How Virtual Barbie Helped Mattel Sales Reach 4-Year High

Mattel's Q1 2021 sales surged 87% to more than $276 million boosted in part by a renewed demand for the iconic toy. Barbie's YouTube channel and Instagram pages have millions of subscribers. Becoming a virtual influencer may have been the brand's wisest move yet.

 min. read
May 16, 2021

There's no denying that Barbie has been a staple of the toy industry for the last 6 decades. Loved and loathed in almost equal measure, Barbie has succeeded in staying relevant throughout the years — today's generations included. It's no secret that she has occupied one glittering profession after another, ranging from elementary school teacher to gym coach, nurse, judge, pilot — and, more recently, a virtual influencer.

With 'her' own YouTube channel and Instagram page with millions of subscribers, Barbie has found her calling. Mattel's Q1 2021 sales surged 87% to more than $276 million boosted in part by the stimulus and a renewed demand for the iconic toy. Becoming a virtual influencer may have been Barbie's wisest and most profitable move yet.

Meet Barbie, the Virtual Influencer

Japanese anime characters aren't the only ones to sport a successful virtual presence on YouTube and Instagram. Barbie has been a virtual influencer since 2015, when Mattel launched her official YouTube vlog in response to kids wanting to learn more about the iconic doll.

Set mostly in her pink-and-white bedroom, Barbie's vlogs are a mix of soothing and girl-power political that rack up hundreds of thousands of views each. In one of her first vlogs, Barbie is introducing herself to her watchers and we get to know that, though she 'lives' in Malibu with her three sisters, she's originally from Wisconsin.

We also learn that taking part in an annual gingerbread-house competition is a family tradition, that she has a dog named Taffy, and that she has a thing for matchas. Even Ken, Barbie's love interest, is made more human as we learn that his family has the odd tradition of hanging a pickle on their Christmas tree. A bit strange? Perhaps — but we can clearly see its appeal, relevance and credibility.

There's more to Barbie the virtual influencer than meets the eye, however. She's not just a pretty face — there's an approachable, teenage side to her that makes her content ultra-relatable to today's generations despite the dramatic social change of the last 5 years.

Discussions about bullying, saying sorry too often, and even YouTube-native topics like the baby-food challenge are frequently featured in her vlogs. She sets realistic expectations of herself, too: "I don't always have to be upbeat and positive, and to expect that of myself isn't fair." Like real-life influencers, she tackles relevant and cultural conversations that are both relevant to her audience and authentic to the Barbie character.

In a world where young girls struggle with low self-esteem and where bullying is prevalent, Barbie is a role model and everything an influencer ought to be. And it's all part of Mattel's intelligent digital strategy, which has succeeded in turning a seemingly superficial icon into one of substance.

Gone are the days when Barbie was marketed as a pretty-in-pink girl doll with nothing but her looks to recommend her — through Mattel's digital efforts, Barbie has become a witty, clever and empowered persona that is set to benefit child development.

Mattel's Sales Reach a 4-Year High

The shift in Barbie's positioning started in 2016, when they changed the face, body shapes, and skin tones for the doll and encouraged girls to push beyond gender stereotypes. The strategy worked. The new tone and new Barbie content strategy helped deliver an 87% surge in worldwide gross sales, hitting $276 million.

Mattel shares are on the move Friday after a "truly exceptional" first quarter that included record sales growth powered by Barbie and Hot Wheels brands. - TheStreet

By turning Barbie into a virtual influencer, they've essentially taken one of the world's most popular toys and recast its image to play up both the nostalgia and the new notion that it can be beneficial to child development.

This has helped the company reach new audiences, including young parents who favor educational gadgets over toys. If Barbie can propagate the idea of self-love and self-care through motivational vlogs, then buying Barbie products must not be such a bad idea after all. It's not just a frivolous and disposable piece of plastic that sets an unrealistic standard of physical beauty — Barbie has become a role model that kids look up to in every way.

"In the short-term, we are improving profitability by optimizing our operations and accelerating topline growth, by growing our power brands and expanding our brand portfolio" Mattel CEO, Ynon Kreiz

Mattel's sales gains indicate this new view may be taking hold as more parents embrace the idea of kids using Barbie to live out their aspirations. It's a 180-degree turn that is driving the longer-term success of the Barbie brand.

Virtual Influencer Content Drives the Bottom Line

Kids and teens are rapidly consuming content across YouTube, games, and streaming entertainment. Brands that carve out deeper roles in Gen Z's day-to-day lives by connecting with them with digital content that is purposeful and relevant. Virtual influencers represent a peer point-of-view that can be help cut through the digital noise.

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