Friday, October 30, 2015

Can Barbie win back the hearts and minds of Moms?

I grew up playing with Barbie.  I never noticed her impossible figure.  But I did notice her career oriented outfits.  Check these out from her 1962 look book...

She could be a nurse,

a flight attendant (called stewardesses in those days),

and even a career woman (ok, girl).

All of which was pretty radical in 1962.

So I'm not exactly sure when Moms turned on her, or even why.  But with a 14% decline in sales in 2014, it would seem that she is on life support. 

Now, Mattel has decided the time is right to try to win back those Moms.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Gen X Moms (36-50) are giving way to Millennial Moms (21-35).

They started their outreach with this 2 minute YouTube video focusing on Barbie's ability to empower.  As of now it has racked up 10.9 million views, and tons of positive press.  You can check it out here...

So, what do you think?  Do you have bad feelings about Barbie?  Why?  Would this change those feelings?  Would you buy one for a girl you know?  Or will you wait to get her Mom's permission?  And, do you think Millennial Moms will be more receptive to Barbie than Gen X Moms? 

Forbes, T. (2015, October 16)  If Barbie Could Talk...  Retrieved October 29, 2015, from


  1. As a child, I never had any bad feelings about Barbie, but as I got older I realized how it affects a person’s self-image. When I played with Barbie dolls, there were no options in terms of race/ethnicity and they had ridiculously unobtainable figures. However, I’m thrilled to see there have been so many changes now and wouldn’t have a problem buying one for a girl as long as their parents agreed. I wouldn’t go ahead and just buy one without their mother’s consent, because at the end of the day, she is not my child and I have to honor her mother’s wishes even though I may feel differently.

    My personal guess regarding the response of Millennial moms would be positive. I’m a Gen X and I have a favorable view after watching the commercial. I think it’s great that Mattel is showing how Barbie dolls can empower young girls and it’s through roll-playing that girls can aspire to do or become anyone they want. By biggest take-away from this commercial – Mattel is showing the actual importance of playing with dolls rather than it being viewed as a frivolous and insignificant play activity of little girls.

  2. I have never had any bad feelings about Barbie. Although the image of Barbie has been tainted with ideas that she is fake and plastic and girls shouldn't emulate her, I don't have anything against Barbie. I would still buy one for my cousins or a girl I know. To me, Barbie is just a doll and little girls like playing with these dolls and don't see an issue with it. I do believe that Millennial Moms will be more receptive to Barbie because I believe that they are more relaxed about the decisions they make. The message that Barbie sent out through this advertisement is one that shows that women can be anything they want to be or strive to be. Today's Millennial women have the ability to be anything they want to be, so they will probably be very accepting of Barbie's message and will buy more of their products.

  3. I grew up playing with Barbie and enjoyed it very much. The reason I enjoyed it had to do with my imagination. As in the commercial, my Barbie could do or be whatever I wanted her to be. One day she would be a race car driver and I would use my shoe as a car. Later on that day she would be a special agent on a secret mission. I enjoyed the commercial very much and it just reinforced my positive childhood memories.
    I would buy a Barbie for a small child if that is what they wanted, but I think kids these days tend to lean towards electronics or robots than a Barbie doll. I wouldn’t so much ask the child’s Mom’s permission, but I would ask as to the preference that the child had towards toys. I think the commercial will appeal to both Gen X Moms and Millennial Moms. I actually think it will appeal to all moms. The commercial gives the message that little girls can grow up to be whatever they dream off. I think every mom can relate to that.

  4. My experience with Barbie is much like that of all the other toys I had as a kid - dolls that were merely outfits for me to express myself. I would cut their hair, style their outfits, create a dialogue, etc. My experience with Barbie was always creative and positive, like Claudine.

    It was only when I grew older (and cut off my own bangs at age 7) that I realized what affect Barbie had on me. It may not have been profound, but it affected the way I saw the world. Should I dress like Barbie? Why didn't I have a Ken? As a teen, I began to realize that there was a resounding pushback to Barbie's body. And of course everyone knows the "if Barbie were a real person, her proportions would leave her dead" statistic.

