A modern Barbie for modern times

Marketer: Mattel...
April 1, 1999

Marketer: Mattel

Anne Parducci, senior VP, Barbie doll marketing; Sarah Silverman, senior product manager, Barbie doll marketing; Galite Reisman, product manager, Barbie doll marketing

Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles

Rick Boyko, worldwide executive creative director; Sandy Zachary, creative director; Heather Niedergerke, art director; Nicole Michels, copywriter; Paul Babb, executive producer; Mischelle Thiels, producer

Spot Shop: GiraldiSuarez Productions, Beverly Hills, California

Bob Giraldi, director; Rochell Ford, editor

Markets: U.S. national

The idea: To modernize Barbie’s image for her 40th anniversary and show mothers that the doll is a good role model for their daughters.

The campaign: The Be Anything 30- and 15-second spots kicked off with a limited local run in New York during February for Toy Fair, along with local bus wraps, billboards and posters. The spots start airing nationally during all day parts on broadcast and cable this month, with a magazine ad campaign gearing up in May.

The strategy: A girl at a swimming pool declares herself ‘queen of the ocean.’ A girl on a jungle gym says she is ‘unstoppable.’ Fifteen girls appear in all, each looking into the camera and describing herself, while the rousing Be Anything anthem rises to a crescendo and fades out. There is hardly a Barbie to be seen in the whole thing, and the hot pink logo, which finally appears at the end, seems at odds with the soft golden light permeating the spot.

No gaggles of giggly girls, no announcer’s voice-over, no close-ups of Barbie-just 15 confident and personable girls voicing their aspirations. What’s going on here?

‘The goal of the campaign was to restate Barbie in a modern format, and express to mothers the aspects of Barbie that are positive, aspirational, and that really urge little girls to dream their dreams,’ says Jerry McGee, executive VP and managing director at O&M New York. In other words, it’s an attempt to replace I hate math with I can do anything.

While the Be Anything image campaign is more about reaching mothers and molding the emotions surrounding the brand, phrases and possibly music from the adult ad will also appear in upcoming spots designed to sell the new Generation Girl line to the six to 12 set. The line of six teenage friends, each with a personality and career goal, is launching this June, along with individual chapterbooks from Golden Books, a Gotta Groove Mattel Media CD-ROM and a line of Generation Girl licensed product following in the fall.

This isn’t the first time Mattel has aimed an empowerment-themed campaign at moms: We Girls Can Do Anything launched in 1985 under the direction of Jill Barad, then marketing director for Barbie, now chairman and CEO of Mattel. This year’s updated version evolved out of a similar direction from Mattel to ‘connect with moms and resonate with them in a new way,’ says Rick Boyko, president and chief creative officer at O&M New York. The print campaign was developed first, producing black-and-white ads with slogans such as ‘dream with your eyes wide open’ and ‘girls rule.’ The TV spots grew out of the print ads, with the final version beating out several other contenders because of its realistic, honest feel.

Not surprisingly, whether this is a flash in the pan or the beginning of a sustained effort to brand Barbie for moms depends on how well it succeeds. ‘We need to see shifts in attitudes,’ says McGee, ‘we need to see positive sales results, all of which will make the effort pay. If we run the advertising and nothing happens, then why continue?’

Campaign Spotlight is a regular KidScreen feature. If you would like to submit a campaign, please contact Duncan Hood at 416-408-2300 or

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