Barbie Brand Goes Bald and Political

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Barbie, Mattel’s iconic model of curvaceous, blonde female beauty will very soon be bald. Next year, Barbie’s world of dream houses, beauty salons and fancy cars will include chemotherapy.

A Facebook campaign titled “Beautiful and Bald Barbie” initiated by Jane Bingham, a young survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, asked Mattel to create a doll for kids who have lost their hair due to cancer or other medical reasons.

“One of the major reasons was to reduce the stigma for women and children who have hair loss — being not accepted to be able to go out in public without something covering their head, whether it be a wig or a scarf or that sort of thing,” Bingham says. “Their beauty and their self-worth is not dependent upon their hair.”

Mattel’s initial response was cool: “Mattel doesn’t accept ideas from outside sources.” But after the campaign drew 158,000 likes and fans on social media recalled other Mattel initiatives like Tattoo Barbie, the toymaker relented, announcing the creation of the new (Friend of) Barbie doll by 2013. The toy comes accessorized with wigs, hats and scarves “to provide girls with a traditional fashion play experience” said Mattel spokesman Alan Hilowitz. [more]

Critics lamented Mattel’s slow response. If they’d listened to their best customers, “they’d be happily driving their pink Beach Cruiser into the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. Instead, they minimized their opportunity to do social good and to do good by their community. It’s a cautionary tale that reinforces the need for brands to be nimble and seize the day, when your consumer knocks on your Dream House door.”

It’s a substantial but incomplete victory. For now, Bald Barbie will only be distributed in the US and Canada through the Children’s Hospital Association, CureSearch for Children’s Cancer and the National Alopecia Areata Foundation. Bingham is fighting to get the dolls sold in stores.

Meanwhile, competitor toy-maker MGA has announced “True Hope” Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls launching in June at Toys “R” Us stores. For each doll sold, MGA will donate $1 to City of Hope for cancer research.

Meanwhile, with better (political) timing, Mattel is about to release the new 2012 Barbie I Can Be President doll, campaigning to occupy the “Pink House,” on the “B Party” ticket in a “glam-paign,” calling for girls to “B inspired,” “B informed” and “B involved.”

Aspirant Barbie’s campaign uniform is a pink power suit with patriotic red, white and blue lining on her ruffled jacket, designed by Chris Benz — who has dressed real First Lady Michelle Obama.

Mattel’s “I Can Be …” franchise comes in Caucasian, African American, Asian and Hispanic editions, encouraging girls to follow their aspirations. “The Barbie brand’s career-focused line of I Can Be… dolls often shine a pink spotlight on professions that are historically underrepresented by women,” said Mattel Girls’ Brands US marketing VP Cathy Cline.

Barbie’s social media-savvy campaign is launching online at Barbie2012.com with official Instagram and Tumblr channels, and will actively communicate with her four million fans and followers on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. The Barbie I Can Be…President doll is available for pre-orders at mattelshop.com.

But perhaps most significantly, for the first time in 53 years, this Barbie doll will be able to literally stand on her own two feet – unaided, due to a pair of weighted platform shoes.

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