62 years ago, on March 9, a blonde moved the pulse of the toy industry. The Barbie doll made her debut at the American International Toy Fair, dressed in a black and white striped swimsuit, wearing black stilettos and wearing a ponytail in the total style of the 60s, the era of feminist liberation.
Barbie, the iconic doll created by Ruth Handler is inspired by the German Bild Lilli doll, and since 1959 she has monopolized the shelves of toy stores, department stores and supermarkets, representing different professions and setting trends as a fashion girl .
How many Barbie are sold in the world?
Every three seconds a Barbie is sold in the world , and in Mexico, on average, there are seven Barbies for every Mexican girl, according to company data. Added to this is that, since 2018, the doll has exceeded one million dollars in sales and ranks as Mattel’s most iconic brand, surpassing other company brands such as Fisher Price and Hot Wheels.
In its financial report last year, the American company detailed that the doll category was the one that gave a key boost to its annual sales, with a growth of 22% worldwide to add 2,290 million dollars. Barbie outperformed this growth and increased its sales by 24.3%. The net income of the firm was located at 5,458 million dollars.
But not everything has been rosy for the most famous doll in the world, which saw its sales drop to reach the lowest figure in 2015, amid criticism that for years they considered that it promoted female stereotypes that reinforced ideas with the that society no longer shared, from beauty standards to women’s new roles in school, work and families: the fashion doll began to lose its shine.
“Barbie is a brand that has reinvented itself in recent years. It has sought to be more relevant and has been more diverse and has sought to be a brand that penetrates and can have a greater essence with the consumer, beyond this previous perception that it is just a doll stereotype. It has been a brand that with this transformation has had double-digit sales in the last four years worldwide, for us it is the most important brand in our portfolio”, says Gabriel Galván Duque, general director of Mattel in Mexico and Latam.
To the criticism for the unattainable beauty standards that some considered that Barbie promotes, the fierce competition was added with the arrival of the Bratz, in 2001. This quartet of big-headed dolls seemed more modern, with a more urban style and with different skin and hair colors. They won over the new generations, removing the crown from Barbie, which ended in a legal fight, then some voices accused Mattel of hindering the competition.
The challenge for Mattel was to reconnect with childhoods and their parents, and show that being a woman meant more than having a pink sports car, a huge closet with luxury clothes and lip gloss. And it was in 2015 when the brand repositioned Barbie as the catalyst for the dreams of girls who want to be adults to be businesswomen, professors or veterinarians.
“You can be whatever you want to be.” This was the message that Ruth Handler wanted to convey with Barbie, that is, to encourage girls to become everything they dream of in life. Then, in 2015, Mattel took a turn to refocus on this mission and released a commercial that caused a stir for its empowering content for little girls. Until now, Barbie has had more than 200 professions.
And they were not the only efforts. To lessen the criticism that accused them of promoting a stereotype of beauty, that same year, Mattel launched a series of dolls with different skin and eye colors, different bodies and different styles, called Fashionistas. However, it was not until two years later that Barbie’s turnover picked up again.
Luis Felipe Díaz Muñoz, professor at the Banking and Commercial School (EBC), considers the doll had not faced the changes that the world was experiencing regarding the conceptualization of beauty, nor the needs of the new generations who wanted to see themselves reflected in the dolls, until new dolls began to appear on the market.
“Barbie was trying to make changes to suit the market but stopped doing so when she felt rejected. He brought out (before 2015) the first African-American Barbie but with Caucasian eyes, it was not well accepted and the idea was withdrawn”, explains Díaz Muñoz. “Barbie took a long time to adapt to the market, there was a lot of resistance,” he adds.
Keeping Up: Barbie Movie
Amid the growth in sales and changes in society, the fashion doll already has a strategy to stay at the top of the toy industry: a movie that, for the first time, will not be cartoons. This film agreed by Mattel and Warner Bros, and which will star Margot Robbie, will hit the big screen in 2023.
Pedro Beltrán Cuervo, a specialist from the Mexican Faculty of Architecture, Design and Communication at La Salle University, comments that for a brand to have characters that are part of children’s history through so many decades generates a brand heritage and a product identification. And although Barbie faced criticism, she has responded to changes in the industry, a trend that remains strong especially in the United States, where Barbie has her ‘dream house’.
“The social inclusion that brands have within children’s toys is important, I don’t know if it is so important in Mexico, but in the United States, with this search for cultural identity, it is a relevant characteristic, which recognizes Latin girls of Latin American descent. Asian African feel identified in the toys” says Beltrán. “The brands that have been able to survive are those that have been able to adapt to the socio-cultural needs of the times and not remain in the rigid schemes of the traditional scheme and Barbie has to adapt to these changes”.
For now, Barbie ranks as the fourth-largest toy brand in the world, with a brand value of $588 million in 2022, up from $378 million in 2021, when it ranked No. 5, according to the ranking of ‘The 25 most valuable toy brands’, prepared by Brand Finance.
Meanwhile, in addition to diversity, Barbie is committed to a collectors’ market, a segment that has tripled its participation, according to the manager. This has also been driven by e-commerce, which opened up an opportunity for the company to consolidate its wrist portfolio to make it more homogeneous and allow access to models that are available in the United States, and that were previously out of reach. buyers from Mexico and Latin America. Meanwhile, they bet on the regionalization of some Barbie models.
“We have had an acceptable participation and leadership in all the markets where we compete. In Mexico we have also managed to complement this brand with local relevance, for example, one of the most important launches each year is the Day of the Dead Barbie, and this year we incorporated Ken into our collection, which sold more than 20,000 units in two days. that we brought”, declares Galván Duque.