Best Branded Content: Barbie

First published on FINE mingle.

Great brands must reevaluate frequently—continually assess what they stand for and how they convey this mission to consumers. Last month, we saw how the Rise of the Emoji influences campaigns and brand movements. To adapt is to survive, and to successfully express the vision behind your business takes creative execution.

Barbie made her debut at the American International Toy Fair in 1959. The doll’s first ad was all about her beauty, her clothes, her accessories, her petite shape, and all the “gadgets gals adore” (where we then see a zipper on a dress). The jingle goes, “Some day I’m going to be exactly like you” and “I’ll make believe that I am you.” Considering the images and the time period, this equates to becoming a woman with a great wardrobe and a tiny waist.

Fast forward 56 years and the landscape in which Barbie originally staked her claim has drastically shifted. Mattel’s audience may be the same age group it’s always pitched, but their values are motivated by a different kind of future.

The Hidden Camera: When Questions to Lead Your Right Answer

“Imagine the Possibilities,” says Barbie’s newest campaign. “What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?” it asks.

Mattel’s video spot shows us five young girls in very grown-up professions: a professor, a veterinarian, a professional (male team) soccer coach, a museum tour guide, and a, well, we’re not sure what she does, but she’s traveling for business. Unsuspecting adults take part as they enter a classroom, ask for advice for their animals, or most comically, work to get their knees high (like a unicorn).

As the secondary audience, we’ve been given a clue into the experiment, so watching the primary’s reactions only affirms whatever we’re thinking. Seeing kids, girls to boot, in the context of teaching adults, instructing them, feels a little inspiring. They’re well-spoken and incredibly confident. You begin to wonder, how?

When we’re taken into one of the girl’s bedrooms at the end, where her classroom is all cardboard and Barbies, we’re told, “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” Coming full circle, we’re given our explanation and our inspiration. The strategy becomes clear: cause a question and make the brand the answer.

Holistically, the spot communicates Barbie’s demographic, sells to the actual purchasers of the product, connects emotionally, redefines its modern purpose, inspires a sense of nostalgia for past Barbie players, and impresses a sense of boundless potential. It accomplishes a lot in its two minutes.

Revisiting that 1959 jingle, “I’ll make believe that I am you,” may still make sense now, but that’s only because Barbie has evolved that slogan into something more robust, too: “You can be [anything].”