July 24, 2023
It’s not just a brand extension, it’s the relevant brand we need
Under all the Barbie hype, a very sophisticated brand transformation is happening – a game changer. Mattel has mastered the growth via brand extensions methodology, the likes of which has delivered 40+ animated films starring Barbie (she is an actress, you know) in remakes of The Princess and the Pauper (watched perhaps 400 times in my house), Rapunzel, Thumbelina, and Nutcracker and new product line introductions with films like Barbie and the Magic Pegasus, Mariposa, and Fairytopia: Mermaidia. The animated films supported massive toy and doll extensions that continuously reintroduced Barbie to generations of 3-5-year-old girls. While the introduction of real-life inspired Barbie dolls helped make the brand more relatable, several issues were squeezing Mattel’s competitive position — the decrease in the number of years girls enjoy doll play, parent’s desire for educational toys that could expand play as their child grows, and the importance of feelings of nostalgia in toy selection and purchase.
In marketing, the brand experience has become the most significant differentiating factor. Brand experience requires a bold, long-term strategy to build trust with existing and future customers. Unlike customer experience – which focuses on immediately measurable goals of existing customers (think increase product sales, improve loyalty program sign-up) – the brand experience is measured by relevance. Brands that become part of a customer’s life – who they are and what they represent – gain relevance. If your brand is relevant – it is more potent than any loyalty program, promotional campaign, or media buy that might provide a short-term spike in sales and retention.
Relevance creates markets. Relevance is exponential growth supported by an empowered army of customers that have absorbed components of your brand identity and made them part of their DNA. With relevance, your brand is no longer yours. It belongs to all those who love it. As a brand, you lose (the illusion) of control but gain significant influence with an ecosystem-co-created reality. Your customers are your marketing message.
Pivot from product innovation to inspired brand experience
The new standard for playing with toys is now multiplatform, and engagement is expected in many formats like film, videos, and games. Mattel needs to sell more toys. Its previous product innovation strategy kept them behind top competitors LEGO and Disney, which appeal to women who may or may not have children (Mintel Report on Traditional Toys and Games US 2022). Nostalgia plays a significant role in toy and game purchases, with many parents wanting to have a shared experience with their child enjoying toys they had as children. Educational aspects are also a driver in toys and game purchases, with parents looking for toys that can grow with their children. Mattel leans into these trends and further enhances the brand experience with successful digital extensions (like the Smart Girl podcasts for the American Girl brand) that deepen the experience for both parents and children. Interestingly, more adults who delay parenthood or choose not to have children are 55% of the toy-buying market.
Mattel’s production innovation needed a bold move that could completely change the brand experience and challenge its biggest competitors. A movie that explores the difference between the Barbie world and the real world shares the brand story from the one perspective we all share — Barbie’s perspective. All of us who have played with Barbie made her part of our life as little girls. She is a childhood friend, a confidant, our bestie we shared dreams with – and if you weren’t into Barbie, she is a toy that still represents imagination, magic, and possibility.
But getting the movie right would require creating a brand experience that taps into the cultural tensions that Barbie represents. A movie isn’t all that surprising. But the perfect timing and the perspective that allows us to connect again to the Barbie in all of us is excellent marketing. The movie empowers customers old and young to show the relevance of what Barbie means to them. To proudly own and defend our Barbieness.
Barbie’s brand image is now up to us
Some brands have a role in our society where they represent societal conflicts and tensions. Barbie has undoubtedly stood on her tippy toes at the front line of feminism whether she wanted to or not. Yes, the Barbie brand has evolved recently to be more realistic and inclusive. But to achieve brand relevance, Mattel entrusted the brand to us – the actual owners of Barbie. It is we who shape the brand image from now on. It will start by sharing our experience on our social media accounts, proudly wearing our pink outfits in sold-out theaters. Mattel has made Barbie real – not as she once was in our imagination – but in our life now. Our bestie Barbie needs us. To share our connection in all its duality. This shift is a transformation of the brand strategy. It ensures our role in co-creating who Barbie is in our culture – allowing her to evolve as we do. This is the brilliance of brand relevance. And Mattel has embraced it.
As a relevant brand, Barbie secures her position as the culture-defining favorite toy we are willing to purchase in every variation. The Barbie film is the story we never knew we needed. A way to be okay with exactly who we are. Perfect in all our imperfections. And proudly loving the Barbie in all of us.