Home » Culture » After 59 years, Mattel gets it right: the new Barbie ad is awesome

After 59 years, Mattel gets it right: the new Barbie ad is awesome

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 6:09 IST

A professor asks her students, "Does anybody know how big the brain is?"

One hand goes up. A student answers. "Is it medium".

The professor acknowledges "Medium. Very good."

That, in a nutshell, is the Barbie story.

A vehicle for inane narratives told with limited vocabulary, ill-conceived facts and often, insensitivity.

Because Barbie stories don't need plot-points or a climax. They evolve as they move along, picking up threads on a whim, or leaving them behind, just because.

And the only person a Barbie story really tells needs to enthrall is the storyteller herself.

The real magic of Barbie, therefore, is in the hands of the little girls who hold her. It's in the undocumented stories they tell. And tell everyday, till Barbie loses a limb or lies forgotten in the back of a taxi (only to find herself in the hands of another eagerly blabbering storyteller).

And it appears that Mattel, after a decade's worth of Barbie-related faux pas, has finally gotten it right. It's taken 59 years for Mattel to realise this, but the only real way to sell a Barbie, is through the imagination of her own playmates.

Mattel's Financial Woes

It's not exactly surprising a shakeup was in order.

Little girls simply haven't been buying Barbie as they once used to. Mattel has reported declining sales every year since 2011. Sales of Barbie fell by 14% in 2014 alone. In fact, Mattel's line of Disney toys - in particular the Elsa doll of Frozen fame - have far overtaken the sale Barbie dolls.

The decline hasn't gone unnoticed. Mattel underwent a massive management shakeup in response to declining numbers: Bryan G. Stockton, CEO for three years, resigned earlier this year.

Mattel also brought back as Chief Brands Officer - and earlier this year as President and COO, Richard Dickson, a branding expert, who was responsible for a mini Barbie-comeback in the 1990s.

And if this ad is anything to go by, the new guys seem to have got it right.

Back to basics

Forget the unrealistic body standards. Forget the controversial Babysitter Barbie who was packaged reading How to Lose Weight. Forget the other controversial Sleepover Barbie who was also found reading How to Lose Weight at a slumber party (and whose weighing scale read 110 pounds - that's 49.8 kg).

Forget Teen Talk Barbie who said, "Math class is tough!" Forget competent Computer Engineer Barbie who required the help of her male counterparts to get rid of a virus.

Barbie is back. She's reclaiming her legacy. And, thankfully, it isn't the legacy Mattel accorded her (which consistently remained two decades behind popular imagination).

She's embracing the very feminism that wanted to have nothing to do with her - the feminism of equal opportunities and infinite possibilities.

The legacy Barbie is now reclaiming is ours. Representative of the thousands of Barbie stories that never came to fruition and the few hundred, that did.

Thank you Barbie, for finally acknowledging.

First published: 17 October 2015, 3:42 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.