    I have seen this Barbie commercial and had a similar, positive reaction. Why can't Barbie change the beat of their drum? At the core of the company, the mission is to create a companion for the young girls who play with them... the only thing that strikes me about this commercial is that it is not inclusive of men. If Barbie were to really revive their marketing, they would try to create a gender-neutral Barbie, perhaps. It is no secret that some parents do not let their young boys play with Barbie for gendered reasons, so it seems that Barbie should try to neutralize the market.

    -Gabi Wuhl

  5. I personally, never really got into playing with Barbie dolls growing up but I do not think that it was because my mom had a strong personal stance against them. The same goes for me today, I do not have a strong personal stance against Barbie. While her body shape and physical appearance may unrealistic, I think that it is up to parents to teach their children that Barbie’s figure is unattainable because she is a plastic figurine, not a real human. I am also a really big fan of this commercial. I think that it is very inspiring and clever, sending a good message to girls and moms. This ad would encourage me to look down the Barbie aisle and buy one for a girl I know assuming that I know the girl’s mom is not strongly anti-Barbie. I think that if Mattel continues to re-image Barbie to inspire girls to achieve their goals rather than create unrealistic expectations then Millennial Moms will be more receptive to Barbie than Gen X Moms. I think that Millennial Moms will be drawn to what the new image of the doll stands for and the positive message it can send to their young and impressionable girls.
    Dori G.

  6. My feelings on Barbie are indifferent as I played more with GI Joe's than I did Barbie as a child. However, I do believe that if I had a daughter, I would purchase a Barbie more for nostalgia sake than anything else. In addition, I would consider purchasing one for my niece with her parent's approval of course. Something that I wouldn't have thought I needed until learning more about the matter. With regards to the difference in Generation X Moms and Millennial Moms, I think that while this generation of moms has been bombarded with images with Barbie, they are not fully aware as to why Barbie was created in the first place. Nonetheless, I believe that millennial parents are more likely to respond to brands that stand for something and this effort by Barbie certainly has the potential to rejuvenate the brand.

  7. I did not have any negative feelings about Barbies until I read an article one day about how Barbies influence child's self-images such as the make-up look. Barbies used to be just a small toy for girls, but suddenly people started to notice the materialism that it can bring. Most of the old Barbie commercials focus on the new looks, new costumes, and new features that Barbies have. The information delivered in old Barbie commercials are very superficial. However, this commercial delivers something meaningful to the moms: role playing can inspire children to be anyone they want. As we discussed in class, experiences are far more valuable than material. Compared to the old Barbie commercials which focus on material advertising, the commercial focus on experiences.

    I would give Barbies to a girl I know even without the permission of her mom. Barbie is just a doll, I dont want it to be such a thing that needs permission to get. For me, a girl's childhood without Barbie is incomplete.

    I think Millennial moms would love this commercial and even purchase Barbies for their daughters because Millennial moms are more open to the idea that females can be whatever they want influenced by the fact that more and more females have jobs than they used to be.

  8. What a cute and fun commercial, I love it! I think it really shows the reason for playing with dolls (that you can use your imagination, dream, and be creative), and also that Barbie is a strong and powerful girl/woman.

    I played with Barbie as a child, and I really liked it. For me, the creative process about building up the world around her (e.g. the house, deciding what name she had, styling her, what her life looked like etc.) was more important than actually playing with the doll. So, I believe that what the Barbie's body looked like was probably not as important for me, because I focused more on the things around her. Although she is supposed to look like a human being, I think I simply saw her as a doll. Maybe that is why I have never really had any bad feelings about her or the way she looks. Also, I feel that at least in my case, I was too young to think about body image, ideals, weight, etc. when I played with Barbie. I believe that it was first when I was about 13-14 years old that I started to reflect over my own body, what others looked like, etc., and by then I didn't play with Barbie anymore.

    However, in order for Barbie to gain a little more popularity, I think it might be good to make more different kinds of looks of her, especially in terms of ethnicity. Looking back, I think this is something I missed when I was younger and played with her.

    I would definitely buy a Barbie to a girl that I know, and honestly don't think I would feel the need to ask for permission before. And yes, I do think Millenial Moms will be more receptive to the doll than the Gen X Moms because I think this commercial appeals a lot to them, as it is even more common today that women pursue their careers.

