Barbie And Sports Illustrated: A Match Made In Heaven?
In an interesting move, Barbie—the 55-year-old toy icon sold by Mattel—will grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated 50th anniversary swimsuit edition. The two brands are joining forces in a campaign to let the world know that they are “unapologetic” about who they are. You’ll recall that both brands have been under fire for their depictions of women. The issue hits newsstands on Tuesday.
Along with the swimsuit issue, the campaign includes a collector’s edition of the doll on sale at Target, a Times Square billboard, and @Barbie tweets with the hashtag #unapologetic on Twitter. According to Mattel executives, the word is used extensively inside the company, but this is the first time it’s being introduced in public conversation.
I suppose that using the word “unapologetic” is supposed to be empowering. After all, Barbie is portrayed as comfortable with who she is despite the naysayers. Isn’t that what we want for our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces, no matter what they look like or the choices they make?
Although I’m happy with the message not to apologize for being exactly who you are, this feels odd and a little desperate coming from Barbie and Mattel.
Barbie is targeted to young girls. Sports Illustrated is targeted to grown men. How do the two go together? According to Sports Illustrated, over 17 million women read the swimsuit issue, more than most major fashion magazines combined, and sales for items the models wear get a boost. Clearly, Mattel and Sports Illustrated aren’t trying to target my daughters or yours with their alliance.
No, my friends; they are targeting me and you. Mattel has reached out to other brands before to redefine Barbie’s image. Think the Barbie beach house real estate listing on Trulia and Barbie and Ken being styled after characters on AMC’s “Mad Men.”
Still, though, I’m not sure what the message is supposed to be to adults. Can we, too, own a $25 million beach house? Are we to desire 1960s Madison Avenue drama as part of our lives? Is the Sports Illustrated spread supposed to make us change our perceptions about Barbie and ourselves? I don’t know about you, but I don’t consider Barbie to be the standard of beauty and I never have. I’ve never compared myself to her and felt bad—not even black Barbie could inspire hand-wringing out of me.
Mattel paid for the opportunity to integrate Barbie into the commemoration of the swimsuit issue. No further details are available, so we don’t know how much money was spent, but obviously, Mattel is in the driver’s seat and has an agenda to promote.
It’s no secret that Mattel has been losing market share to Bratz and Monster High—dolls that are much younger and a lot edgier. Mattel is probably losing at least a few sales to companies that target black girls and mixed-race and Latina girls. There is a push to see dolls with disabilities. So, basically, people want to see dolls that reflect the realities of many girls. Sales of Barbie fell 13 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013 as compared with the same period in 2012. Mattel doesn’t sell enough Barbies. The “unapologetic” campaign feels like an attempt to keep Barbie fresh and relevant in the 21st century.
I don’t know much about toys or how to market them, but I think that while Barbie still has a lot of years left in her, she will become less and less popular. Mattel is trying too hard and their efforts feel contrived. And, of course, Barbie has to compete with other dolls that were designed to offset its negative image and toys in general that were created with current young children and their sensibilities in mind.
Also, if we’re going to have a conversation, we have to keep in mind that Barbie is a doll. She’s nothing but molded plastic with pretty clothes. Her only power comes from what we give it. The “unapologetic” campaign is clearly supposed to make us feel something, but all I’m feeling is “meh.”
What about you? How do you feel about Barbie and the Sports Illustrated cover and spread? Share your thoughts with us.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexis [at] goodenoughmother [dot] com.