Friday, April 09, 2010

Barbie the Computer Geek

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting story today about Mattel's efforts to involve Barbie fans in an online election as to what the next Barbie doll should be. Mattel offered the following options: anchorwoman, architect, computer engineer, environmentalist and surgeon. Not surprisingly, girls voted heavily for the anchorwoman. That's not the end of the story though. Female computer scientists around the world came together to vote heavily for the computer engineer Barbie. The viral campaign involved more than 1,800 tweets in the month of January alone. Soon, the adult involvement caused computer engineer to pass anchorwoman in the vote totals. In the end, Mattel decided to make both dolls.

This incident certainly demonstrates the power of social media once again. However, it also speaks to one of the key challenges facing Barbie as a brand in the past few years. On the one hand, many new competitors have emerged for young girls' attention. At the same time, a substantial group of mothers have concerns about Barbie in terms of the message being sent to their children at times (in terms of body image, for instance). So, the young girls want the computer engineer in pink, though some of the adult professionals bristle at the color choice. The trick for Mattel: Continue to attract young girls while not alienating their moms. It's not an easy balancing act. This story illustrates Mattel's challenge quite well. Many toy companies face a similar balancing act as they build brands and develop products.

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