Barbie flips the conversation on women’s empowerment

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer, and father of two, Paul Merchan. 

BarbieLinkedIn3bIn my family, we’ve never pushed the girly toys onto my four year-old daughter. She loves princesses and Minnie Mouse as much as the next girl, but she’s also content with Ninja Turtles, Legos, and other gender-neutral toys, all while comfortably defining herself as a girl. As such, we’ve actually never bought her a Barbie doll.

But while watching last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we saw a commercial that changed our mindsets on the famous doll.

The Mattel Company, which makes Barbie, produced a television commercial that showed adorable little girls playing different adult roles in front of unsuspecting audiences. One girl showed up to a university lecture hall full of students and proudly announced she would be the professor for the day. Other girls played a veterinarian, sports coach, travelling businesswoman and museum tour guide. The commercial ends with the line, “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become,” followed by the tagline, “You can be anything.”

In fact, Mattel created a microsite for its campaign and launched a social media initiative also titled, #YouCanBeAnything. As a parent, they’ve got me sold.

Barbie has been criticized over the years for portraying negative stereotypes about girls. Her physical appearance had been disproportionate from that of a healthy young woman. And one talking version of the doll in the early 90s even said the phrase, “Math class is tough,” sparking outrage from women’s rights groups.

But Mattel has followed rule number one in strategic communications. The company actually listened to its audience. It began to widen Barbie’s waist to conform to a more attainable body type. And it ceased to manufacture dolls and publish books that could make girls think they couldn’t do certain things as well as boys.

It’s all culminated with the You Can Be Anything campaign, which flips the conversation from a brand that has struggled with getting the right message across about girls and women, into one that’s entirely and unmistakably about women’s empowerment.

It’s a smart business move, too – no coincidence the campaign came right at the start of the holiday shopping season. But it’s so endearing and true to the principles we’re trying to teach in our home, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Santa leaves a Barbie doll under our Christmas tree this year.



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