When I was a kid, I can clearly remember my sister played with Barbies with her friends. They spent hours dressing they’re Barbies in preparation for an upcoming vacation, a wedding or a New York fashion show. Times were pretty simple back in the late 70’s and early 80’s; we didn’t have the internet, social media or mobile connectivity that today’s kids take for granted. Mattel, the maker of the Barbie doll, had a huge hit on its hands and was rapidly expanding the brand from dolls and accessories into a multimedia entertainment powerhouse and branded product juggernaut.
Last year for my daughter’s sixth birthday she received a Barbie doll from her friend. My sweet little girl was ecstatic, but my wife and I were less than thrilled. You see our generation has come to associate Barbie with a blond materialistic bimbo. My wife and I are adamant that our daughter is influenced by strong, intelligent and compassionate female role models (actual and fictional). It turns out we aren’t the only ones since 2009 Barbie’s market share has been declining with the steepest coming after 2014 which has Mattel shifting its strategic marketing of the brand to align better with modern consumer perceptions.
So, how do you update an iconic brand to keep up with today’s societal norms while still retaining the value of the established brand equity?
1) Active listening and engagement with your market.
Issue: Consumers felt that the blonde, buxom skinny Barbie didn’t represent the current demographic.
Tactic Mattel asked consumers what they liked and what didn’t like about the Barbie doll using various consumer research venues
Action: In January Mattel unveiled a new line of Barbies with various skin tones, body shapes, and hair types
2) Establish an identity that is fluent with your audience.
Issue: Research showed that her reputation for materialism had alienated the brand
Tactic: Mattel conducted product testing of different product identities that matched societal trends
Action: Mattel is using advertising to shift perceptions towards a more imaginative, creative play environment that is less focused on stuff
3) Build the brand into a lifestyle platform that communicates hope and inspires positive action.
Issue: Mattel previously focused their marketing at 5-7-year-old girls realized the need to target parents (specifically nostalgic moms)
Tactic: Televised ads during TV shows like Dancing with the Stars showing a young girl pretending to lecture her dolls about the scientific properties of the human brain
Action: Target nostalgic moms and their need for esteem and self-actualization through the daughters exploration of advanced life possibilities
4) Innovate, Innovate, and Innovate with flawless execution and impeccable timing.
Issue: Mattel will attempt to shatter the image that Barbie is a dumb blond
Tactic: Mattel will unveil a new line of Barbie Dolls that symbolize leadership and compassionate power
Action: This week Mattel unveiled President, and Vice President dolls coupled with a worksheet that gets parents and daughters talking about leadership and politics
5) Stand for a cause.
Issue: Mattel needed to link the Barbie brand with a social cause
Tactic: Mattel partnered with the non-profit – She Should Run which works to get more women interested in politics
Action: Partnering with the nonprofit She Should Run will appeal to Moms who want to empower their daughter for any challenge
6) Leave a legacy.
Issue: When you think of Barbies current legacy it is not very flattering
Tactic: Mattel is attempting to change the legacy from an antiquated gender stereotype into a world leading women
Action: Mattel has established an advisory council to advise the Barbie brand managers on advancing women empowerment issues and topics
While the full results are still 6-8 months away, the Barbie brand has increased sales momentum in starting in the second half of 2015 going into the first quarter of 2016. The possible election of a female President would likely increase the demand for a Presidential Barbie drawing much needed positive brand awareness and momentum to Mattel’s efforts to shift the perception of this storied brand.
The question will be: Has Mattel done enough to change the opinion of my wife and me when it comes time for my Daughter’s 7th birthday in September? I honestly don’t mind buying my daughter a Barbie that represents a positive female role model whether it is a World Leader, Scientist, Soccer star or Mother makes no difference. What is most important is that it comes with the message that my daughter should feel healthy about who she is and capable of achieving any objective that she could imagine.