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#PRinHistory: Barbie’s Loving (and Lucrative) Shout-Out to Girl Geeks

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Much has been made of the millennial trend toward “job hopping,” but no one faults Barbie for having 180 careers.

The groundbreaking doll, invented by Ruth Handler in 1959, has been a career woman from nearly the very start – beginning as a registered nurse in 1961, and joining NASA as a female astronaut in 1965 (four years before we went to the moon!!).1

Since then, she’s suited up as a firefighter, a pilot, a director, and many, many more job descriptions where women are underrepresented.2 Perhaps her most memorable “hire,” though, came in 2010, when parent company Mattel allowed Barbie’s fans to choose her landmark 126th career.3

This was part of a larger publicity campaign to generate even further brand awareness and put Barbie at the forefront of important conversations – and it worked. The people chose Computer Engineer Barbie, and the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering even helped to create her look.4 The resulting sales numbers should tell you something about the demand for women engineers – sales of Barbie’s “I Can Be” career line shot up 140%, through the roof! (Or, I should say, the glass ceiling J ).5

Earned media coverage from the selection and public voting process came from Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Redbook – Mattel also garnered PR campaign awards.6 Michelle Chidoni, Mattel’s VP of global brand communications, noted that the conversation was “extremely positive and underscored the brand’s purpose” (my bold and italics!).7 What has been our topic du jour? Staying true to purpose and mission – and with the Computer Engineer campaign, Barbie did it brilliantly.

Ruth Handler herself said that Barbie’s purpose was to show little girls that they could be anything they want to be – and to “[represent] the fact that a woman has choices.”8 Mattel has done an excellent job of sticking to that original purpose for 60 years. Computer Engineer Barbie plugged in positively to the women in STEM conversation, and people were here for it. Hmm… could Teacher Barbie help Google learn a few things?

 

1) “The History Of Barbie.” Barbie, https://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/our-history.html.
2) Ibid.
3) “The 20 Best PR Campaigns of the Past Two Decades.” PR Week, September 25, 2018. https://www.prweek.com/article/1493241/20-best-pr-campaigns-past-two-decades.
4) Ibid.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid.
7) Ibid.
8) “The History Of Barbie.” Barbie, https://barbie.mattel.com/en-us/about/our-history.html.

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