The world turned pink this weekend as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie hit the big screen, cementing the doll’s iconic status for another generation, 64 years after it originally launched. Challenger brands looking for the same longevity should take note of these three lessons from Barbie so they too can be everything, not just Ken…
1. Find your gap in the market and own it.
Barbie was created thanks to one mother's insight that her daughter liked to give her dolls adult roles when playing with them. Most dolls on the market at the time were modelled on babies and aimed at giving little girls the role of caregiver, while "boys" figures allowed them to imagine themselves as a firefighters or an astronaut.
The idea of Barbie, a fashion doll with adult clothes, was born and she was unlike anything else on the market. Execs at Mattel rejected the idea initially, but when a product is rooted in a real human truth - that children like to pretend to be grown ups - there's no stopping its success.
2. Don’t forget why people loved you in the first place
The brand hit a blip around a decade ago. Barbie had extremely high brand awareness, but people just weren't buying into her. The brand had been too focused on marketing accessory playsets (the dream house, the 4x4s, even helicopters!), while mums who grew up playing with Barbies were hesitating about exposing their own daughters to unrealistic body standards. The brand needed to overhaul its strategy and connect Barbie to culture by reflecting the world today.
Mattel revamped the Barbie collection to focus on career dolls and a more physically diverse range of dolls featuring different skin tones, hair fibres, body sizes and body types, including a wheelchair user. The overhaul succeeded because it resonated with creator Ruth Handler's initial driving thought, that through the doll EVERY child can imagine themselves as whoever they want to be when they grow up.
3. Real emotions in a plastic world
Challenger brands looking to stand out must find new ways of connecting with their customer – say it louder for the people at the back!
Over the years, the Barbie brand has captured attention with storytelling campaigns that tap into different emotions. Whether it’s the saga of Barbie and Ken’s on-again off-again relationship, having the Barbie Style Instagram account chronicle behind-the-scenes access to the hottest NYC fashion week shows, or tugging at the heartstrings through fond childhood memories, the brand showcases how Barbie’s story fits within their audience’s wants and interests. Whether you’re reinventing an existing brand or launching something new, figure out what’s going to resonate with your audience in a way that no-one else can.