According to the 2022 Market Research Report the Doll, Toy, and Game Manufacturing Industry represents $1.5 billion dollars in annual sales. More than 500 companies create and manufacture dolls, toys, games, doll clothes, action figures, electronic games, and hobby kits. While each generation has its own iconic toy, most toys have a sales life of just two to three years. As last year’s toys enjoy hard use by excited children of all ages, it isn’t long until toys with “most favored status” evolve to sit abandoned on a shelf or in an engorged toy box where they remain for decades until they reappear as memory prompters by aging owners. Very few toys and dolls span a human lifetime of popularity, but Mattel’s Barbie Doll is celebrating more than 60 years of marketing success.
Introduced on March 9, 1959, at the New York International Toy Fair, Barbie Teenage Fashion Model was born amidst controversy from those who felt the new lifelike doll promoted unrealistic body standards, stereotyping and objectification of women, and threatened a generation of young girls with having a negative influence on self-esteem and body image. Since her introduction, one billion Barbies have been sold, making it an iconic toy among its peers. So how did Mattel manage to escape the short-term toy survival norm?
Mattel has maintained a long-term marketing vision for Barbie. Reinventing the star player to remain relevant to each changing generation, the Barbie character morphed and evolved with consumer attitudes and demands. The Company uses a “multiple” strategy for Barbie by introducing characters that play supporting roles in “her world”.
Boyfriend “Ken” was introduced in 1961, followed by a sister named Skipper in 1964. Girl friends Midge and Christy followed by the end of the 1960s. Barbie’s longevity also owes its extensive tenure to a wide range of supporting products like cars, houses, pools, and a massive collection of fashions and accessories. There are Barbie dolls representing more than 200 hundred careers from astronaut, surgeon, paratrooper, game developer, architect and entrepreneur to film director and even US president.
Accused of misrepresenting the female image, “Project Dawn” was launched in 2016. The Fashionistas line included Barbie dolls with different body types, abilities, skin tones, eye colors, and hairstyles. While the new line satisfied many critics of the original doll, studies revealed that young girls between ages three and ten preferred the original tall and petite dolls. In 2017, ethnically and racially diverse dolls of different nationalities were released.
When she debuted 64 years ago, Barbie was criticized for providing an alternative to the accepted gender roles of the period. Her creators have never tried to represent a nurturing role for young girls. She has no parents or children and has always lived a singles lifestyle. Perhaps her popularity for generations of youngsters has as much to do with the fantasy of her existence and lifestyle as any other factor. Soon to turn 65 years old, it does not appear that Barbie’s popularity will be retiring anytime soon.