What's New in Public Relations

September 29, 2011

Video Girl Barbie

Filed under: Public Relations Posts — Carlie @ 1:27 am

During the summer of 2010, Mattel introduced a new Barbie to the world. Known as “Video Girl Barbie”, the doll comes dressed in jeans and a hoody (pink, of course) with her trademark long blond hair up in a high ponytail. It is her necklace, though, that really makes her special. The permanently attached jewelry is actually a tiny webcam that girls can use to make short movies. Editing software, provided with the doll, lets girls upload their videos and create short films on Barbie’s website. The goal was to make Barbie more appealing to girls in today’s technology focused world.


The problem began to surface around the holiday season that year. Someone released an internal memo from the FBI to the press about problems that could come from this Barbie. According to the memo, the doll is seen as “a possible child pornography production method”. Immediately, the media picked up the story and began reporting the risks associate with Barbie’s latest incarnation.


Of course, this incident is far from the first time that Barbie has dealt with public relations issues. Share-A-Smile Becky, the first Barbie doll to come in a wheelchair, could not fit in the elevator in the Barbie Dream Home. In 1965, Sleepover Barbie came with a scale set permanently to 110 pounds and a book on how to lose weight, including a page that said, “Don’t Eat!” Some Teen Talk Barbies, a doll that could “speak” a few select phrases, were found to say, “Math class is hard!” which caused controversy amongst groups that promoted post-secondary education for girls. And of course, there is the ongoing issue of Barbie having unrealistic proportions and promoting an unhealthy body image to young girls.


However, Barbie recently celebrated her fiftieth birthday. How is it that a doll with so many public relations issues has survived this long?


Part of Barbie’s longevity is that she constantly reinvents herself. She has had millions of different outfits and fashions, hundreds of jobs and roles, and enough pets and vehicles to fill any girl’s toy room. Her designers have been good at making sure that Barbie reflects the trends of the times to appeal to the girls of the day.


They have also been good at dealing with their public relations issues. They promised to redesign the Dream Home elevator to accommodate Becky’s wheelchair. They stopped producing dolls that talked about math and allowed owners of these Teen Talk Barbie dolls to trade them in for one without that phrase in her vocabulary. And in 1997, at a time when eating disorders were starting to become more common in North America, it was announced that Barbie would get a makeover: smaller hips, a wider waist, a smaller bust. Going from the unrealistic dimensions of what some have estimated to be around 38-18-34, the new Barbie look was meant to make Barbie look more true-to-life and to discourage girls from feeling as though they needed to resemble the dolls, as well as to fit better into the popular fashions of the time.


As for Video Girl Barbie, Mattel released a statement reassuring the public that the safety of children as one of their highest priorities. They also confirmed the FBI’s report that the doll had, to their knowledge, never been used in anything but an appropriate way. “Steve Dupre from the FBI Sacramento field office has confirmed there have been no incidents of this doll being used as anything other than its intent,” says the statement. “Mattel products are designed with children and their best interests in mind”.


Had some kind of incident occurred that put children in danger, I’m sure that Mattel would have reacted different. It would be completely inappropriate for them to do nothing but release a statement if it was possible that children were at risk from their product. As it was, however, Video Girl Barbie provided a way for girls to learn about new technology and sill enjoy a doll that has proven to be a timeless classic!


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