After decades of backlash and studies interrogating the adverse influence of Barbie on young girls’ lives, 2016 marked a long-awaited (and overdue) update to what Mattel has coined The Evolution of Barbie. On January 28th, Barbie revealed three new body types, seven different skin tones, 18 eye colors and 24 hairstyles in an exclusive cover story with TIME. After more than 50 years of maintaining her infamous svelte figure and homogenous beauty, Barbie finally demonstrates a tangible investment in responding to new cultural and consumer demands.
So, what prompted the change? From years of consecutive decline in popularity and sales to embracing the purpose-driven mindset of Millennials – whose children represent the brand’s future consumers – Barbie steps away from patchwork solutions of its past to a focus on creating dolls to represent greater diversity of both parents and children alike.
Indeed, this was not a complete experiment or shot in the dark, but rather a return to the reason of why Barbie was started in the first place:
“My whole philosophy of Barbie was that, through the doll, the girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the face that a woman has choices.” – Ruth Handler, Barbie Creator.
Also, a build on Barbie’s #Youcanbeanything campaign introduced in late 2015, which portrayed young girls in various professions as well as introduced the Barbie Global Advisory Council – a group of experts from different industries with the goal of challenging the brand from an outsider’s perspective.
What we are witnessing with Barbie is not a new phenomenon, but rather a brand stuck in a traditionalist role and suddenly reawakening and repositioning its relevance for today’s consumers. We’ve seen this when Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty in 2004 and similarly with Target’s launch of its Made to Matter Collection in 2014. Corporate brands are breathing new life into established categories through purpose-driven, sustainability minded decisions and activations that respond to consumers’ desire for more responsible businesses and choices.
As high growth start-ups and unanticipated competitors enter into such traditional industries as toys, brands often risk more by not evolving or adapting to meet new marketplace demands. For Barbie, its category is increasingly being transformed through companies integrating STEM principles traditionally found in boys’ toys to girl-oriented offerings.
Barbie’s refreshed product line extends beyond her new body and into the technological domain of IOT and drones. Barbie’s new smart Dreamhouse and hoverboard drone, which were revealed last weekend at the International Toy Fair in New York, mark 2016 as the year where a brand once questioned for its fit with contemporary consumers begins to embrace the need to evolve and back out of a future it seeks to own.
#1. Focus on positively contributing to the lives of your customers and consumers
Approach all products, services, communications and interaction with your consumer base as an opportunity to inspire richer experiences. This will not only ensure you evolve alongside your customers, but will also unlock new product opportunities.
#2. Position your brand to lead a meaningful, long-term conversation
Forgo catchy phrases and taglines to produce short-term sales, and instead invest in a higher order narrative that is important to the future of your customers and consumers. First, identify what conversation your brand is uniquely positioned to own, and then determine how this comes to life across your products, services, communications and more.
#3. Always return to your ‘why’
Too often, brands lose focus on their initial impetus for starting out in exchange for chasing sales or becoming what they think their consumer base wants rather than what they need. Instead, maintain a healthy focus on your original ‘why’ while ensuring it is rationalized through a future-oriented mindset that is relevant to your stakeholders.
As Tania Missad, Mattel’s Director of Global Brand Insights, explains of leaning into the values of its future consumer base – “…Millennials are driven by social justice and attracted to brands with purpose and values, and they didn’t see Barbie in this category. And… Millennial moms, were having a real crisis about whether they wanted their children to play with Barbie or not. [Mattel cannot afford to lose Millennial moms.] It’s currently a small group, but it’s a growing group…. It’s the future.”