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It’s A Barbie World — And This Time It’s Digital

February 8, 2021 Sarah Cavill

After years of tinkering with Barbie to make her more up to date and relatable for today’s kids – and the parents doing the buying – Mattel has taken Barbie into the digital age. Barbie is now a gamer, vlogger and bread baking sensation, and the updated classic toy is seeing record revenue numbers. Rebecca Stewart for The Drum reports that sales of Barbie “surged 29% in the most recent quarter according to parent firm Mattel, notching up the best performance [Barbie] has seen in at least two decades.” 

Diversity And Fighting The ‘The Dream Gap’ Prioritized By Mattel As They Focus On Engagement With Black Girls

Although Barbie has remained a popular doll for more than 60 years, Mattel took a hard look at Barbie’s relevance to the girls of today, who are interested in toys that look like them and are more relatable. The changes to Barbie included new body types and more diverse dolls, plus a line of “Shero” Barbies that represent real women role models and align with Mattel’s Barbie Dream Gap initiative.

In response to research that found girls start questioning their capabilities and self worth at age five, Mattel launched the Barbie Dream Gap initiative in 2018. The initiative aims to raise money for charities that support and empower girls, create positive Barbie content online for girls, encourage positive play and continue creating role-model Barbies. For Black History Month, Mattel created Maya Angelou, Ella Fitzgerald and Rosa Parks Barbies. And, with the election in mind, Mattel released “the Barbie Campaign Team with a diverse set of dolls to show all girls they can raise their voices,” said Lisa McKnight, SVP and global head of Barbie & dolls portfolio for Mattel. 

After the racial justice uprisings across the country last year, Mattel asserted their commitment to Black lives, and Barbie herself did a vlog on her popular YouTube channel discussing racism. McKnight noted that the “dream gap” is “even more pronounced with Black girls, who have to deal with the additional barrier of systemic racism, and all of that was brought to a heightened focus for us last year. So we’re doubling down on our commitment to Black girls.” The Dream Gap initiative and Shero Barbies are widely promoted across digital channels.

By Pivoting At The Right Time And Embracing Digital Strategies, Barbie Was Able To Reach New Audiences

Like many brands, Mattel had to scrap most of their planned marketing strategies for 2020 and embrace the new reality of online shopping and engagement. By making a concerted effort to understand the evolving trends and what kids want, as the brand had done when tooling with Barbie’s new look and design, Mattel was able to reach audiences through a multichannel strategy that included content marketing, streaming and gaming.

Mattel Deploys Content Marketing Strategy That Sees Barbie Offering Timely Advice 

During the pandemic, content marketing offered connection and thought leadership at a time when multiple crises were converging. Barbie became a voice of calm, comfort and entertainment for kids and parents. According to Pew Research, “Fully 80% of all parents with a child age 11 or younger say their child ever watches videos on YouTube, with 53% reporting that their child does this daily.” McKnight saw the writing on the wall, and quickly deployed strategies that beefed up content on existing Barbie YouTube channels and Netflix

Mattel partnered with 5-Minute Crafts for a collaboration of “DIY videos focused on a variety of family-friendly crafts and at-home activities celebrating camping, sports and fashion,” with the first video focused on how to spruce up Barbie’s Dreamhouse. (Barbie isn’t alone. Home renovations are hot right now.) The videos were shared on both the Barbie and 5-Minute Craft YouTube channels. “As Barbie is the number one girls’ brand on YouTube, we are always looking for ways to further engage our fans in the digital space, especially during this time when parents are looking for inspiration to create at home,” said Isaac Quiroga, vice president of digital engagement at Mattel. The Barbie dreamhouse video had “nearly a half million views in just a few days,” and was among the top performing content for 5-Minute Crafts. In the spirit of being a “voice of comfort for kids and parents,” according to McKnight, Mattel added relevant and fun content to Barbie’s vlog on YouTube. Barbie “started wearing a mask, baking banana bread and participating in online challenges,” including dance-offs with Ken. 

For younger kids, Mattel created the Playroom hub on the Barbie website, full of content, tips, teachable moments and entertainment. The Playroom regularly updates its content for holidays and world events.

App Downloads For Barbie ‘Dream House Adventures’ Game Soar As Girls Increasingly Gravitate To Gaming

In the course of re-imagining Barbie, Mattel realized girls are becoming increasingly interested in gaming. In 2018, Barbie launched Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures. During the pandemic, downloads of the game exploded, surpassing 71 million downloads, according to The Drum. The game allows players to design their own virtual spaces where they can visit friends, cook, create different outfits and tool around in Barbie’s pink convertible. Barbie Dreamhouse Adventures offers an ad-free VIP subscription, that features more premium content. “The digital space is a huge priority for us. We’re trying to broaden the audience, so in the next year we’ll be looking at more general gaming experiences and working with high profile fashion partnerships to drive these,” said McKnight.

Toy Sales Surged In 2020, With Ecommerce And Digital Advertising Strategies A Major Factor

Overall, toy sales were up during the pandemic, and a recent report attributed the majority of sales to online purchases. Online purchases of toys often stem from connection and engagement, which Mattel has created with the digital transformation of Barbie. The report predicts the toy market will “add over $30 billion” during the forecasted period (2020-2025). 

The embrace of digital by Mattel, with a new, more modern Barbie, created interest and excitement. Over and over during the last year of shifting strategies, brands that have invested in digital have seen engagement and growth. Engaging digital advertising strategies for toys put brands and retailers in position to maintain and gain momentum in an increasingly competitive landscape.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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