How A $3 Doll Gave Birth To a Billion Dollar Empire | Rise, Fall and Rise Of Barbie
The highly-anticipated movie, Barbie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling will release on July 21, 2023. The craze surrounding the doll (which lends its name to the film) is not new but it has been rekindled lately. After all, the world had to wait for 64 years to see Barbie on the big screens.
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A Barbie movie was in plans for the doll-making company Mattel but they were apprehensive to attach famous faces to their doll. However, that is all in the past with Greta Gerwig finally bringing a Barbie that belongs to the big screen. Given the record sales and the hype surrounding the upcoming movie, it's hard to believe that the brand was on the brink of extinction, only a few years ago.
Barbie came under fire for unrealistic beauty standards
Brand Barbie came under scrutiny back in 2015 for promoting unrealistic beauty standards and perpetuating gender stereotypes, hitting the lowest sales in the history of the brand and bringing in only $900 million, per The Drum. The thought that these toys were bad for kids was embedded in the minds of millennial parents and getting them to like Barbie again looked like a mammoth-sized task. Many surveys and research at the time showed how girls who were into Barbie were suffering from eating disorders and low self-esteem. However, Mattel seems to have undergone a total transformation. How did they do it?
The secret behind Barbie bouncing back
Barbie's turnaround was achieved through marketing and really impressive product innovation. The CEO of the doll-making company, Richard Dickson told The Drum, "Every year from 2014 on we have created important segments product-wise and by marketing these we have generated, in the last three years, the biggest record years for Barbie ever."
The present CEO joined Mattel over 20 years ago and since has played an important role in shaping the company's future. He talked about how defining the purpose of the brand in a world filled with consumption was an essential part of his standard operating procedure. "That means really understanding people’s likes, dislikes, trends, and the world we live in. Then, ultimately, it is about how we filter that through our purpose," he added. Things have been looking up since then with the Barbie brand with annual sales touching a record $1.7bn in 2021, and the brand being valued at approximately 700 million U.S. dollars in 2023, which is nearly double the brand value recorded just two years earlier.
The history of Barbie and the billion-dollar empire
The world saw the launch of the iconic doll Barbie or Barbara Millicent Roberts back in March 1959. The 11-inch tall plastic doll with the figure of an adult woman sported a black and white striped bathing suit with a low ponytail and red pouty lips. Ruth Handler, a woman who co-founded Mattel with her husband Elliot and introduced the doll which was inspired by a Lilli doll which was a doll not designed for kids but more of a gag toy for men. Mattel even went on to buy the rights to Lilli, a character featured in a German newspaper that had later inspired the adult toy.
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Around 300,000 dolls were sold in the first year of its production, at $3 each (or about $31 in today’s dollars). Today an original Barbie doll sells for approximately $27,000. "If you owned Mattel stock in the Sixties, you were getting double-digit returns every year," Robin Gerber, author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World's Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her told Forbes. The company was growing at the speed of light, "It took 28 years to get Barbie to $430 million in sales and just three years to get her to $700 million,” John Amerman, Mattel’s chairman, told Forbes back in 1991.
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