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Big Dreams for Barbie

Posted on Nov. 12, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.
by Caroline Giddis.

A young girl stands in front of students in a lecture hall. They giggle as she walks in, but she stands tall and smiles. She says, “Hello, my name is Gwyneth, and I’ll be your professor today, and I will be talking about the brain.”

The adorable and smart Gwyneth is one of the stars of Mattel’s new Barbie ad titled “Imagine the Possibilities.” The 1:45 commercial brings to life the dreams that a girl can create when she plays with a Barbie doll.

This “online film” and future ad campaign are spearheaded by BBDO San Francisco and New York, branches of the international ad agency. The description of the ad on BBDO’s website states, “It’s about open play, returning the brand to its roots and celebrating young girls’ journeys of self-discovery.”

Photo courtesy of RomitaGirl67 (Flickr

Don’t be alarmed if you tear up a bit — this commercial can warm the iciest of hearts, especially because it’s directed at a crowd that Barbie normally ignores: the parents.

Every parent wants their child to dream as big as possible. Barbie wants to make it clear that playing with dolls helps a girl’s imagination flourish and creates these dreams. The commercial ends with a girl sitting in her room playing with a batch of Barbies. The audience quickly realizes that this was the young professor they saw earlier, and that the events have all been in her head. The tagline appears: “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” Immediately after the commercial, I had flashbacks of playing with my Barbie dolls for hours. If that’s not good marketing, then I need to change my major.

This commercial is very un-Barbie-like, which many believe is a good thing. The brand has been under more fire in recent years than almost any other toy. Audiences have boycotted Barbie because of her unnatural body shape, lack of diversity and sometimes outrageous story lines (remember when she and Ken broke up?). Others have protested Barbie in the past because of her dainty, feminine presentations or housewife-like occupations that support a masculine hegemony in society. It’s as if Mattel released an “Unempowered Barbie” that I missed completely. As a result of the disinterest, Mattel has seen a nosedive of Barbie profits in recent years.

Mattel is no doubt working to combat the majority of these piling criticisms and plummeting sales with its new ad. The commercial tweaks the audience’s opinion of the brand, but also inspires parents to buy their children the product. Genius, right?

Matt Miller, executive creative director at BBDO, told Ad Age, “This generation of moms has been bombarded with images with Barbie, but don’t know why Barbie was created in the first place,” said Miller. “We had this creative a-ha moment when we found a quote by Ruth Handler, Barbie’s creator.”

The complete quote by Handler, found on the Barbie media site, says, “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart (Flickr)

As this quote resurfaces, it sets the tone for the Barbie ad campaign, but also the entire future of the brand. In a millennial-aged parent’s mind, what’s better than a brand supporting a woman’s dreams and choices?

With so many pitted against Barbie, it’s easy to see why it has taken so long to come up with an ad like “Imagine the Possibilities.” Hopefully Barbie’s profits rise and the number of audience rants falls; Mattel and BBDO are indicating that the future is bright. As it says on Barbie’s Facebook: “Big dreams are not sold separately!”

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