The advertising and marketing tips which have saved Barbie’s model alive for over 60 years

Rejected by the toy trade at first, Barbie is now one among America’s most trusted manufacturers. “She” – the 11.5 inch blonde doll, but additionally her model persona – generated worldwide gross sales of round US$1.5 billion (£1.3 billion) in 2022, and has a model worth of US$590 million.

Barbie debuted on March 9 1959 on the New York Worldwide Toy Truthful as Barbie Teenage Style Mannequin. Sixty-four years later, the doll continues to be the topic of cultural, sociological and psychological curiosity. By creating an iconic model with particular that means for followers of all ages (Barbie is marketed to kids aged three and older), toy firm Mattel has efficiently prolonged the lifecycle of the Barbie model for effectively over half a century.

Barbie can also be a polarising determine. The model embodies the notion of a “double bind”, celebrated as an inspirational function mannequin whereas on the identical time blamed for creating unrealistic expectations of girls, significantly in terms of how they need to look.

However whereas most toys stay fashionable for less than two or three years, Barbie’s long-term success displays Mattel’s responsiveness and adaptableness to the altering cultural and political discourse in society and round this doll. So how has the corporate achieved it?

The advertising and marketing tips which have saved Barbie’s model alive for over 60 years
Ruth Handler, the creator of Barbie.
Everett Assortment Inc/Alamy Inventory Picture

A Barbie woman, in a Barbie world

Analysis exhibits there are a lot of methods to construct and maintain model characters, however Mattel has used a “multiply” technique for Barbie. This has concerned introducing different characters that play supporting roles in Barbie’s “world”.

Over time, these supporting acts had been launched to painting Barbie’s relationship with family and friends. First there was Ken (1961), Barbie’s boyfriend, then her youthful sister Skipper (1964), adopted by pals together with Midge (1963) and Christie (1968), the primary black Barbie character.

The storylines and particular person traits of those further characters connect with Barbie’s persona and enhance model visibility. Mattel has additionally used storytelling techniques comparable to saying that Barbie and Ken had formally damaged up on Valentine’s Day in 2004 (they acquired again collectively in 2011). Such tales resonate with followers’ feelings, sustaining curiosity within the model.

These techniques sometimes work for some time, however how has Mattel sustained true model longevity for this lengthy? There are a lot of methods designed to revitalise mature manufacturers. Mattel efficiently prolonged Barbie’s model to seize new audiences, drive progress and broaden into new kinds of merchandise past dolls.

This can be a dangerous endeavour if the model is stretched too far. However Barbie’s model has been efficiently prolonged into different worthwhile classes comparable to garments, equipment, cosmetics and leisure (music, films and video games). And now, after a number of computer-animated, direct-to-video and streaming tv movies, Barbie’s first huge price range, stay motion film can be launched in cinemas in July 2023.

Early reviews counsel the film – helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who additionally directed Little Ladies (2019) and Girl Chicken (2017) – is more likely to be rated PG-13. This isn’t the “common” score you may count on for a movie a couple of fashionable toy. It hints at one other strand of Mattel’s profitable Barbie branding technique: nostalgia.

Life in plastic, it’s incredible

Alongside ongoing efforts to enchantment to younger ladies, Mattel additionally intentionally targets older shoppers. Particular objects – not simply toys however garments, meals comparable to sweets, and even gadgets like vinyl data – may give a bodily kind to a set of attitudes, relationships and circumstances for folks. This evokes a strong sense of the previous.

This type of nostalgia generates belief and constructive attitudes in the direction of a model, influencing client preferences in terms of selecting between toys.

Along with the upcoming movie, Mattel has tried to capitalise on the nostalgia Barbie evokes in different methods. It sells extra subtle designer and restricted version traces of collectible dolls geared toward grownup followers, for instance. These things are sometimes bought in speciality or boutique shops, and carry larger worth 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 on the 2019 New York Toy Truthful.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

Criticism of Barbie

As Barbie’s model has expanded and developed, the doll has additionally encountered criticism. Over time, Barbie went by many transformations to look extra assured, and was marketed as having many life choices, significantly in terms of work. There at the moment are Barbie dolls representing greater than 200 careers – from astronaut, surgeon, paratrooper, recreation developer, architect and entrepreneur to movie director and even US president.

However critics have argued that these profession dolls are a “misfire try at inspiring ladies”. This damaging notion of the model’s ethical imaginative and prescient is linked to the notion that Barbie is rooted in a super of femininity that also characterises girls by their bodily look.

Barbie has been accused of selling unrealistic physique requirements, stereotyping and objectification of girls, in addition to having a damaging affect on ladies’ vanity and physique picture.

Toy Fair New York, Mattel Barbie dolls on display, New York City, February 24, 2020.
Mattel has tried to handle criticism of Barbie over time, for instance by giving shoppers a number of profession choices to select from.
Sean P. Aune/Shutterstock

So, confronted with declining gross sales and competitors from smaller manufacturers providing dolls with extra practical physique varieties (comparable to Lottie and Lammily), Mattel launched “Mission Daybreak” in 2016. This included the launch of Fashionistas, a line of Barbie dolls with totally different physique varieties (curvy, petite and tall) and skills, pores and skin tones and eye colors, in addition to hairstyles and outfits.

However analysis prompt that younger ladies aged between three and ten prefered the unique tall and petite dolls. They had been damaging about “curvy” Barbie, and this doll additionally obtained intense public scrutiny.

In 2017, Mattel took one other vital step by introducing ethnically and racially numerous dolls of various nationalities, together with the primary hijab-wearing Barbie doll. Nevertheless, this strategy prompted criticism that Mattel was treating race and ethnic variations as “collectible”, and commodifying tradition.

Regardless of this, Barbie continues to be a toy that many kids play 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 stay related even now, 64 years after it was launched.