How Barbie Got Her Groove Back in the Twenty-Teens: Lessons for Boosting Tired Brands with Matt Repicky

January 3, 2024

Remember playing with Barbies for hours of fun? If you’re a parent now, you probably hard passed on buying your kid the doll you enjoyed years ago. “Lame,” “not with it,” and “gives girls wrong ideas” are feelings about the 60-year-old toy.

And, if you saw the Barbie movie last year, you know exactly what we’re talking about. But let’s dial back the clock a bit to break down what marketers can learn from Matt Repicky’s transformation at Barbie years before the movie was even an idea.

Matt faced those blah views about Barbie when he rejoined as the toy’s marketing leader in 2014. Moms especially saw Barbie as dusting off odd messages about how girls should look and what they should want. They didn’t want their daughters anywhere near her, and Matt had his work cut out for himself.

Something big needed to change to update Barbie’s image but keep her specialness. Matt took on restarting the brand’s purpose and meaning to both girls and parents. His winning rallying cry was “Inspiring the limitless potential in every girl.” That motivation focused everything going forward.

Matt leaned on 3 main mindset shifts for injecting new life into tired brands. But before we dig in, be sure to catch our interview with Matt on this week’s episode of How The F**k Did You Get That Job:

Dig Into Why Negativity is There in the First Place

Look past general bad vibes about brands in trouble. Use empathy and study to pinpoint core issues turning off once supportive fans. Fight the want for surface level fixes.

Girls still liked playing with Barbie. Moms only worried Barbie steered daughters wrong. That pain meant Barbie needed targeted improvements, not completely starting over. Build on loyal love for brands while changing what rubs groups the wrong way.

Match Brand and Buyer Values Through Shared Purpose

Guide choices using a purpose that links brand beliefs and buyer hopes. Spell out why your brand matters in customers’ worlds beyond just selling stuff. Make choices based on that purpose. Then make sure messages reflect that view.

Barbie teetered between outdated themes like ‘looks matter most’ and uplifting girls’ big dreams. Her purpose shifted to unlocking kids’ unlimited possibility versus squashing it with unreal expectations. New content then always pushed exploration and discovery over appearances.

Rally Partners Around That Guiding Star

Get teams, sellers, influencers and partners thrilled about the refreshed purpose. Give them toolkits to spark cultural buzz. Turn tepid shoulders into zealous brand amplifiers.

Barbie’s aspiration needed backing from loud outsider voices. Their honest boost convinced doubtful moms Barbie could spread a message that they could support. Content then celebrated women pioneers further tying brand moves to can-do outlooks.

Track Your Success With The Market

Watch ongoing data on brand health to see if the evolved image resonates. Note any switch suggesting haters warming up. Prep added efforts to cement brand relevance.

Hearts, minds and dollars showed Barbie was on the up. Moms’ willingness to buy her rose by large percentages. Nostalgic millennials even snapped up collector Barbies. And hot spotlight moments like a Hollywood biopic and YouTube series hinted the toy was back, baby!

Purpose Breathes Unlimited Possibility into Brands

Barbie still raises some eyebrows but Matt’s fix reminds how purpose redirects brands, even longtime icons. Purpose guides choices and actions better than random taglines.

Purpose equally charges up company teams, communities and collaborators rather than leaving them dazed by lofty but empty directives. When tough times inevitably hit brands, purpose acts like trusty compass pointing direction.

Mattel expects Barbie to hold her cultural power thanks to sticking with her core aim - giving girls glimpse of their awesome potential. That takeaway matters big time not just for smart marketers but whole companies wanting to stay golden. Limitless possibility awaits brands anchored in motivational purpose. Destiny depends on defined direction.

Untold stories from the world's most influential marketers. New episodes every Wednesday.  
We’re OpenFortune. We put your brand in front of millions of engaged users – and give them a message from you.
Learn More