Mattel: Unlike Barbie, Ken doesn't have to deal with body issues

Michelle Chidoni, VP of global comms for Mattel, explained that Barbie has always had a conversation at an adult level with consumers about body ideals- something Ken hasn't really had to deal with.

Barbie expanded its Fashionistas line on Tuesday with 15 new and diverse Ken dolls, featuring three body types – slim, broad, and original – and a variety of skin tones, eye colors, hairstyles, and modern fashion looks.

But revealing Ken dolls with new body types has not been as complicated for Mattel’s comms team as a similar launch Barbie went through last January.

Michelle Chidoni, VP of global comms for Mattel, explained that Barbie has always had a conversation at an adult level with consumers about body ideals– something Ken hasn’t really had to deal with.

"It is similar to the conversation with men and women [in the real world]," said Chidoni. "Women are typically more scrutinized for their looks and the ideal of beauty than men are. Barbie’s and Ken’s worlds are reflective of that."

When Mattel launched tall, curvy, and petite Barbie dolls last year, the new line was largely embraced by consumers. And sales of the Barbie Fashionistas line have seen high double-digit growth globally, according to a release. 

But a number of Twitter users and even some celebrities posted their disdain for the new dolls at its January 2016 launch. Some noted that the curvy Barbie in particular sent the wrong message – that "being overweight is OK."

Meanwhile, most of the conversation on social media around the new Ken dolls seems to be focused on the iterations media outlets and consumers describe as "man-bun Ken" and "dad bod Ken."

When coming up with the new Kens, Mattel wanted to create a diverse offering that would reflect the different types of men in kids’ lives.

"There are kids who may look at these dolls and it may remind them of their dad, brother, or a manny they have," said Chidoni. "A more diverse offering allows us to resonate with kids on multiple levels. We want to offer parents products where they see more of themselves in this product line, they see the role models their children see."

Mattel specifically decided to create a Ken doll with a man bun because it knew it would drive cultural conversation.

"The great thing about Barbie and Ken is that they are mini time capsules that represent what is happening in the world around them," Chidoni said. "Given the popularity in the celebrity world of the man bun, we had a feeling that the Ken with a man bun would be a pop culture interest. That has risen to the top of things people are chattering about in social conversation online which is expected and fun to see."

Weber Shandwick and HL Group worked with the brand to unveil the new line of Ken dolls. GQ was among the media outlets that covered the new Ken line. GQ ran the news online and will have a multiple page spread in its July issue. The outlet also created a video about the new dolls, which was shared on GQ’s and Barbie’s social media pages.

Good Morning America and Parents magazine also are among the outlets that covered the news.

Additionally, Barbie introduced the "new crew" with a dedicated page on its website, which includes a video.

"This is a continued expression of the Barbie You Can Be Anything campaign," said Chidoni. "Our goal has been to continue to communicate that when a girl plays with Barbie she imagines everything and anything she can become. As we continue to talk through the benefit of Barbie, it is important we continue to diversify the line so that more girls see more opportunities for storytelling potentials."

In terms of lessons learned from launching the new Barbie body types last year, Chidoni explained that Mattel is a big believer in working with press early to give them a full picture of the product line, marketing, and launch.

Giving press and consumers full transparency about the brand’s intent is key to a successful launch, Chidoni said. It allows Mattel to be in the driver’s seat about its own news.

"With any launch we have there is the thought: What happens if the consumer doesn’t see the intent?" said Chidoni. "The intent of this line is to put forth a more diverse offering. It is progress, not perfection."

Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free