Barbie dolls are one of the most recognizable toy brands in the world, perhaps in the universe. Girls—and some boys– have enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls since Mattel introduced the first Barbie in 1959. In the intervening years, Mattel sold more and more Barbie dolls through their emotional marketing efforts. Children and, occasionally, adults, could feel like they were members of a club. Conceived as a fashion doll, looking pretty remained Barbie’s main goal in life for many years.
As women’s roles changed and new career options opened for them, Barbie’s commitment to her appearance often came under fire. Many saw her as promoting an unrealistic, unhealthy body image for young girls. In 2016, though, Mattel finally revealed a Barbie with a much more holistic beauty image. In doing so, Barbie became one of our personal favorite corporate and social responsibility examples. Before the major makeover, Mattel made periodic attempts to rehab Barbie’s image and get her more in line with modern women and girls.
Dentist Barbie was one attempt, and it was typical of the revamps. Even sporting a lab coat and wielding tooth cleaning equipment, Barbie still seemed to care more about her hair than what was inside her brain. Things came to a head several years ago when Barbie launched a new product line that, again, featured only white, blond, perfectly proportioned women. Hate videos began appearing on Youtube, with images of exploding or badly mutilated Barbies. It was all a little much, but Mattel responded proactively, with a thorough makeover for the beloved doll.
The company completely flipped its approach, realizing that Barbie was not just a product. She was a purpose. That purpose, for Barbie designers and Mattel leadership, was to teach young girls that they can be anything they want. They started a “you can be anything” ad campaign. Black, Latin American, and full-figured Barbies emerged. Commercials showed little girls playing with Barbies and explaining how they looked like real people. For the first time, girls were able to pick out and play with Barbies they could relate to. They no longer looked uniform, and the emphasis was no longer on Barbie’s hair. “It doesn’t matter what shape you come in,” the message went, “you can be anything you want.” The focus on superficial beauty gave way to a more welcoming play environment, where differences among friends and family could be celebrated, not ignored. Mattel’s corporate and social responsibility examples meant that parents could feel good about buying Barbie dolls for their children.
Mattel had enough foresight to listen to its customer base and haters, even those that made those videos of graphic violence against Barbie. Today, Barbie is more than a doll. She is a cause. Think about your own company and the products you stand behind. Are you still focused on the superficial, or are you ready to align yourself with a purpose and cause? Be sure to check out the links at the end of the video to learn more about being a purpose driven company. For more corporate and social responsibility examples, be sure to check out our brand examples and the rest of our training videos on the 602 website.