The Battle of the Dolls – Toy Makers are Reinventing the Classics

29 Jan The Battle of the Dolls – Toy Makers are Reinventing the Classics

For years women advocates have petitioned Mattel to change Barbie’s shape, citing that no real woman looks as Barbie does and in turn, this unrealistic standard is giving children an impossible role model to look up to. Now, young, impressionable girls will see three new body types, seven skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles, and even a flat foot in Mattel’s new line of Barbie dolls.

“Barbie [now] reflects the world girls see around them,” said Mattel COO Richard Dickson.

Mattel has long discredited the claims of unrealistic body images, citing that instead Barbie’s career choices should be the positive role model focus for girls. Some of those careers include astronaut, computer engineer, Marine Corps Sergeant, and President.

The news of a redesigned Barbie comes on the heels of Hasbro (taking the highly profitable Disney princess doll business away from Mattel beginning January 1. A former Ogilvy and Mather executive stated that the business takeover “was probably the greatest coup that Hasbro has executed in the last three decades.”

Disney and Mattel have worked together since 1955 when Mattel became a sponsor of the Mickey Mouse Club. Mattel first debuted Barbie in 1959 and has held Disney’s princess doll business since 1996. Tensions arose however in 2012 when Mattel debuted their own princess-inspired doll line, essentially pitting itself against Disney. Soon after, sales of Barbie, one of Mattel’s most lucrative products ($1 billion in global sales per year), started declining.

All three companies (Mattel, Hasbro and Disney) have been forced to reinvent their marketing strategies around their doll lines. Through modern day feminism and new role models such as Beyonce, Christina Hendricks, and Lupita N’yongo, the outdated definition of beauty is no longer sufficient. Market research found that girls were attracted to characters that had depth to them – the original damsel in distress princesses weren’t attractive anymore. Instead it was the fierce, brave, and self-sufficient characters like Merida, Elsa, and Mulan that were winning the hearts of little girls.

Armed with this understanding, Hasbro began talks with Disney to reinvent the 11 princesses, focusing on their strengths and skills. Meanwhile, Mattel took a hard look at what they were doing with their flagship doll. The recent change in Barbie takes a page out of the Hasbro reinvention but also the likes of American Girl Dolls, where the dolls have identities, histories, and a connection to its owners.

Along with Barbie’s new image, comes a new marketing campaign. Mattel is working on updating its outreach through social channels such as YouTube and Twitter. They are focusing on more direct-to-consumer advertising than the traditional TV ads and direct emails and mailers that they used to rely on. AdAge reports that Mattel plans to target moms in the second half of the year, admitting they’ve ignored moms for far too long and are now listening. 2016 will explore new avenues to expand upon their campaign to empower girls.

Regardless of the reason for Barbie’s new image, it was much needed. Will it be enough to save the world’s most popular doll from becoming old news?

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Jessica Lindberg
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