Mattel, after years of not so polite suggestions, have finally created a range of dolls in all colours, shapes and sizes.
Barbie Fashionistas come in three new shapes, 7 different skin tones, 22 new eye colours and 24 different hairstyles. With a variety of on trend fashion and accessories, Barbie has also had her make up toned down to a more natural look.
Celebrating diversity, the dolls will be released from March 2016 alongside Mattel’s campaign, #TheDollEvolves. It’s a big step forward for Barbie, and also a massive risk for parent company Mattel, but one that had to be taken.
In the last few years it’s become obvious that whatever it was about Barbie that made her so popular in the past was missing in the girls and boys of today. Between 2012 and 2014 Barbie sales fell a massive 20%. Then in 2014 Barbie was overtaken by Elsa dolls from the Frozen franchise as the most popular girls’ toy. To add insult to injury, Lego’s smart marketing to girls set them as the biggest toy company in 2014.
Mattel knew that Barbie had to change.
Changes In Mattel
The company underwent a massive shakeup, during which time the president and COO Richard Dickson placed more people with creative backgrounds in the lead of a number of Mattel’s brands. Evelyn Mazzocco became the head of the Barbie brand, and she says that the first thing she did when she took over the position was have a look at modern criticisms of the doll.
In reality it’s not like she could avoid those haters, with Barbie regularly receiving hate mail and even death threats from incensed shoppers, particularly about the doll’s body.
It turns out, despite all that Mattel claimed the opposite in the early days of the doll’s life, Barbie has had quite an impact on the way that girls see their own bodies. But then, that should be no surprise when studies suggest that 92% of all American girls aged 3-12 have owned a Barbie doll, and in many eyes she was closely associated with American beauty ideals. An interesting study published in the Developmental Psychology journal in 2006 found, rather compellingly, that girls who played with Barbie at a younger age were more concerned with being thin than girls who played with other dolls.
How Barbie Got With The Times
That reputation along with Barbie’s history of controversy have meant that she just hasn’t kept up with the times. In the midst of her own plastic identity crisis, the consumers have moved on. So Barbie’s head of design, Kim Culmone, set her designers a new task.
“If you could design Barbie today, how would you make her a reflection of the times?”
A pretty open-ended question, but from it an entirely new Barbie was born, one that may very well redefine the Barbie brand for the future, or cause her to crash and burn.
The new Barbie has less makeup, making her look younger, new skin tones that add diversity, hair textures more representative of our multi-cultural communities and even articulated ankles so she doesn’t always have to wear heels. There are also three new body sizes: petite, curvy and tall. That means, along with the original, girls will have four body sizes to choose from along with an large number of variations within each body style on hair, skin tone and more.
Where Could It Go Wrong?
To be honest there’s a lot that could go wrong with Barbie’s new look, and Mattel are well aware of the possibilities of failure. Indeed, they’ve set up a consumer complaints line already to help parents figure out the new system. With the different body sizes, not all Barbie’s clothes will fit all the bodies. Additionally, there are now two shoe sizes, one for the curvy and tall dolls and one for the original and petite dolls.
Then there’s the political correctness to counter and keep up with. Focus groups were worried that if they gave one of the curvy dolls to their daughter or a friend’s daughter, would that be taken to indicate a comment about their weight? Mattel agreed, and decided that the new bodies would be sold in sets to avoid this, but then they needed to work out which dolls would go best together in sets to optimise both diversity and marketability.
It might not be perfect yet, but at a company the size of Mattel these changes can take time, and the company is concerned more about the long-term effectiveness of the new dolls, not just the short term criticisms.
“Ultimately, haters are going to hate,” president Richard Dickson said. “We want to make sure the Barbie lovers love us more—and perhaps changing the people who are negative to neutral. That would be nice.”
What do you think? Do you like the changes to Barbie, or not?