Barbie, born Barbara Millicent Roberts in 1959, stands 11 and a half inches tall—but not any more.
— Barbie (@Barbie) January 28, 2016
Mattel is making the cover of TIME magazine with the news that Barbie will now come in tall, petite and curvy body types, in addition to a variety of skin tones and hair colors, as part of the brand’s Fashionistas line. That’s right: Barbie now comes in 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles (including blue and purple).
“We were hearing that many thought that Barbie was out of touch,” commented Evelyn Mazzocco, Mattel SVP and global brand general manager, to CBS about the transformation, called “Project Dawn” within Mattel HQ.
“I actually think this is one of the most exciting times for the brand, broadening girls’ choices,” added Mattel President and COO Richard Dickson. “What Barbie looks like—her body type, her ethnicity, her career—this is all part of the evolution of the brand and what we believe is the right conversation around the world to have with kids today.”
The newly diverse dolls are a calculated bet from the global toy powerhouse, with a billion-dollar brand to protect in Barbie, but Dickson said, “It would be more of a risk if we don’t continue to evolve Barbie—if we stayed stagnant, if she looked the same, if she did the same thing. She’s got to evolve with the times.”
The ideals of American beauty have transformed with the likes of Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and the Kardashians. “This is what our future looks like, because this is what the world looks like,” said Robert Best, senior direction of production design in a video about the evolution of the doll (hence the hashtag, #TheDollEvolves). “We’re saying there isn’t this narrow standard of what a beautiful body looks like.”
“We said to our teams, ‘If you could start the brand over today and you didn’t have any rules, you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do?’” said Kim Culmone, the head of design at Barbie, to TIME. The answer was greater diversity—in terms of skin tone, hair color and texture and finally body size.
— New York Post (@nypost) January 28, 2016
The first batch of new dolls, each costing $9.99, will make their debut at the New York Toy Fair, Feb. 13-16. They are now available to order online in the US and will be available in spring 2016 at major toy retailers worldwide.
“We believe we have a responsibility to girls and parents to reflect a broader view of beauty,” stated Mazzocco. “We are excited to literally be changing the face of the brand. These new dolls represent a line that is more reflective of the world girls see around them – the variety in body type, skin tones and style allows girls to find a doll that speaks to them.”
— Barbie (@Barbie) January 28, 2016
Mattel also has an imperative to modernize Barbie. Although it’s estimated that a new Barbie doll is sold somewhere every three seconds and nine out of ten people worldwide know the brand, as TIME points out,
staying the course was not an option. Barbie sales plummeted 20% from 2012 to 2014 and continued to fall last year. A line of toys designed to teach girls to build, Lego Friends, helped boost Lego above Mattel as the biggest toy company in the world in 2014. Then Hasbro won the Disney Princess business away from Mattel, just as Elsa from the film Frozen dethroned Barbie as the most popular girl’s toy. The estimated revenue loss to Mattel from Elsa and the other Disney Princesses is $500 million.
Last year Mattel launched a girl-empowering campaign also speaking to moms, called “Imagine the Possibilities.”
At that time BBDO San Francisco executive creative director Matt Miller, who worked on the campaign, observed that, “This generation of moms has been bombarded with images with Barbie, but don’t know why Barbie was created in the first place… We had this creative ‘aha’ moment when we found a quote by Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator, saying that she created Barbie to show girls that they had choices.”
Now Barbie’s creators are giving girls more choices—and voices—in the hope that the born-again Barbie will resonate with them, and the adults buying them dolls that better reflect the diversity of shapes, sizes (and hair color). The bold brand revamp could restore #BarbiePride to bedrooms—and Mattel’s boardroom.