Yesterday Mattel announced that Barbie can now wear flat shoes. They’ve rolled out 23 new Fashionista Barbies featuring 14 different facial looks, eight skin tones, 18 eye colors, 22 hair styles and 23 hair colors. Barbie still scales to a woman with a 36” bust and an 18” waist, so while her back likely aches at night, she is at the very least free to walk around town without blisters.
According to Sheila Shayon at BrandChannel.com, girls have become more interested in super-women and inspirational toys, and Mattel is coming off of its sixth quarter of lagging sales with Barbie. Flat shoes were a last ditch effort.
This begs the question: Why did it take so long for Mattel to listen to its customer base and to society at large? And why change only the shoes?
Discussions about Barbie are age-old. Outraged mothers and woman disappointed and disenfranchised by Mattel’s depiction of the perfect female form have been slamming Barbie for a lot longer than the past six quarters. Why would Mattel wait for a last ditch effort? Why not make earlier and more substantive moves to step into the now? Is it simply a matter of money over mind? Was Barbie a cash cow in high heels? Did Mattel believe that mothers would be unable to influence their daughters until now? Or was the change simply a response to the rise in popularity of flat shoes?
And how’s your conversation with your customers?
Effective branding is about the way you make people feel. It’s about connections and relationships with the people who are loyal to your company and products. Good branding is an outgrowth of understanding. If you’re delivering a message that divides the masses, you should be an active part of the ongoing discussion. If the position you’ve taken is between mothers and daughters, you should be talking to both of them with open ears.
Undoubtedly, Barbie has been standing at the center of a controversy for decades. Take a serious look at where your brand stands, and see who’s talking. If it’s no one, then strike up a conversation. And if the conversation is happening without you, find a way to say, “Excuse me,” and jump in. Otherwise I fear that, as with the new Barbie, changing into functional footwear may get you nowhere.