We’ve often heard of brands doing specific products or promotions for charity – e.g. Wikinson Sword sponsoring Movember and ‘the pink effect’ associated with Breast Cancer promotions. Usually this is a brand taking an initiative and offering consumers a way of bringing a charitable cause close to them for a relatively small investment and commitment. Successful examples of these charitable tie-ups create positive brand perception (they’re not just profits-led), of course drive funding for the charities and broaden the relevance of both the charity and brand by bringing new consumers to both.
So it’s great to see consumers calling for a brand to broaden its relevance and adopt a similar approach: Mattel, who manufacture Barbie, has been called to launch a ‘Bald Barbie’ to help support young cancer victims suffering from hair loss and feeling rejected by typical notions of what makes them feel special and beautiful as young girls.
Now, as a Barbie fan I can tell you that she sold to me like no other the dream of a perfect lifestyle: the blonde mane, the perfect figure, the matching handbag and shoes and even Ken – her ultimate accessory in the form of a convertible-driving, handsome ‘good guy.’ But for a long time she’s been criticised for this approach: it’s an out of date female role model that for some promotes an unhealthy body image and clichéd viewed on women’s role in society (even ‘Home & Office Barbie’ has an all-pink work suit and a pink computer on her desk).
Which is why the idea of a bald Barbie is so brilliant for the brand: it’s an unexpected update for a brand in desperate need of a 21st Century reality check. It redefines Barbie’s usual line extensions by veering strictly off course from the brand’s very exclusive and fairly fixed portrayal of female perfection. Cancer, you might say, is not an obvious brand ‘fit’ with Barbie’s dream life. But this is a brand which hasn’t offered us anything new for 20 years. The last big piece of news was black Barbie – and she also had perfect hair, an unnaturally thin figure and handsome boyfriend in a convertible. So for Barbie to offer something genuinely relevant to today’s world would be her offering something new.
When we look at other female icons of today, it’s plain to see that their unified message is about acceptance, relevance to all and living life to the full rather than worrying about which colour twin set to wear. Think of Lady Gaga (loves gays, political activist!), Madonna (openly sexual, looks 20 at 50!) and Beyonce (consistent female empowerment message, bigger thighs than Barbie!). Barbie has the opportunity to become a more relevant female icon here. No longer are we all dreaming of being picked up by Ken in his convertible – we’re dreaming of buying our own.
If Barbie can catch up with these icons who have built empires on relevance, strength and adaptability, she will give herself a renewed emotional traction which could mean a stronger future for the brand. For a long time we’ve all been wondering how Barbie will deal with her mid-life crisis: sales are down and changes in hair colour and outfit simply aren’t cutting it in a world which is defined by faster innovation and more sophisticated dolls than when Barbie was born.
So come on, Barbie, this is the makeover you really need: lose the hair and gain a bit more respect by reinventing yourself as a bald-headed babe (and brand) who helps people feel better, not left out. Now that’s a doll worth buying.