Touchdown for Team Barbie

The countdown is on to Super Bowl Sunday, and as North Carolina natives, Caroline and I both couldn’t be more excited or anxious to watch our Panthers play. After the season we’ve had this year, we know a good play when we see one, and this week we noticed one happening off the field. After fumbling for two years, it seems that Mattel has finally landed a touchdown.

After over fifty years of producing the iconic, but recently heavily criticized, buxom blonde Barbie doll, Mattel realized that one size doesn’t fit all – and now you can choose from 33 different options. After a two-year initiative, the new 2016 Barbies will include seven skin tones, 18 eye colors, 18 hairstyles, and three new body types – tall, petite, and curvy.

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“We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand,” said Mattel senior vice president Evelyn Mazzocco.

A change that was needed both for the company and consumer. For years now Barbie has been criticized for her unrealistic body proportions and negative influential effects on young girls. The phrase “Barbie Effect” was even coined to discuss the body image pressures young girls experienced after viewing or playing with unrealistically thin dolls or images.

As the public perception of Barbie weakened so did company sales. It was reported in October that the Barbie sales had globally fallen 14 percent; the dolls eighth quarter of double-digit drops, meaning an overall decrease in sales since 2012.

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In 2014 Frozen took the number one spot on the National Retail Federations Top Toys list for the holiday season. Barbie had held that position consecutively for the past 11 years. (Although she did push her way to the top again for the 2015 list.)

Mattel had long refused to change Barbie, even with studies claiming the toy had an effect on the way girls viewed themselves and criticism on the doll’s diversity, but as the overall company saw a 2 ½ year sales slump there was obvious need for change.

In the past year the company has gained new leadership under Christopher Sinclair, a former PepsiCo Inc. executive, and he has worked to turn the company around “by overhauling management, reigniting the company’s creative department, and seeking partnerships with tech companies”. In 2015 the company worked to diversify the Barbie line by releasing the traditional Barbie in a variety of skin tones and hairstyles, as well as creating a Barbie that can participate in “conversational play”.

These efforts seem to be making strides with buyers as for the first time in more than two years Mattel announced a 1% increase in Barbie sales during the fourth quarter, a growth that exceeded Wall Street expectations. With the release of a new body-diverse line in addition to a now ethnically diverse line, Barbie might be on her way to reversing her previously conceived negative status quo.

Armed with the hashtag campaign “#TheDollEvolves”, Mattel’s marketing campaign is heavily promoting the new representation. Unlike previous attempts from Mattel, such as the Barbie “friends” series which introduced just slight variations in ultimately the same tall, thin archtype, Mattel wants people to know that these new dolls aren’t just friends, sidekicks, sisters, they ARE Barbie, too.

While the dolls won’t be launched in stores until March 1st, they are available for preorder now.

– Savannah Valade & Caroline Robinson

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