Happy Birthday, Barbie

Today is National Barbie Day. Why? It was on this day in 1959 that the doll was unveiled to the public for the first time, at the American International Toy Fair in New York.

TV-based Marketing Strategy

Barbie was the first toy to have a TV-based marketing strategy. That was revolutionary—lots of kids were watching the still-new novelty that was TV and Mattel marketed to them. The result: Barbie is one of the most successful toys of all time, and TV because the quickest and most effective way to make kids aware of toys.

Barbie’s Full Name

Barbara Millicent Roberts. Her longtime boyfriend, introduced in 1961 (although they broke up in 2004) is Ken, or Ken Carson.

Controversy and Sexist Stereotypes

Barbie is not without controversy—many feel it perpetuates sexist stereotypes. In 1993, a group called the Barbie Liberation Organization slipped into toy stores and switched the voice chips in Teen Talk Barbies and talking G.I. Joe dolls. The result: Hundreds of kids wound up with Barbie dolls that said “Vengeance is mine!” (And other kids got a G.I. Joe that said, “Want to go shopping?”) Barbie also may lead to wildly impossible body standards and other health issues. A 1963 model called “Babysitter Barbie” came with a Barbie-size book called Don’t Eat. In 1965, Slumber Party Barbie came up with a book called How to Lose Weight…and a bathroom scale.

The Barbie Movie

There’s a live-action Barbie movie in the works, set for release in 2020. There’s some major talent behind the scenes: It’s co-written by Juno Oscar winner Diablo Cody and will star Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, replacing original star Amy Schumer.

That’s not the first Barbie movie, however. In 1987, now major feature film director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Wonderstruck, Carol) made a short film called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. It’s a 43-minute movie that tells the life story of the late pop singer Karen Carpenter…told entirely through Barbie dolls. In 1990, the movie was banned because Haynes used Carpenters songs without permission.

“Barbie Girl” – The Song

In 1997, Danish pop band Aqua released a satirical song called “Barbie Girl.” An international hit sung from Barbie’s point of view, it presented the doll as a “blonde bimbo girl in a fantasy world.” Mattel sued, claiming the song tarnished Barbie’s reputation, and that the single’s packaging used “Barbie pink.” Aqua’s label, MCA countersued for defamation. (A judge dismissed both suits.)