Barbie…More Than Just a Brand

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Why do people care so much about Barbie? 
Perhaps it’s because she has impossible curves, a beautiful face and conspicuous success (just think of all the cars, boats and houses she has not to mention her many college and doctoral degrees).  She is, in short, the embodiment, if not the caricature, of material success. 

The intensity that Barbie draws particularly from women can be seen in the powerful response to the online movement for a “Beautiful & Bald Barbie".  Backers feel strongly that it would be a boost for girls who have lost their hair due to cancer treatments.  (If you are unfamiliar with the movement, Mary Couzin wrote an excellent post on the subject, “Social Media Gets Bumpy for Barbie.”)

Here is how the "Beautiful & Bald Barbie" Facebook page puts it:

We would like to see a Beautiful and Bald Barbie made to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, Alopecia or Trichotillomania. Also, for young girls who are having trouble coping with their mother's hair loss from chemo. Many children have some difficulty accepting their mother, sister, aunt, grandparent or friend going from long haired to bald.

To date, Mattel has chosen not to produce a bald Barbie.  That’s not surprising.  Barbie is, after all, ultimately one of the most financially rewarding toy brands in the world and its image has to be carefully tended. 

Here, however, is another way for Mattel to look at the Barbie brand:  There are really two

Brand 1 is the brand a girl plays with as a child.  Mattel owns that one. 

Brand 2 is the one that lives in many women’s heads the rest of their lives.  The end users own that one.

Mattel would indeed be wise to protect its brand if all we were talking about was children and toys.  We are, however, talking about the societal responsibility Mattel has achieved by creating a product that has become so important in what it mirrors about society; a brand that represents so many things to some many adult women.

So, my suggestion to Mattel is go ahead and produce a Beautiful & Bald BarbieThe Barbie that is a toy brand will not be affected as healthy girls will only pause for a second and sick little girls will remember it for a lifetime.  The Barbie that is a societal icon will benefit because Mattel has gone where few other brands can go…to the heart and the head of a woman.

4 thoughts

  1. KID BITS – Different perspective on use of Mattel’s icon for promoting awareness of childhood cancer. A valid idea, curious to see how those impossible curves would translate to a childhood obesity campaign.

  2. Do we think that there is a viable market for a Bald & Beautiful Barbie at retail? I think not, unless tied to a promotion with one of Mattel’s retail partners. A promotion for cancer awareness, or even healthy self image for kids, is a great idea. I’d love to see Mattel tackle that.
    Otherwise, there is no reason why Mattel couldn’t partner with a non profit organization to sell this doll online with a donation going to that organization.
    I only take up challenge to the notion that Mattel is using only brand-based thinking to keep a Bald & Beautiful Barbie off the shelves. Sure, Barbie has an image to keep up, but I think the bigger challenge here is likely a determination of market possibilities for such a product. I still think a powerful brand like Barbie should take part in stuff like this to make sure kids understand beauty takes different forms!

  3. Tina – There is no bald Barbie, or at least not one that has ever been sold at retail. Richard himself mentions this in his article.
    Richard – I’m curious where the notion comes from for “Brand #2”. As you mention, Barbie has impossible curves. If “Brand #2” exists to any significant extent, pray tell why then do women do everything up to and including life threatening behavior to emulate the Kate Moss look??? I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. If anyone is responsible for a brand that lives in women’s heads for the rest of their lives, that would likely be Calvin Klein.

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