Can Barbie Survive The Digital Age?
Barbie is fighting a battle both on the shelves and online. Does she have the assets to win this war?
On the 9th of March, 2015 Barbie turned 56 years old and this half century old beauty has an abundance of accolades.
From a simple representation of womanhood to a jungle explorer, an international princess and even running for president, this lady has a resume longer than your arm, body and legs.
Barbie’s key audience are aged three to nine, or are major Barbie collectors, of which there are estimated to be 100,000 in the world. Dolls have been popular over the years, but with technology readily available to children, have Barbie creators Mattel done enough to bring Barbie into the digital age?
Barbie joined Facebook and Twitter in 2009 and both feeds are updated daily. Barbie is not short of fans with over 13 million combined followers. Having feeds for both children and adult collectors. Mattel run specific social media campaigns such as get Ken and Barbie’s reunion and her Presidential Glam-paign.
Barbie launched her year-long integrated campaign ’Be Super’ this year. The campaign is to convince young children to unlock their inner power and do super acts all year long and make a difference.
Along with the physical campaign, Barbie went on the road meeting children, giving away goodie bags and showing them what being super is all about. Mattel are combining this with a huge push on social media.
The Facebook content is aimed at mothers, sharing pictures and videos of them and their daughters being super and making a difference as well as sharing any pictures they have from the Barbie tour.
The Twitter feed promotes influential women of history, how they were super and how they paved the way for women.
#BeSuper is a campaign that helps fight the gender stereotype associated with Barbie and to change people’s minds about what Barbie personifies. Barbie has been accused of promoting bad body image and anorexia in young girls. Her body has been changed giving her a bigger waist and smaller bust. But is she preventing girls from achieving? Teen Talk Barbie once said “Math class is tough” and in Barbie’s "I Can Be a Computer Engineer," book she required her male friends to sort her problem out.
Can the #BeSuper campaign save Barbie?
Not the only doll in town
Last year Mattel recorded a 16% slump in Barbie sales. New toy dolls such as Monster High and Frozen are out-selling Barbie. While she comes in many guises, e.g. doctor or entrepreneur, Barbie is still one doll. Other brands offer different characters and more variety.
Monster High has over 30 different characters, with their own characteristics and traits. These are more diverse and collectible for children.
Frozen’s Anna and Elsa dolls have also become major competitors to Barbie. As an established queen and princess with magical powers and strong wills, they are inspiring to young girls. It’s also tough for Barbie to compete against a successful film and the merchandising juggernaut of Disney.
So is Barbie out of touch? Can she make the right connection with children?
This allows users to do a wide range of activities such as create their own magazine, download wallpapers and printables, design a comic strip for ’Be Super’ and construct the perfect Malibu house. All of it is simple to use, shareable and appropriate for children.
The newest content that Mattel has implemented to their website is the ’B Doll Maker.’ Teaming up with Unity, this new take on Barbie puts the creative control in your hands, allowing you to make a Barbie doll and accessorise her however you want. You can upload and share your creation to the website where other users can vote and comment on it.
Barbie’s weekly web series, ‘Life in the Dreamhouse’ can also be viewed on the site, as well as YouTube and through apps. These short three to six minute long episodes are engaging and bring Barbie to life.
The collector’s website is separate and more focused on the Barbie product. As well as allowing users to buy unique dolls and read news about upcoming products, it has a forum that allows collectors from all over the world to share collections and products they have designed.
Mattel have a number of Barbie apps for IOS and Android. The Hub app ties together all the content from the website and the web series, it also gives links to free and premium content such as full length movies, ebook and soundtracks.
All the Barbie apps are free but have in-app content to purchase, allowing Mattel to create a revenue stream separate from the physical doll. Unfortunately there are no apps for the Barbie collectors, which is surprising given their loyalty and enthusiasm.
The apps combined have roughly three million downloads. That’s a lot of Barbie content in people’s pockets but could it be causing damage to Mattel? If you can create your own Barbie doll online, do you really still want to buy a physical doll? Being able to bring the digital and physical Barbie together is not easy.
At the New York Toy Fair Mattel announced a new intuitive Barbie doll that can have two-way conversations with children.
Working with ToyTalk “Hello Barbie” will recognise speech patterns and calculate responses, this is not the first time that Mattel has made a digital physical hybrid, their digital makeover mirror lets children use a blank wand to apply make-up, and facial tracking technology keeps the digital make-up in place.
The "Hello Barbie" doll will be the first time they used this technology in doll form. This new technology could be the bridging gap that Mattel and Barbie need to help get them out of this slump they are in and drive up sales.
The toy market moves quickly and even more so in our digital age. A standard doll is not enough; manufacturers will need to develop digital content and platforms to keep children engaged with their products. So as Barbie gets one year older, let’s hope she gets one year wiser to the digital age.
Do you think Barbie has changed her ways? Or is she still promoting gender stereotypes?
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