The Indicator from Planet Money - Barbie's Big Makeover

There's been a Barbie boom recently, and it's due in part to new collections of products featuring diverse skin tones and body types, as well as an accompanying PR makeover.

  • Play Speed:
Content Keywords: Bleak Barbie Barbie Kelly
00:00:00
NPR.

00:00:11
Is the indicator from Planet Money. I'm Stacey Vanek Smith, the coronavirus has transformed, the economy in all kinds of ways. One of the big ways is buying stuff, Americans, bought more stuff in 2020 than ever before big things like cars and TVs, and computers, and some little or stuff, but your Barbie's name is ballerina. This is Shakira, She is for her dad. Michael Pickett says, you Kira's Barbie love has only grown over the past year, along with her collection of all things, Barbie the Barbie cars. Barbie house, Barbie bicycle, Barbie workout at the PG that comes with the cell phone. The coffee in a coffee mug, a big one for Barbie. Barbie was the top selling toy property of 20.

00:01:07
Leaving Legos, Paw Patrol. Hot Wheels in Egypt, Star Wars and baby Yoda in her dust. The thing is just five years ago, Barbie was a brand in crisis, sales were in free fall and the busty blond seem to be on the brink today. On the show. Barbies big makeover, how Mattel went from Bleak Barbie to pink Barbie?

00:01:33
Is my mom?

00:01:44
This message comes from NPR sponsor fundrise, making investing in private, real estate as easy as investing in stocks bonds or mutual funds. See how 150,000 investors have built a better portfolio with fundrise. Go to fundrise.com indicator support for this NPR Podcast. Send the following message. Come from wondery their newest series Secret Sauce, explores the stories and successes behind some of the most inspiring businesses and Intrepid entrepreneurs. First up is Airbnb, listen to Secret Sauce wherever you listen to podcasts.

00:02:20
Back in 2015, things were not looking good for Barbie Kelly. Gill, Blom is an entertainment reporter at Bloomberg News, and she says, part of the problem was that the doll that had a really evolved since it was first launched in the late 1950s. It was still a blond doll. That was kind of the white ideal of beauty. And that was becoming increasingly a problem for Mattel between 2011 and 2015. Barbie sales dropped by 1/3 and 4 Mattel's is Kelly, this was a full-on crisis, people say, you know, however, Barbie goes, That's How much how goes it looks. Like Barbie was in danger of going bust, Mattel, CEO ordered a big, sweeping consumer study about Barbie and Kelly said, the responses were not pretty everybody saw that Barbie was David and shallow and because Barbie has so many professions

00:03:20
She's a doctor and I think they really felt like that was enough to make little girls. See it is aspirational and he seemed to think it was aspirational. And then there was all the stuff about Barbies body. There were studies that were coming out. There were saying, if Barbie was expanded into human size, she wouldn't have enough room for a liver and she wouldn't be able to hold her head up. Those things feel important as much as you're going to be a doctor. And have all these jobs Mattel went into full crisis mode Barbie. It's she's too big to fail. This is Lisa McKnight, Global head of Barbie at Mattel. She came on board at Barbie's Darkest Hour. Lisa knew that Barbie needed and Extreme Makeover. So she rolled up their sleeves and started examining all things Barbie giant headed vapid and super white though. She was Barbie was a commercial Force worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Any change was a risk.

00:04:20
To the iconic doll into the entire company of metal. They had to get it right. The stakes were high and of course, we knew we needed diversity in 2015, Lisa and her team introduced a new line of Barbie Fashionista dolls.

00:04:35
Fashionista are you officially the fashionista dolls have been almost all white with long straight hair? The new line of two dozen dolls had eight different skin tones and some curly hair options but they were all still the lien liberalist Barbies of your Aunt. Lisa says that was the next thing they looked at we needed body diversity. Really? What we started to attack her body if you will but attacking Barbies body was complicated. It meant making changes to everything. In the Barbie verse, we had to make sure that are fashions fit every doll, but every doll could fit again, back into the Dreamhouse into, you know, our cars. So it was really complex in 2016 Mattel rolled out curvy Barbie, petite Barbie, and Tall. Barbie the new dolls, were well-received sales. Started to pick up and Lisa says, per team, pushed further, we have a Barbies in a wheelchair Barbie with vitiligo.

00:05:35
I mean the fact that the team was able to capture that skin condition in a product. It's really it's she's beautiful. There are around 275 Barbie dolls right now and it's the most diverse doll line in the marketplace horse. Looks were only part of the equation. A lot of the problems that consumers had with Barbie had to do with her personality, she was viewed as perfect unrelatable. We started to break that down. We started to have her become vulnerable to tell piece of Barbies, YouTube channel, and an animated Barbie now does frequent video posts from her extremely pink bedroom. This is for kids. So a lot of the content is entertaining. You might be doing DIY activities, teaching a new dance but she also talks about having a bad day. Feeling sad. The YouTube channel was a hit kids and parents liked Barbies curated real talk.

00:06:33
And then the pandemic hit kids were suddenly home from school and parents begin desperately, buying toys and games and videos to entertain them demands for all things. Barbie went nuts is Lisa. So we started to advertise and Market, when a Barbie's iconic items, the Dreamhouse, it's a $200, you know, suggested retail item. So it's a big gift and it's usually a holiday gift. The Dreamhouse took off and I think we sold a dream house a minute last year, also doubled down on Barbies blog, Barbie, and all of her friends went into quarantine talked about wearing masks, missing their friends, and even social issues. Hey, everybody, hey everyone, this is Barbie and her black friend Nikki in one of the Vlogs that went viral last year, talking about the black lives matter movement and racism. People might think that my life looks fine, but the truth is, I am so many other black people.

00:07:33
Have to go with racism all the time. It's really hurtful and it can be scary and sad and I wanted to share some stories about that today. But tell got lots of kudos for this video. It was held up as a model for app. How to start talking about issues of race with young children? By the end of last year of Barbies log had 10 million subscribers and the tell had sold, nearly one and a half billion dollars worth of all things. Barbie and inclusive Barbies were leading the pack. One of the top selling Barbies of 20/20 a Barbie who came with a wheelchair. Another Mega hit a Maya Angelou Barbie, made an honor of Black History Month, sold out almost immediately.

00:08:14
Mattel total makeover had worked kids. Loved the new inclusive Barbies and so did parents Michael Pickett father of four year old Barbie. Enthusiastic Akira says he has noticed the changes. The Barbie's been making and he's been pretty impressed. I didn't really do anything. Nothing can stop me and I had a boyfriend named change as I begin to see the program Barbie Jet Li evolve into a robot and I'm sat down with. Okay, Bobby, different Mattel's. New plan is to do to Barbie with Disney has done with Marvel Superheroes, kind of Barbie Multiverse double feature, dozens of new shows and specials featuring Barbie and her little sister and her friends. And of course, can he's been on his own journey of transformation is a bunch of new body types of skin tones? There is now even a can

00:09:14
With a man bun on Barbie. Let's go party this episode of the indicator was produced by General Hospital and fact-checked by Sam's. By the indicator is edited by Kate concannon and is the production of NPR.

00:09:33
I'm Eurasia, I'm Kia, me, I kind of cheese where the host of the NPR Podcast invisibilia you can think of invisibilia, kind of like us Sonic backlight. When you switch a saint, you will hear surprising an intimate stories stories that help you. Notice things in your world that maybe you didn't see before,

00:09:53
listen to the invisibilia podcast from NPR.
Translate the current page