Mattel: President Barbie not an endorsement, but a celebration of women

"As a brand, we always like to be timely and topical," said Mattel's Michelle Chidoni. "This execution is allowing us to have a meaningful conversation about women and leadership."

EL SEGUNDO, CA: Despite a woman at the top of a major party’s presidential ticket for the first time, Barbie is staying nonpartisan in 2016.

The toy-maker has released six Barbie presidents since 1992. However, this election cycle is the first time its presidential and vice presidential dolls have been sold as a set – and as an all-female ticket – not to mention the first time a woman is about to be nominated for president by a major party.

However, Michelle Chidoni, Mattel’s global brand communications VP, said the dolls are not an endorsement of Hillary Clinton, but girls and women embracing leadership roles.

"This is a celebration of showing girls they can do anything, including being president of the United States," Chidoni said. "As a brand, we always like to be timely and topical. This execution is allowing us to have a meaningful conversation about women and leadership."

Mattel’s comms team began planning the dolls’ launch earlier this year, paying close attention to the nation’s cultural environment and political landscape, she added.

The inspiration behind the campaign’s message was partially fuelled by a study from the Girl Scout Research Institute that found only 39% of girls say they want to be a leader. Chidoni called that statistic "jarring."

As the launch date neared, the brand also had to identify the right partner for its message about women in leadership. It had to look no further than its own global advisory council, which includes Erin Loos Cutraro, cofounder and CEO of She Should Run. The nonpartisan organization is dedicated to expanding the talent pool of future elected female officials by motivating women to explore leadership opportunities.

"[The name of the organization] She Should Run is present on the back of our doll package, so they are absolutely woven throughout the campaign," said Chidoni.

Barbie also created a worksheet with She Should Run to inspire girls to explore their leadership potential.

"Barbie is meant to inspire girls to be anything they want to be; it is all about imagination and storytelling," said Chidoni. "So making sure that message came out clearly was another important part of the strategy."

A key tactic in its marketing strategy was to send the dolls to all female members of Congress on Wednesday morning.

"The package was inspired for them to give it to a girl in their life that they think has leadership potential and capabilities," said Chidoni. She added that "great traction" has resulted from the push, with outlets such as Fortune penning stories on it.

The President and Vice President Barbies actually hit store shelves in June. However, Mattel launched its media relations push for them on Tuesday, targeting The Washington Post. A day later, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature about the dolls and Barbie’s history of "presidential runs."

Barbie’s communications team also created a video, which debuted on Wednesday, building on the brand’s You Can Be Anything campaign, which launched in October 2015. It shared the video on Barbie’s social media pages.

"The video from October showcased how girls play with Barbie in a variety of roles and the imaginative play the doll enables, but the new video shows a girl playing being President of the United States," said Chidoni.

The company will roll out more GIFs and social media elements for the campaign in the next two weeks. Budget information was not disclosed. Weber Shandwick is handling PR for the campaign.

"Barbie is a brand that continues to evolve to focus less on what she looks like and what she has, to what she enables," explained Chidoni. "It is a focus on the benefits of imaginative play and creativity and storytelling. As we head into 2017 and beyond, Mattel is looking across its portfolio to be more purposeful with play."

Earlier this year, Barbie revealed an expanded Fashonistas line featuring three new body types – tall, curvy, and petite – and seven skin tones.

Barbie’s latest run for office comes as the doll is struggling to sell. Sales dropped 20% from 2012 to 2014 and fell again last year. In the first quarter of 2016, Barbie’s sales were flat, which Mattel said was due to the strong dollar.

In May, Saturday Night Live created a fake commercial for Mattel’s President Barbie, depicting young girls being unimpressed with the doll and playing off what pundits saw as a lack of enthusiasm for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s candidacy at the time.

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