The children’s toy industry saw the beginning of a new era on March 9th, 1959. Created by Ruth Handler and manufactured by American company Mattel, Barbie was born. With over 300,000 dolls sold in the first year, Barbie rose from being a toy doll to a global icon. However, Barbie’s controversial body and never ending competition saw the brand’s sales slump over the years. A genius rebranding strategy saw Mattel recapture the market and regain Barbie’s place.
Birth of Barbie
Barbie transformed the toy industry from paper and porcelain to plastic dolls with sales in over 150 countries. Over the years Barbie has had more makeovers than the average toy, including various hair colours, outfits, accessories, pets and careers. Due to popularity, additional Barbie merchandise including celebrity dolls, books, fashion items and games were manufactured. As a result in 1993 Mattel had profited 1 billion dollars from the doll.
Life in plastic, it’s fantastic! Yet, Barbie’s appearance, in particular her figure stirred up controversy. Critics argued her body proportions were physically impossible to achieve (Rice et al, 2016). Additionally, the release of the Slumber Party Barbie in 1965 caused debate because she came with a bathroom scale and diet book entitled ‘How to Lose Weight – Don’t Eat’. In turn, this led to young girls feeling dissatisfied with their body shapes (Dittmar et al, 2006).
Further to this the Body Shop’s 1998 ‘Ruby’ campaign slated Barbie’s dimensions. Most noteworthy the ad used an image of a size 16 doll. This anti-Barbie emphasised one size was unnatural and Ruby’s figure was a more realistic body reflection.
The introduction of other dolls in the toy market saw Mattel struggle to keep up. In 2001 four multi-ethnic Bratz dolls were unveiled. Dubbed as being funkier and more streetwise, Barbie’s position in the market dropped. As a result in 2004, Bratz became the number one best-selling doll in the UK. Barbie was knocked even further down the hierarchy when Hasbro’s Disney’s Frozen dolls, Elsa and Anna were released in 2013.
Bold Rebranding Revives Barbie
Children were instead absorbed in digital devices leading Barbie to become insignificant. With two years of declining sales costing $500 million, Mattel decided to take charge. Therefore, they embarked on a year-long rebranding strategy in 2015 with the aim to regain supremacy and make Barbie relevant again.
First came the digital campaign, ‘Imagine The Possibilities‘. The advertisement showed young girls acting as a teacher, football coach, veterinarian in real world environments. The final 15 seconds reveals they are marketing Barbie. Mattel took a different approach and instead targeted parents to show that Barbie had a purpose. She allows children to envision their future and empower them to be anything they want. This clever rebranding tactic saw the ad get 4 million views in the first week.
After 57 years, Mattel redesigned the doll. Along came the arrival of the ‘Fashionistas’ Barbies in three new body shapes – curvy, tall and petite. In addition, seven new skin tones, 22 eye colours and 24 hair textures. This risky move was successful as 97% of reviews online were positive.
Finally, Mattel stepped up their social media game by targeting a different audience on each channel. They posted Barbie vlogs and short films to attract younger children on YouTube. On Instagram they posted photos of Barbie’s newest outfits and places she had visited targeting the millennial generation. Furthermore, Facebook content included advertisements and company events to appeal to parents. Hence, by adapting their content the brand engaged several different generations.
To conclude, Mattel’s revolutionary rebranding strategy catapulted Barbie back at the top increasing sales by 23%. Venturing out on social media thus led to a larger audience. As a result the brand was revived and brought into the modern-day digital era.
Dittmar, H., Halliwell, E. & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experiemental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5-to 8-year old girls. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 283-292.
Rice, K., Prichard, I., Tiggemann, M. & Slater, A. (2016). Exposure to Barbie: Effects on thin-ideal internalisation, body esteem and body dissatisfaction among young girls. Body Image, 19, 142-149.
By Anisha Vig – LinkedIn