My Barbie Story

by | Dec 11, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

Everyone has a Barbie story and this is one of mine.


I began producing Barbie content in 2014. The proven model at that time was Direct to Consumer animated movies developed and produced in conjunction with bespoke toy lines. Girls have been watching and playing these movies since 2001: The Nutcracker, Fairytopia, Princess Charm School. Next to James Bond, The animated Barbie Movie Franchise is perhaps the deepest franchise of all with over 35 films in its library.


At the time, however,  the brand team was feeling beleaguered and bullied.  The Barbie brand was perceived as the poster child for materialism and perfection, lacking a soul and lacking values. GoldieBlox was running ads stereotyping Barbie as vapid and moms wouldn’t allow girls to play with her – you’d be ostracized if you gave their daughters a Barbie doll as a gift. 


I asked my sixteen year old feminist daughter why she thought people hated Barbie so much and her reply sent me on an incredible journey of self-reflection and storytelling that inspired me to help reinvent Barbie in profound ways.  She said, without missing a beat, “Mom, it’s just the projection of the Patriarchal society on a plastic doll.”  And she added, “Girls like pink. Pink is power. But we’re multidimensional. We like Pink and Math and Horses and Soccer. We like playing with Barbie.  It’s society who is trying to keep us in a box”. 


I realized I needed to take Barbie out of that box and reflect the real Barbie experience in our content – I needed to develop and produce a content strategy as diverse, eclectic, and multi-generational as the Barbie experience itself.   Barbie has always been one of the most powerful storytelling platforms out there; within the core play pattern, Barbie gazes at the person holding her with unconditional love (even as they cut her hair and tattoo her skin) and she empowers them to tell their own stories through her. The inherent truth of this plastic doll is that she empowers us all to tell our own narratives no matter our opinions of her in the zeitgeist. 


Working with the support of amazing creatives and strategists on the Barbie Brand, I created a strategy that expanded Barbie content into a 360 content play that reflected Barbie across multiple forms of storytelling. An interconnected web of Barbie manifestations that all shared the same purposeful DNA – to reflect female experiences and female aspirations.  I wanted a Barbie Universe across demos and media that allowed for stand alone expressions, interpretations and executions informed by the intended audience and by individual creators.  Expressions and manifestations that inspired each other but also gave air to evolution and conversation.  Under this strategy we created and inspired many DTC movies, a number of successful Netflix animated series, a pre-school series, a documentary, a blockbuster  live action film – and the first ever animated influencer that garnered 10M subscribers. They all informed each other and continue to be loosely linked. 


For the girl,  I moved away from Barbie playing other characters in movies  (as done in earlier animated DTC movies) and had her be herself: Barbie Roberts.  I created and wrote a central character bible that distilled the brand into simple character rules for storytelling:  if Barbie had 100 or so professions in her doll life, then our new Barbie avatar for animated stories would be a curious person. She’d be creative and imaginative – along with the good and bad that comes with that. She’d be kind. And she’d be flawed and relatable.

This was the  Barbie that became an influencer in her own vlog – a vlog that I wrote weekly.  The Barbie brand has 98 percent awareness around the world;  I wanted to use this platform  to discuss the feelings that girls and women have and share. Barbie is the perfect platform to connect girls and women to each other. I wanted them to see themselves reflected in Barbie. I wrote a lot of influencer type things – “what’s in the box” challenges, “finger tutting” challenges. But  I also wrote about depression.  That we’re allowed to have feelings – anger, sadness, happiness, frustration. That we’re not alone. I wrote about not feeling heard. About unconscious bias. And I wrote about the fact that girls and women say they are sorry too much and, through my character of Barbie, offered ways to turn that habit around. 


When I joined the Barbie team to create content for the brand, a lot of people outside of Mattel rolled their eyes.  They didn’t see Barbie stories as ground breaking or particularly valuable or relevant in the world of entertainment. They are, of course, not rolling their eyes now.  10M subscribers for the Vlog is pretty impressive. But a movie that gets 1+ Billion dollars at the box office is certainly nothing to roll one’s eyes at.  Those of us working on the brand knew the power of Barbie all along. And by using Barbie not just as fun entertainment, but as a platform to discuss the female experience, we opened the door for brilliant creators  like Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie to tell their own story – delivering on Barbie’s core promise.


For the reasons above, I loved creating and executing a refreshed and empowering content strategy for Barbie. I loved working alongside the brilliant and purposeful men and women who nurture her everyday. Knowing that  the seeds we planted enabled other creators within Mattel Films to later continue the discourse brings me great joy.  But seeing Margot Robbie talk about learning from Barbie through the Barbie Vlog is a highlight of my career.  The strategy works!  Robbie learned something from the Vlog! It’s the interconnection of Barbie Manifestations in motion.


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