeavour if the model is stretched way too considerably. But Barbie’s manufacturer has been properly prolonged into other profitable groups such as clothes, extras, cosmetics and entertainment (music, videos and online games). And now, following numerous laptop or computer-animated, direct-to-movie and streaming tv films, Barbie’s first huge spending plan, live motion motion picture will be unveiled in cinemas in July 2023.

Early stories propose the movie – helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who also directed Very little Females (2019) and Girl Chicken (2017) – is possible to be rated PG-13. This is not the “universal” score you could possibly be expecting for a movie about a popular toy. It hints at an additional strand of Mattel’s thriving Barbie branding tactic: nostalgia.

Life in plastic, it’s great

Along with ongoing initiatives to attractiveness to youthful women, Mattel also deliberately targets more mature buyers. Precise objects – not just toys but outfits, food stuff this kind of as sweets, or even merchandise like vinyl documents – can give a bodily kind to a set of attitudes, relationships and situations for folks. This evokes a strong feeling of the previous.

This sort of nostalgia generates trust and good attitudes towards a brand name, influencing customer choices when it will come to selecting in between toys.

In addition to the impending film, Mattel has attempted to capitalise on the nostalgia Barbie evokes in other methods. It sells far more subtle designer and restricted version strains of collectible dolls aimed at adult lovers, for example. These goods are typically sold in speciality or boutique retailers, and carry larger rate tags than the regular 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 Fair.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

Criticism of Barbie

As Barbie’s brand name has expanded and developed, the doll has also encountered criticism. More than the yrs, Barbie went via quite a few transformations to seem more self-confident, and was marketed as having lots of existence possibilities, particularly when it comes to perform. There are now Barbie dolls representing far more than 200 professions – from astronaut, surgeon, paratrooper, game developer, architect and entrepreneur to movie director and even US president.

But critics have argued that these career dolls are a “misfire attempt at inspiring ladies”. This unfavorable perception of the brand’s ethical vision is linked to the notion that Barbie is rooted in an suitable of femininity that continue to characterises women of all ages by their actual physical appearance.

Barbie has been accused of marketing unrealistic overall body specifications, stereotyping and objectification of ladies, as nicely as having a destructive influence on girls’ self-esteem and system impression.

Toy Fair New York, Mattel Barbie dolls on display, New York City, February 24, 2020.
Mattel has attempted to handle criticism of Barbie about the many years, for example by offering buyers many career possibilities to pick out from.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

So, confronted with declining profits and competitiveness from smaller sized models providing dolls with additional realistic entire body kinds (these kinds of as Lottie and Lammily), Mattel introduced “Job Dawn” in 2016. This involved the start of Fashionistas, a line of Barbie dolls with different entire body styles (curvy, petite and tall) and skills, pores and skin tones and eye colors, as properly as hairstyles and outfits.

But analysis instructed that younger girls aged in between three and 10 prefered the first tall and petite dolls. They ended up unfavorable about “curvy” Barbie, and this doll also gained intense general public scrutiny.

In 2017, Mattel took yet another substantial move by introducing ethnically and racially various dolls of distinctive nationalities, including the first hijab-wearing Barbie doll. Having said that, this solution prompted criticism that Mattel was dealing with race and ethnic variances as “collectible”, and commodifying lifestyle.

Regardless of this, Barbie continues to be a toy that lots of youngsters participate in with. The longevity and iconic standing of the doll is a tribute to Mattel’s astute advertising and marketing and reinvention efforts. These have helped the model keep on being applicable even now, 64 decades just after it was launched.

By Anisa