She’s been around for over a half century, has aged less than the late Dick Clark, and has been in high demand by countless girls (and some boys)—while suffering criticism by many others. But Barbie is still proving that life in plastic is fantastic—even at age 55, for which now she can score some senior citizen discounts.
Now Barbie is going full-on MBA with the launch of Entrepreneur Barbie, available online or at a toy store near you. Based on what I can see, she is the combination of a business leader, diplomat and of course, entrepreneur—as in part Sheryl Sandberg, part Hillary Clinton, but mostly Kim Kardashian.
Going entrepreneurial is a hugely positive step for Barbie during her (what some would say is too long of a) life. After all, she suffered through a 45 year relationship with Ken, only to have no children—though the fault was clearly Ken’s. She has had a love-hate relationship with her owners, even suffering “maiming and decapitation,” as a leading British study revealed. On the sustainability front, she has even been accused of causing deforestation in Indonesia. And of course, there is the long standing criticism that she sends mixed messages to women, from past dieting tips including “Don’t Eat!” to bathroom scales maxing out at 120 pounds (54.5 kilos).
This is also a move in the right direction for her parent company, Mattel, which has enjoyed success due to Barbie and, in fairness, has given Barbie many glass ceiling-breaking jobs: astronaut, surgeon, Marine Corps officer and firefighter. At this same time, this is a company that also eaten it with other versions of Barbie. Among them, there was the passport-carrying Mexican Barbie, which looked like an anorexic piñata; Teen Talk Barbie, some of which blurted out “Math class is tough!”; and in one of the most poorly thought out co-marketing campaigns ever, the company rolled out an Oreo Barbie. (Check out this slideshow of Barbie misfires that were truly gifts that keep on giving.)
To show this is no ordinary vapid Barbie Doll, Mattel has enlisted the support of a posse of impressive entrepreneurs, including the founders of Girls Who Code and Plum Alley. The campaign will include articles from this group of 10 women as well as an aggressive social media push. In a response to the ongoing standard criticisms that Barbie is still a pallid high heels-wearing doll shrouded in pink fabric, Mattel has defined this Barbie as a smart, sophisticated professional: with, of course, the glam necklace and cool clutch. There’s one caveat, however: we do not know exactly what kind of business she’s in. It’s doubtful Barbie even knows: Mattel has given her at least 150 jobs over the years. Who wouldn’t be confused?
As with just about every other Barbie iteration, the debate will rage on: is Barbie still sending unattainable messages about women’s body images or will this resin skeleton deliver inspiration and empowerment to girls? Is there a middle ground, as Claire Cohen of the Telegraph believes—can a woman can wear high heels, pink viscose and take the business world by storm?
To the dismay of Barbie haters, it does not really matter to Mattel. Barbie will march on, even using the hashtag #unapologetic to get their new Barbie messaging out. But in the end this new Barbie is about business: as demographics and attitudes about gender roles continue to shift, Barbie will find herself more culturally challenged. Sales have dipped the last few years, and that is bad news for Mattel as she has long raked in a massive chunk of revenues for the company. Barbie will have to change with the times, as she always has, if she is going to survive in the long run. And hence the challenge for Mattel—rather than reacting to consumers, the company has to find a way to get ahead of the curve to inspire girls and their parents jaded by Barbie’s message—and resuscitate its sales in the meantime. Discussion aside, women will be less inclined to plunk down $12.99 for her.
Image credit: Mattel