With Barbie, “You Can Be Anything!”… If You Buy It

When it comes to girlhood, there is no brand more popular or controversial than Barbie. Standing at 5’9’’ with an 18 inch waist, she has come under fire for promoting unhealthy beauty ideas and lacking diversity within her friend group in her fifty-seven years of existence. Despite this, nothing has paralleled her rise to toy fame.

Recently, Mattel, Barbie’s parent company, has attempted to combat this negativity by updating their brand. With what started with a slogan of “Purses and hats and gloves galore, and all the gadgets gals adore!” in 1959, Barbie’s marketing slogan has evolved to the empowering “You Can Be Anything,” appearing to attempt to rectify the decades of criticism they received as a result of their emphasis on traditional gender roles and values and fashion based consumerism. However, when their new advertising campaign is further analyzed, underlying motivations rise to the surface.

Give it a watch.

Cute, right? Although the ad seems to focus on the girls and their ambitions, the marketing strategy itself is geared towards parents. By having the girls act in professional roles, it allows parents watching the ad to imagine their own children, particularly their daughters, having successful careers. The ad implies to parents that Barbie, the physical doll, can make this a reality. The video itself is humorous and light-hearted, showing the reaction of adults around the girls, something that Mattel hopes to evoke in their parents. Many watching the video, whether they were parents or not, had a positive emotional reaction that they wrote in the comment section like:


Source: youtube.com

These comments capture the essence of Mattel’s campaign, playing off of emotional reaction and parents’ desire to see their daughter succeed. So, despite the fact that this ad heavily features girls, it is not directed towards them, even though they are the main consumers of this product.

Consumerism is still a driving force behind Barbie, except now the brand it being marketed towards parents as opposed to girls. The original marketing campaign played on the desires of the girls and presented the product to their audience, unlike this new strategy. For example, take a look at their website. Is the advertising campaign anywhere? The link, barbie.com, takes you straight to their online shop where not only is the phrase “You Can Be Anything” nowhere to be found, but Barbies associated with the ad are not feature. In fact, fashion dolls are listed first above career dolls, which their current advertising camp is based around. To find the girl-power slogan, you have to visit the “About” section. What young girl is going to visit this section of the website? Not many.

Source: barbie.com

Despite our criticism, seeing Barbie move towards empowering girls to achieve their goals is a step forward from the previous marketing campaigns, even if this particular idea is directed more at parents than it is at girls. When this is combined with the announcement that Mattel will feature Barbies of different figures and ethnicities, it shows that the company is attempting to combat and change the negative stereotype surrounding the famous doll.

(Featured image: flickr)

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