  9. I love this commercial! It should be on TV for more exposure. I never had bad feelings about Barbie - I always loved her and grew up playing with her. I love how glamorous she always was – whether she’s a doctor, teacher, flight attendant, housewife, or just plain Barbie. I never understood why she got such a bad rap lately as I felt like I could be anything like Barbie – a doctor, teacher, flight attendant, housewife etc. For me she was a positive role model. I never really focused on her figure, as I know even as a little girl she was just a plastic doll.

    If and when I have little girls of my own I will definitely buy them a Barbie. And yes, I would buy one for my friend’s little girl if that is what she likes but she prefers Dora instead. I don’t think that Gen X Mom are less receptive nor don’t like Barbie, than Millennial Moms as I assume most have played with them as little girls. I think it has to do with what their kids prefer. It’s more of a question of what’s new and hot right now. Also most kids nowadays play with electronic devices (iPad, iPhone, etc) rather than dolls. So I don’t think that the 14% decline in sales has anything to do with Gen X’s indifference with Barbie but more to do with kids prefer playing on mobile devices rather than dolls nowadays. But having said that, I do think that it is time to reintroduce Barbie again to the future generation.

    Girlie E. Gaviola

  10. I've grown up playing with Barbie dolls. The dolls my parents purchased for me were career oriented or, in any way, motivating dolls. But I've outgrown those dolls (although I still have special ones from my childhood). It is terrible that the toys I grew up playing with are "outdated" but I do not see the harm in purchasing Barbie dolls for a child in my life. I actually would prefer purchasing these dolls as opposed to buying the latest app for their iPad (I find it annoying that children are using iPads - there is little room for imagination).

    I do have to agree with Claudine though. Barbie dolls have a downfall with their certain looks which can change a child's perspective of their own image. There isn't much ethnic diversity as I would hope for (especially now that the entire world has realized that this is a global place - we see all walks of life in different shapes, sizes, color, etc.). I still have the Indian Barbie doll from my childhood because I still find it difficult to see a consistency in diversity. That would be my recommendation to the company if they want to find different methods to increasing revenue.

    -Sweta P

  11. I grew up in Thailand, where no one really played with Barbie dolls. The only awareness I have of them is images on the Internet and popular mentions. Only after I've moved here have I seen them. Despite my limited contact with them, my perception of Barbie dolls is negative. They've been known as an insult in Thailand's international scene to blond girls with inept analytical skills. I would have never bought a Barbie doll for my future kids before seeing this empowering video. Now, with them trying to push the empowerment feature out, I might just give them a chance.

    I believe the step Barbie is taking is towards a more diverse product line. I would only purchase one for my kids if they were to offer Barbie dolls with different ethnicity and looks, as well as rid them of the negative stereotypes from before. Furthermore, I think millennial moms will be more receptive to this kind of advertising more than Gen X moms. This is because millennial moms have grown up in a world that is more chaotic in terms of social norms than Gen X moms. They have been exposed to LGBT, feminism, and such more than Gen X moms. Therefore, millennial moms should have a larger emotional impact from this campaign.

    1. OMG, I almost spit my coffee reading your post! I was so not expecting the response you gave!!! “They’ve been known as an insult in Thailand’s international scene to blond girls with inept analytical skills.” You had me cracking up.

      I know we’re all aware that Barbie is just a doll and her appearance is not realistic, but when you’re not blonde and Caucasian, it does affect a child. Most blondes don’t have Barbie’s measurements, but there are certain traits that she can identify with (e.g., hair, features, skin color, race). Hut, I completely agree with your diversity stance.

      Yes, I loved playing with my Barbie dolls (Skipper was my personal favorite), however, even as a child you are aware on some level to feel less than. Even though it’s fantasy play, to the child the doll may represent themselves even in the slightest way. Thus, you want to emulate the doll, which leads to self-esteem issues. How can you be creative and use your imagination to aspire to be something when the doll doesn’t even look like you? You’re dreaming and fantasizing for someone else. Okay, am I a basket case and need to lay down on someone’s couch because Barbie doesn’t look like me? No, but that is a factor and it happens to a child during their formative years. It leaves a lasting impression.

      With that said, I think Mattel is on the right track with diversifying their dolls as well as having realistic proportions. I hope the generation that’s playing with Barbie dolls now are focused on aspiring to be someone based on their ability and not on their looks.

