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Special Report on Reaching Girls: What Barbie says about girls

Even though the female demographic represents half the children's viewing audience, studio executives and television programmers continue to consider shows aimed at girls as niche programming. But as this coming season suggests, change appears to be on the horizon. Several new...
August 1, 1997

Even though the female demographic represents half the children’s viewing audience, studio executives and television programmers continue to consider shows aimed at girls as niche programming. But as this coming season suggests, change appears to be on the horizon. Several new TV shows and a number of upcoming features have girls starring in lead roles. And in the CD-ROM business, a series of products are finding particular popularity among females. The following report looks at how the entertainment and marketing communities are reaching out to girls.

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Ever since Mattel unveiled the first Barbie doll in 1959, girls have had a lot to say about her mostly when engaged in fantasy play or trying to persuade mommy or daddy they really need the latest Barbie-related product. And they can be persuasive. The Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM, released in November 1996, for instance, has sold more than 520,000 units in the U.S. to date, according to PC data.

What does Barbie’s enduring success say about girls? Child development specialist and television programming expert Karen Hill Scott, Ph.D., consults for NBC on the network’s FCC-friendly teen block. She explains why she believes girls are still crazy about Barbie after all these years:

‘The reason Barbie is successful is she’s targeted to girls a good market to advertise to. With lots of other products, if it’s a girl-only product, it doesn’t get developed. Personally, I think it’s better to produce a whopper that’s all females than a loser that appeals to both boys and girls.

‘In popular psychology, Barbie is the fantasized ideal. Therefore, in dramatic play, children project themselves into that character. That’s why there are lots of professionals who don’t like Barbie, because that ideal is unreachable as a human ideal.

‘I don’t think Barbie should be singled out. There are many, many media that promote unrealistic body types for girls. The average consumer does not take into account all of the subliminal influences of the product.

‘Barbie has intergenerational appeal. While children do the requesting, it’s parents who decide to buy or abdicate. My guess is that mothers think, ‘whatever I model is more powerful than what the doll is.’

‘I played with Barbie when I was a girl and I didn’t turn out to be Barbie. Obviously, Barbie didn’t have that much of an effect on me. I’m not a model. I’m not unhappy that I’m not Barbie, as a grown person, so Barbie is not going to negatively affect my daughter. She’ll have fun with it it’s just a toy.’

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