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Blonde ambition: vlogging and a virtual Dream House help Barbie realize a digital future

The Drum 13 Jan 2021 12:00

Netflix, Amazon, Spotify and Barbie – just some of the brands that witnessed a Covid-19 boost in 2020.

Though the 62-year-old doll might appear out of place on a list dominated by tech giants, sales of the figure surged 29% in the most recent quarter according to parent firm Mattel, notching up the best performance Barbara Millicent Roberts has seen in at least two decades.

Yes, Barbie has been a lockdown favourite, but its most recent success has been a long time in the making. The brand has spent the past four years reconfiguring itself for girls and boys alike, carving out a more purposeful place in kids’ lives through its marketing and by making its doll ranges more inclusive in terms of race, disability and gender.

It has also been fortunate that the past 12 months have seen demand for toys surge, with the market pitted to jump a further $30bn by 2025. However, the brand has also been employing a clever digital strategy which its top marketer tells The Drum is having a “halo effect” on the wider business.

For Lisa McKnight, senior vice-president and global head of Barbie and dolls for Mattel, the last year has been a real journey. “At the outset of the pandemic, from a marketing standpoint, we had to immediately hit the pause button and reappraise all of our plans,” she admits. “Our supply chain was shut down in China and in other parts of the world, then marketplaces started to follow along with retail.”

McKnight, who has been nominated for this year’s Global Marketer of the Year award by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), explains how early in the Covid-19 crisis Barbie invested in its already growing YouTube channels and online streams to ensure it was reaching the right audiences.

Mattel has struggled previously with weak sales of big brands such as American Girl and Fisher-Price. In recent years, more children have gravitated toward video games and electronics instead of traditional toys, but Barbie has sought to overcome this as lockdowns have ravaged various markets globally.

Barbie, but make it digital

With toy stores closed, digital sales have surged, with Mattel’s e-commerce sales jumping 50% in Q3.

The doll maker has also been working on an integration with Alexa that lets kids ‘speak’ to Barbie and explore her many careers on the Echo device. These range from helping animals as a vet to going on outer space missions as an astronaut to scoring goals as a soccer player.

A greater sense of purpose

The new look aligned more closely with the brand’s ongoing ’Imagine the Possibilities’ positioning, which encourages young girls to push beyond traditional gender stereotypes and imagine themselves in non-traditional roles, be it football coach or vet.

Going forward, McKnight wants to focus on making young Black girls feel empowered through the doll. “We've always, as a brand, been committed to inclusivity, to diversity, but we saw last year with the Black Lives Matter movement that we weren't doing enough.”

“That’s even more pronounced with Black girls, who have to deal with the additional barrier of systemic racism, and all of that was brought to a heightened focus for us last year. So we’re doubling down on our commitment to Black girls.

Barbie will also commit funds from its Dream Gap charity to support organisations that support Black girls.

You can vote for McKnight, or any of the other finalists for the WFA Marketer of the Year Award, here.

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MattelBarbietech giantsBarbara Millicent RobertsWFA
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