Barbie has been redefined…kind of

Barbie has been redefined…kind of


Barbie and her parent brand Mattel started a long journey this year to become associated with “positive values”.

The new strategy is a nod to the fact that in the past Barbie has occasionally been far from positive. That fact, and increased competition from girls’ interest in techy toys and other brands mean falling sales and a change of tack for the iconic toy brand.

True, Barbie has been everything from an astronaut to US President, but when Teen Talk Barbie‘s first words  included “Math class is tough” and “Will we ever have enough clothes?” there is obviously work to be done. There was also Babysitter Barbie whose weight loss book advised “DON’T EAT!”

Not the greatest role model, all told.

The “You Can Be Anything” campaign follows (belatedly) in the footsteps of the empowering campaigns that dominated industry awards earlier in the year. Like Always’ ‘Like a Girl’ campaign, Barbie uses candid style footage of young girls being themselves to deliver a powerful message.

Do people like it?

The ad is adorable and has been well received, but with people’s acceptance (and relief that a childhood favourite has stepped into the right century) comes caution and skepticism. Glamour Magazine emphatically states that Barbie is not a role model for young girls and the Guardian said of Barbie’s continued visual rigidity: “Imaginations are limited when girls are given only a narrowly defined idea of what being a woman looks like.”

You can be anything, says Barbie. But for many people the problem is that Barbie can’t be. If she were real she’d be physically unable to stand. You can’t be a professor, a museum curator, a football coach, a veterinarian or much of anything at all if you can’t stand up.

There’s also the issue of Barbie’s techy adventures late last year, which fell flat when she had to get the boys to help with stuff cause she’s just a giggling ideas factory.

So what’s the verdict?

The thing is that the ad itself is great. It’s beautifully executed, a great idea to reimagine the brand. The industry is impressed, the ad has been “ad of the day” in a few online publications.

The change of direction is admirable, but the problem is that Barbie herself hasn’t changed. She’s still a boxed up Stepford Wife.

That said, any steps to change a brand image 50+ years in the making is going to take a lot of work.

But for the change to feel authentic, it seems there is still work to be done.



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  1. That advert is actually really good! I’m quite surprised. I love the humour in it and the unexpected ending is just perfect. It does actually make me believe that when a child has role play games with her dolls she imagines that she really could be anything. Well done!