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Why Barbie’s most favourite accessory is imagination

BARBIE, soon to be immortalised on the big screen, has built a lasting legacy over more than six decades through its appeal to “imagination”, Richard Dickson, president and COO of manufacturer Mattel, said.



Speaking to a packed crowd at the Palais II on Monday, the toy tsar compared Barbie’s longevity to the “incredible legacy” of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, both having appealed to the imagination to drive “business creativity”.

The best-known doll has 99% recognition among consumers. Dickson put the long-term success down to Mattel’s ability to leverage a child’s imagination. “Many of us have lost that innate sense of creativity,” he said of adults who “play less”.


Dickson described how the pioneering fashion doll was created in 1959 as a way for girls to “imagine their future”. Selling 300,000 units in its first year, Barbie soon became a “girl empowerment brand” and symbol of women’s equality as it imagined young women getting out of the home and building careers.


This “exciting new portal of possibilities” soon welcomed diversity when African-American woman Kitty Black Perkins created the first black Barbie as the chief designer of fashions and doll concepts for Mattel’s Barbie line, Dickson said.


But while embracing diversity, Barbie creators failed to change the doll’s figure in line with the body-positivity movement. Complacency had set in and by the early 2010s the doll had become “unfashionable”, he said.

Mattel then did what many thought would be impossible and “changed the trajectory of the Barbie brand”.


The key was to define a brand purpose, to embark on design-led innovation and cultural reinvention.

The new strategy was embodied in the award-winning “you can be anything” campaign of 2015, and now the creation of what Dickson calls “the most inclusive range of dolls on the planet”.


Following a 20% sales dip between 2012 and 2014, the Barbie brand is riding an unprecedented wave of success, having doubled sales in the seven years after its nadir.

When the Barbie movie is released this summer with Margot Robbie in the lead alongside diverse Barbies played by the likes of Issa Rae and Dua Lipa, the brand is likely to reach even bigger heights.

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