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


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
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message
Lynx unleashes £9m 'Peace invasion' campaign
Social Brands 100 Youth: Pizza Hut most social youth brand in UK
Cheryl Cole is wild and arresting in new L'Oreal work
Morrisons told not to show alcohol ads during YouTube nursery rhymes
O2 head of brand Shadi Halliwell departs after 23 years at company in restructure
Tesco hit by further sales decline as it turns to digital Clubcard and social network
Branding guru Wally Olins dies aged 83
Duracell short film captures epic Transatlantic voyage
Ash runs Tinder experiment to show smokers are less desirable to opposite sex
British Airways teams up with Gerry Cottle Jnr for summer of rooftop film screenings
Arklu says 'girls can be superheroes too' with doll design competition
Coke enters squash market with Oasis Mighty Drops
Virgin Galactic signs up Land Rover as space flight sponsor
Motorola marketer Andrew Morley departs as Google gears up for sale to Lenovo
US Airways apologises after tweeting obscene image at a customer