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Billion-dollar Barbie - so loved, yet so reviled

The world’s most famous doll is topping sales again, which some attribute to her brand re-positioning as a female empowerment tool. But isn’t that what she always was?

U.S. company Mattel’s baby-boomer doll has taken a lot of flak for wrongful focus of little girls’ aspirations, especially around her physical ‘perfection’.

However, an estimated billion Barbies have been sold since 1959, and she still brings in close on US$1 billion a year - it’s hard to argue with that figure even if you pooh-pooh Barbie’s.

This 2015 ad has been credited with bringing Barbie out of her sales ‘slump’ and back up to 2017 takings of $955 million.

The man in his fifties who brought it to our attention says it makes a valid point that can get overlooked: “Children need to use their imagination without any limits being set.”

As a 20-year-old media student pointed out, limits can even include the idea of role models, that little girls should strive to be something extraordinary. “Is it starting to be seen as ‘wrong’ to want to just play with makeup and clothes? What’s wrong with just being a girl?”

"I cannot believe you are touting Barbie as an empowerment model!" raged a fellow student.

Born in 1959 as both a blonde and a brunette, Barbie was a full-on career woman toting a briefcase in the Eighties, is available in diverse skin tones, body shapes, clothes and hairstyles, and has had an on-off relationship with toy-boy doll Ken - born in 1961 - over a period of decades.

“She was the first doll to emulate adult women,” points out a sixty-something grandmother. “Dolls in my day were about responsibility, to care for, to fuss over. Then Barbie came along and it was all about growing up fast.”


“I hated dolls as a kid,” says another woman, firmly. Then she admits: “Though when I was in hospital as a seven-year-old, there was a doll that might have been Barbie, and I did like playing with her with the other children on the ward. Oh god, I’ve only just realised why - it made us all look forward to having fun and being healthy and wearing proper clothes again.”

Empowerment can take different forms, and Brand Barbie certainly embodies that.



Posted by Tree Elven on 07/11/2018