  12. This is actually one of my favorite ads. I personally shared this ad with some of my friends because I thought it was so great. It is highly progressive. I have to give Barbie credit- it recognized that it had a problem with imagery. It has had a long history of creating dolls that don’t reflect realistic representations. Girls can not realistically match up to Barbie’s proportions or looks. Barbie’s unrealistic imagery does not positively influence many girl’s self esteem. In this ad, Barbie tried to show off how they do positively influence girl’s self esteem, and in a different way.

    This advertisement also brought back nostalgia. Advertisement’s aim to touch consumer’s emotions- this advertisement surely touched my emotions. Every girl can relate to playing pretend.

  13. As a child I played with Barbie and I never had bad feelings about it. Barbie was always a toy and not something that symbolizes beauty standards or career choice. My parents felt the same way. As I grew older, I became more aware that Barbie lacks diversity or realistic body image. But it still holds the perception of a doll to me. I do not think how kids play with dolls would determine their life choices, but I liked that the ad creatively portrayed some aspects of children's imagination.
    If I know that the girl plays with dolls, I would buy it for them. It would really be on the parents discretion if they would allow the girl to play with it or not. I do think Millennials would be more likely to be conveyed by this message, because Millennials are more concerned about the message the product conveys that the product itself.

  14. I grew up with three cousins, all girls, they only played with barbies and while I wasn't so keen on playing with them it definitely was a slight part of my childhood. My toys of choice were GI joes, Thundercats and Ninja Turtles. Is it possible the sales are declining because modern day kids are heavily influenced by Disney and Pixar movies, in the article it referenced the Frozen Princess, I believe it could be a mix of the movie industry and parenting differences. It seems those dolls from movies are more relevant because they are more visible. I don't understand why anyone would have an issue barbie, but then again I'm a guy that has a son, so I don't foresee this issue in my future.

  15. For several years I have seen Barbie as a stereotype that only certain girls can follow due to their income and background and Barbie boosted a lot of girls to a life based on fashion. By the way the spot can change my feelings about them because they are showing us the other side of the story, a more human being Barbie that everyone can follow on their daily life and I would buy it for a girl I know because kids need to play on childhood to develop their imagination and Barbie is a good way to help them doing this no matter what the toy is, I mean, a toy is toy for every kid and their clean of any prejudice about an action figure or a toy, finally I think that Millennial moms would be more receptive because they are open-minded to anything that can help kids learning in a natural way.

  16. I never got bad feeling about Barbies. I was always impress on the clothing
    design and all versions the company created, no wonder the doll was number
    one toy in the world for several years. I was always amazed on how the
    introduction of a different concept, lifestyle and a marketing campaign
    impacted the way girls played for decades.

    As a mother of a 3 years old, I will not buy one to my daughter (unless she
    asks for it) because in general I do not like to buy toys. if someone give
    a Barbie to my daughter, it will not bother me. I do not believe that a
    girl will become anorexic or try to imitate a plastic world because of
    Barbie, there are so many toys that are a misrepresentation of realty
    (thats what toys are for). I do believe that parents are the most important
    roll models in children's life and they need to explain the difference
    between reality and fantasy.

    I think it is a strong video, the approach of a carrier oriented women
    might influence parents to chose Barbie for their daughters over other

  17. I didn't get a chance to comment on this last week but wanted to chime in since I think this post is so interesting.

    As a millennial myself, I'm not sure how much more receptive Millennial Moms will be (than Gen X Moms) to Barbie since I remember growing up hearing/seeing all the criticisms towards Barbie (mainly due to their unrealistic body proportions). This article from Time from 2013 highlights how Barbie dolls' body proportions have been criticized in the past:

    But I do think Mattel is moving in the right direction to change the perception of Barbie dolls - that they can be empowering (instead of causing body image issues). That may be one of the big reasons sales have been dropping for Barbie dolls in past years. I do think they have more work to do to really change perceptions towards Barbie because I definitely would identify with Professor Lehrer's feelings of wanting to ask permission from a mom before I bought their daughter a Barbie doll and I feel like there is still a lot of negative sentiments towards Barbie.

    -Katherine Hung