Rejected by the toy business at first, Barbie is now considered one of 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 be a polarising determine. The model embodies the notion of a “double bind”, celebrated as an inspirational position mannequin whereas on the identical time blamed for creating unrealistic expectations of ladies, notably relating to 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 flexibility to the altering cultural and political discourse in society and round this doll. So how has the corporate executed it?
A Barbie woman, in a Barbie world
Analysis exhibits there are lots 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”.
Through the years, 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 associates together with Midge (1963) and Christie (1968), the primary black Barbie character.
The storylines and particular person traits of those extra characters hook up with Barbie’s persona and improve model visibility. Mattel has additionally used storytelling ways 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 ways sometimes work for some time, however how has Mattel sustained true model longevity for this lengthy? There are lots of methods designed to revitalise mature manufacturers. Mattel efficiently prolonged Barbie’s model to seize new audiences, drive development and increase 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, motion pictures and video games). And now, after a number of computer-animated, direct-to-video and streaming tv movies, Barbie’s first huge funds, reside motion film shall be launched in cinemas in July 2023.
Early reviews recommend the film – helmed by Oscar-nominee Greta Gerwig, who additionally directed Little Ladies (2019) and Girl Fowl (2017) – is prone to be rated PG-13. This isn’t the “common” ranking you would possibly anticipate 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 implausible
Alongside ongoing efforts to enchantment to younger ladies, Mattel additionally intentionally targets older customers. Particular objects – not simply toys however garments, meals comparable to sweets, and even gadgets like vinyl information – can provide a bodily type to a set of attitudes, relationships and circumstances for folks. This evokes a robust sense of the previous.
This type of nostalgia generates belief and constructive attitudes in the direction of a model, influencing shopper preferences relating to 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 strains of collectible dolls geared toward grownup followers, for instance. These things are sometimes bought in speciality or boutique shops, and carry larger value tags than the typical doll.
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Criticism of Barbie
As Barbie’s model has expanded and developed, the doll has additionally encountered criticism. Through the years, Barbie went by many transformations to look extra assured, and was marketed as having many life choices, notably relating to 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 detrimental notion of the model’s ethical imaginative and prescient is linked to the notion that Barbie is rooted in a really perfect of femininity that also characterises girls by their bodily look.
Barbie has been accused of selling unrealistic physique requirements, stereotyping and objectification of ladies, in addition to having a detrimental affect on ladies’ shallowness and physique picture.
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So, confronted with declining gross sales and competitors from smaller manufacturers providing dolls with extra lifelike physique sorts (comparable to Lottie and Lammily), Mattel launched “Challenge Daybreak” in 2016. This included the launch of Fashionistas, a line of Barbie dolls with completely different physique sorts (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 detrimental about “curvy” Barbie, and this doll additionally acquired intense public scrutiny.
In 2017, Mattel took one other important 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 reinvention efforts. These have helped the model stay related even now, 64 years after it was launched.
Sameer Hosany doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.