“My Barbie Never Needed a Ken”

Thoughts about Barbie from CMB’s Women Affinity Group

About a 3 min. read

Jen Golden
VP, Leisure & Experiences

When you think about Summer 2023, Barbie might come to mind. Even if you haven’t seen the blockbuster movie, its clever marketing tactics and immense social media buzz likely grabbed your attention. It seemed like almost everyone was talking about it, everyone was wearing pink, and there was a sense of “FOMO” if you weren’t.

I decided to do a mini focus group with our Women’s Affinity Group to capture reactions to the film & Barbie as a brand[1]. At CMB, we value our Affinity Groups as a place for those who share an identity to convene on learning, support, and connections. As the number one girls’ toy brand in the world, Barbie holds a special place for many, and it was nice to have the forum to discuss such a topical movie! Here are the top insights:

Everyone has a Barbie Story:

Not surprisingly, participants in the group have fond memories of Barbie from their childhood. It’s a brand with strong multi-generational nostalgia. Many recounted stories of playing Barbies with their moms, siblings & friends – and how much those interactions meant to them. The Barbie brand has strong associations with “imagination” & “creativity,” and the idea that “you can be anything”.

“Barbie vet was one of my favorites. It was a good way to expose different career paths early-on, and gauge interest in what you like. Barbie made it seem cool to grow up, have a job, be a woman, have it all.”

“Barbie is All of These Women. All of These Women are Barbie.”

The movie changed some perceptions of Barbie in a positive way. Many in the group felt that when they were growing up, Barbie felt very “feminine” and “girly” – a la the Stereotypical Barbie from the movie. And while the Barbie brand has worked to diversify and be more inclusive over the years, both the marketing for the movie and the movie itself did a good job at conveying the message that Barbie is for everyone.

“The movie helped make Barbie seem more progressive, and that Barbie can have different body types. It doesn’t seem like Mattel is just making changes because that is what people want, but they are really trying to make the brand look different, which feels more genuine beyond just coming out with dolls with different skin tones.”
“Since seeing the movie, I think of the Barbie brand as less girly – all the marketing around ‘This Barbie…’ helped changed perceptions. You can still be a Barbie girl when you are a tomboy. That was not the case when I was younger.”

Barbie is Empowering

The message of the movie also resonated with members of the Women’s Affinity group, especially America Ferrera’s speech:

“I think women can relate to the message of the movie in some degree. It was a conversation starter…a new way to talk about issues that have always been there/been around. Back in the day, Barbie might have been seen as promoting stereotypes and being perfect, but now they are entering the conversation from the other side. You don’t need to be perfect – this is real life.”

It’s Just Ken?

Ken was one of the best parts of the film – the Affinity Group especially loved his dance sequence. However, when we discussed the doll Ken, it was a different story. The majority said they never had or played with a Ken doll growing up and didn’t feel like they needed one.

“My Barbies didn’t need a Ken. They were perfectly happy without a Ken in their lives. I never felt like my daughters were missing him.”

This begs the question of what is next for Ken? There seems like a real opportunity here for Barbie to grow interest and appeal in Ken to capitalize on his movie popularity. Who wouldn’t want to stay at Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House?

The Power of Humor in Branding

Being involved in market research and thinking about brands every day, the role Mattel as a brand had in the film jumped out to the group. The “cheekiness” made the brand feel more authentic and relatable. It was nice to see Mattel poking fun at themselves and not shying away from some of the more problematic elements of Barbie that the brand may have faced in the past. It’s clear that Mattel really understood the film’s target audience and were not afraid to take chances on the storyline.

“I was surprised the Mattel brand played such a big role in the movie. I like that they were willing to be negative about the brand in a joking way. It’s refreshing to see that they can make fun of themselves.”

So, what does this mean for you and your brand? Brand health is essential to grow, innovate, and engage with confidence. CMB’s mini focus group on the Barbie movie is a small sample that shows the insights you can uncover about your own version of Barbie world. Through the power of Qual + Quant, fused with AI and HI, you can leave no insight lost. In turn, excite and delight your consumers every step of the way. Come on Barbie, let’s [do some market research]!

[1] Note that our n-size here is 7, so as with most Qual research, please treat these findings as directional :).

Jen Golden
VP, Leisure & Experiences