Barbie World and Branding: Changing for the Better

Jen Barnby Learn

Barbie World and Branding: Changing for the Better

For years, Barbie has been a brand that has been struggling to keep up with a changing world. Sales of the iconic doll were sinking lower and lower every year. Despite attempts to modernize itself, Barbie has been the subject of criticism by social scientists and women’s rights groups that all agree on one thing; Barbie’s brand messaging towards young girls felt as fake as the plastic world that she lives in.  

In this blog, we’ll explore how Mattel reimagined a struggling brand to build a strong future and discover the ways that you can do the same.  

Creating a future by reflecting back 

It’s always important to know your roots, especially when you are planning to update your brand or rebrand. Take the time to recognize and celebrate what has made you successful while also owning any shortcomings or growing edges.  

In the new Barbie movie, Mattel, Barbie’s owner and manufacturer, repositioned its doll to appeal to today’s audiences. The movie actively builds on the brand’s nostalgia with accurate visuals and positive messaging. Perhaps surprisingly, Mattel also addressed some of the brand’s outdated and condescending messaging in a refreshingly honest and down-to-earth way, helping the brand return to something more realistic and empowering.  

The movie follows stereotypical Barbie, who lives in Barbieland, a utopia for Barbies run entirely by women. Believing that the Barbie movement has solved the problem of women’s inequality and diversity around the world, Barbie discovers things in the real world are not what she expected. She questions worldviews and begins to have thoughts of sadness, anxiety and even her own mortality as she sees the struggles that "real" women go through. Things such as sexual harassment, inequality in the workplace and underrepresentation in government and positions of power. Barbie soon discovers that being a woman is much more than playing occupational dress-up and wearing makeup. 

Nostalgia: Your biggest friend and strongest advocate 

When refreshing your brand, don't leave behind your strongest brand advocates. Your long-time customers have chosen you for a reason. Now is the chance to leverage that connection and create a future together.  

Part of the reason why the movie was so successful was their ability to bring in an adult audience to build on the brand’s nostalgia. Who remembers playing with the Barbie dream house, the Barbie camper or swimming pool? Making those connections to your childhood has an impressive hold. With this renewed interest, the movie’s realistic storylines and portrayals only reinforce these audiences to connect emotionally while continuing to elevate that brand message. 

Being relevant means constantly evolving as a brand.  

Just as people evolve and change, so do brands. That’s ok. In fact, that’s how they stay relevant. What shouldn’t change is your commitment to your company values. (Read more about how TKG does that, here.)  

Mattel’s brand stayed relevant with updated messaging and their successful Barbie movie. Now they can now move forward and explore all of the new opportunities for Barbie to have even greater impact and success in our progressive world. 

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