News article

How Barbie transformed her brand presence, and why you should be paying attention

This week, the new Barbie film trailer has seen Margot Robbie’s feet go viral on social media.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing this, as she steps out of her shoes, the arch of her foot stays in place just like that of the plastic doll. This attention to detail is nothing short of a genius way to show the strength of Barbie’s brand and how truly iconic she has become.

She’s a Barbie girl, she’s living in her own world

Barbie was created by the American toy company Mattel in 1959, with credit going to co-founder Ruth Handler.

Though, at a glance, some see Barbie as a symbol of unattainable beauty, she is so much more. For 64 years Barbie has been inspiring young girls to be who they want to be and follow their own path in life. Not to mention that Barbie is the centre of her own world, not Ken’s.

The importance of understanding your customers

To meet the needs and wants of customers, a brand strategy needs to begin, with the customers with the customers themselves.

In the 1950s, times were changing, and after women stepped up to fill male roles during the second world war, they were beginning to question societal pressure that women were to only be homemakers.

Ruth Handler noticed her son Ken had several toys that inspired limitless imagination. Meanwhile, her daughter Barbara had limited toys, mainly baby dolls – planting this “homemaker” concept inside children’s minds.

Ruth recognised a gap in the market, she recognised the customer’s desire for change, and this is where the idea of Barbie was born.

Imagination, life is your creation

In 1962, Barbie bought her first Dreamhouse before women could even open their own bank accounts.

In 1965, Astronaut Barbie was launched, four years before Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, allowing young girls to imagine future career paths that had few real-life examples. Barbie became a symbol of empowerment and independence.

Sell an experience, not a product

One of the best methods to gain loyal customers is to entice them to spend more time with that product, through a good experience.

For Barbie, this was in the detail. Her hand-strewn hair, hand-painted nails, and pretty face made her instantly appealing. Doll designer Jack Ryan also invented and introduced joint mechanisms that allowed her to strike glamorous poses.

This was accompanied by Barbie’s outfit range. Girls can dress their Barbies as a pilot, a teacher, a chef, a surgeon, a firefighter, a tennis pro, a beekeeper, and so on.

Both these techniques created a more interactive experience for a child to play. There has also been the introduction of supporting characters in Barbie’s “world” over the years, increasing the brand’s visibility and widening children’s scope to express their imagination.

Barbie has a business model

With the opportunity for Barbie to explore so many career paths and hobbies, Ruth felt that the company could make more money from the doll apparel than from the doll itself. To achieve this, they made the doll price affordable, with additional outfits to be purchased separately.

This pricing strategy is widely called the “Razor and Blades” business model. One item is sold at a low price (or given away for free) in order to increase sales of a complementary good, such as consumable supplies. And for Barbie, this strategy worked!

The importance of recognising your mistakes, and learning from them

Like a lot of big brands, Barbie has faced her own fair share of criticism, and not always unwarranted. Here are just a few mistakes that were made along the way:

  • In 1963, babysitter Barbie carried a mini diet book titled “Don’t Eat”. Really, what were they ever thinking?
  • In 2010 Mattel introduced Computer Engineer Barbie, alongside her I Can Be a Computer Engineer Although this came with good intentions, it completely missed the mark by indicating that she needed to help of two men to turn her idea into a game.
  • In 1994, researchers in Finland announced that, if Barbie were a real woman, she would not have enough body fat to menstruate – setting unrealistic body standards for young girls.

Around her 50th birthday, sales began to decline. Barbie wasn’t iconic anymore, but a reflection of society’s questionable mindset towards women. Mattel realised that to keep up with competitors and millennial mothers, change was necessary.

She’s a Barbie girl, but she’s remaining culturally relevant in our world

Fundamentally it’s important for brands to remain culturally relevant in order for customers to continue to engage with them.

Since the 2010s, Mattel began to tackle their biggest criticism first: setting unrealistic beauty standards. They have introduced new body types, skin tones, and hair textures.

They have gone on to release a doll with no hair, which the company said is both meant to inspire girls experiencing hair loss for any reason and to reflect current hair trends. They have also introduced a doll with a prosthetic limb, one with a hearing impairment, and a doll with a wheelchair.

It’s apparent that Barbie needs a range of dolls that not only represent their users but the diversity in today’s society. In 2019, Mattel’s best-selling doll was a “curvy black fashionista with an afro hairstyle”. 7 of the 10 best-sellers were diverse Barbies.

She’s fantastic, not just plastic.

Today, the Barbie range includes 176 dolls, 9 body types, 35 skin tones, and 94 hairstyles. She has more than 200 inspirational careers.

But that’s not all. In 2014 Barbie joined social media, with a powerful presence across multiple platforms.

Her Instagram account @barbiestyle is still one of the fastest-growing fashion Instagram accounts to this day. As well as Barbie’s YouTube channel which talks directly to young girls about issues they may be facing.

Social media has allowed Barbie to transform her identity, stay relevant, and inclusively bring millions of adults into her journey. This not only directly targets current parents, but it provides a platform for young girls to stay connected with Barbie beyond the physical doll, and to continue being inspired into adulthood.

To maintain this relationship Mattel needs to have a notion for the future of women. To look to their aspirations and reflect this in an inclusive, realistic, and authentic way.

For now, at least though, it’s safe to say that this girl has still got it!

Whether or not Barbie can improve your own branding, get in touch with our team to find out how we can help.

Email or call 0115 8965 300.

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