How Barbie Went From A Fashion Doll to A Doll of Purpose – A Cannes Lions Recap

Sonia Carreno, President of IAB Canada and member of the Cannes Young Lion Advisory Board was on the ground at the Cannes Lions 70th Festival of Creativity.

ICYMI – here’s a fascinating story of the transformation of the iconic Barbie doll

In a world where the average lifespan of any given toy is anywhere from 3-5 years, Barbie has been around for four decades. But it‘s not been a smooth ride in the camper. At a packed session in Cannes this afternoon, President and COO of Mattel Richard Dickson gave a riveting presentation on the history of Barbie and how the iconic doll born in 1959, to its creator Ruth Handler, was always about something larger than a fashion doll – rather, it was a doll of purpose and of relevance.

In 2016, Barbie got into some serious trouble with studies showing that playing with unrealistically proportioned Barbies dolls had a negative affect on the body image of girls between 6-8. At a time when brands like Dove began promoting “Real Women Real Beauty”, the Barbie brand had crumbled underneath its idealistic proportions.

The story of Barbie is one of re-evaluating purpose and creating a strategy to double-down on its iconic strength as a doll that always had the innate potential to show little girls possibilities that are attainable because they could see themselves in the doll‘s features.

Change is risky but in this case, it was simply the right thing to do

Sonia Carreno, President, IAB Canada

Mattel created a game-changing playbook that included the following four pillars:

  1. Re-established the Brand Purpose
  2. Design-led Innovation
  3. Cultural Relevance
  4. Executional Excellence

Today, Mattel has created the most inclusive doll on the planet and a global platform for empowerment to inspire limitless potential in every girl with their “You Can Be Anything” campaign.

The dolls represent diversity in such a way that it captures everything from cultural attributes to accessibility accessories like wheel chairs. The transformation became the number one news story captivating audiences with 100% positive sentiment ratings in the world punctuated with Barbie being featured on the Time Magazine cover.

What makes this story even more fascinating is that Barbie is being played back in popular culture and has expanded into major partnership deals with brands clamouring to align with its platform. She has inspired a new stream of influencers, is the number one doll on social media and has over 20 million followers on Instagram.

This was the story of a brand who responded to a cultural shift with authentic change and major investment. It serves as a beacon for brands as they think about reading the room. Change is risky but in this case, it was simply the right thing to do and it has paid off by delivering on a purpose that will forever change the way little girls imagine their futures.

By the time Dickson plugged the upcoming Barbie movie, he had the full house marking their calendars.

Here‘s their inspiring ad “You Can be Anything”

And the “Close the Dream Gap” ad.