What marketers can learn from Barbie

What Barbie boasts in beauty, she lacks in social responsibility. If the campaign for a bald version of the doll tells us anything, writes Nicola Clark, it is that marketers cannot hide from consumer feedback.

She's been a doctor, a vet, a UN ambassador, an air-hostess, a firefighter, a cashier and a film star. So far, however, toy company Mattel has resisted calls to create a bald Barbie to serve as a role model for young girls dealing with hair loss through illness.

Jane Bingham and Beckie Supin, both of whom have daughters who have lost their hair as a result of cancer treatments, are behind a Facebook page called 'Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let's see if we can get it made'. When it launched, they received a standard response from Mattel stating that it 'does not take unsolicited ideas from outside sources'.

The statement was seemingly little more than the 'computer says no' of the consumer feedback world; a blunt response to a heartfelt request from two individuals seeking to do something positive through a brand they admire.

A subsequent social-media campaign, boosted by national press coverage, has helped the page build up more than 137,000 likes, forcing the corporation to show a more human face.

Mattel said it was 'honoured' that Bingham and Sypin 'believe that Barbie could be the face of such an important cause. Mattel appreciates and respects the passion that has built up for the request for a bald Barbie doll'.

It remains to be seen whether Mattel will finally see the campaign for what it is: a fantastic opportunity to connect with its consumers and raise money for charity. However, what is abundantly clear is that in the context of social media, brands cannot afford to ignore their consumers.

Where once they could hide behind hierarchy and automated systems, the immediacy, transparency and amplification provided by platforms such as Facebook is forcing brands to turn their businesses inside-out to better respond to consumer feedback. Those that fail to adapt will end up left in the cold.


What the new relationship between brands and consumers means for marketers

Consumer says no: the end of automated responses

With the growth of social media, consumers have come to expect brands to both consult them on how they develop their products and services, and act like a human being. Monolithic companies can no longer hide behind corporate language and structures. As Mattel has learned, not accepting 'unsolicited ideas' is no longer a viable option.

Micro-democracy in action

McCann London's 'Britain 2012' research identifies the growth of more direct and small-scale forms of micro-democracy over the past year as a key trend. Institutions required to make unpalatable choices will turn to people for consent to soften the blow and shift some of the blame. In practice, this means that brands will not only have to respond quickly and openly to feedback, but also openly consult consumers on any changes to their products or services.

The hierarchy as you knew it is dead

There has been a shift in the balance of power in the relationship between brands and consumers over the past decade. Consumers do not make any distinction between a company and its brands. In the words of Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg: 'Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.'

Conversational brands

Consumers don't want more branded Facebook pages, they want better dialogue from companies and brands. According to global PR firm Edelman's annual Trust Barometer, consumers are seeking more openness and better dialogue from businesses - and, crucially, for companies to actually listen to their customers.

Nicola Clark is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Oasis #springasmile digital campaign gets people doing good deeds
Coca-Cola: 'Don't approach bloggers with a fait accompli'
Tesco CMO Matt Atkinson: 'It is so important not to stereotype mothers'
McDonald's gives Ronald a new look ahead of global 'Fun times' social media push
In pictures: BrewDog opens first craft beer shop BottleDog for 'beer aficionados'
Facebook ad revenue leaps $1bn as it invests in targeting
Malteser or Maltesers? Mars takes Hershey trademark dispute to court
Apple Q2 profits top $10bn as iPhone sales soar
Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers