A stir over an “Unapologetic” Barbie posing on the cover and in an extensive spread in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue combusted from the ad trades and bloggers — “mommy” and otherwise — on Tuesday and into the mainstream yesterday, igniting just the sort of word of mouth any product or media outlet could dream about. And no doubt did.
“There's no publicity quite like free publicity and trolling the public is a decent way to get that free publicity,” as Slate’s Matthew Yglesias writes. “You want controversy? Just put Barbie on SI swimsuit cover,” reads the hed on Fox Sports.
“Within hours of the announcement, a debate was raging on the Web and television. While some saw no controversy, others said the swimsuit issue demeans women and Barbie’s unrealistic proportions send an unhealthy message to young girls,” write Bloomberg’s Matt Townsend and Lindsey Rupp.
“‘What year are we?’ Sallie Krawcheck, the former Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. executive, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. ‘It is a terrible message for young ladies.’”
The “more plasticky model posing alongside the flesh-and-blood ones,” as Ad Age’s Shareen Pathak put it, will appear in the annual swimsuit issue that hits newsstands and big box stores shelves on Feb. 18. The spread, shot by prominent sports photographer Walter Iooss Jr., will feature 22 dolls.
“In some, her impossibly long legs end in heels, her arms placed sassily on her tiny waist,” reports the Los Angeles Times’ Tiffany Hsu. “To mark the debut, Mattel is issuing a collector doll to be sold exclusively on Target.com.”
"As a legend herself, and under criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done, and be unapologetic," said Lisa McKnight, Mattel's SVP of marketing, after comparing her 150-career resume and $3-billion net brand worth against “other legends such as Heidi Klum and Christie Brinkley.” (You can Google those last links yourselves, boys.)
“Promotional activities surrounding the appearance include social media campaigns on platforms such as Twitter and a billboard in Times Square, all featuring "#Unapologetic," reports NBC Bay Area’s Colin Bertram.
Barbie actually has been successful in her search for more exposure since turning 50 a few years ago after some lean years.
“Mattel has been reaching out for some time to other brands to help its efforts aimed at redefining Barbie’s image, making the doll more appealing to contemporary consumers and addressing concerns that Barbie promotes unrealistic attitudes about the female body,” writes the New York Times’ Stuart Elliott.
“Other examples include a campaign promoting a new Barbie beach house, which included the Bravo series ‘Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles’ and the real estate website Trulia, and the introduction of versions of Barbie (and Ken) styled after characters on the AMC series ‘Mad Men.’”
Ries & Ries president Laura Ries observes in Townsend’s and Rupp’s piece for Bloomberg that “Mattel has skillfully generated media buzz for the brand that could stir nostalgia among adults.”
“It’s a solid move,” she said. “It’s not just a crazy ad in Maxim. If she was shown in a midriff and black eyeliner under her eyes, that would have been distasteful and gotten a lot more PR.”
Toy analyst Sean McGowan tells APR Marketplace’s David Weinberg that Mattel has marketed Barbie to adults in the past in more unconventional ways. “There was a big store in Shanghai that actually had a bar. That doesn't seem very kid-friendly,” he says.
Margery Eagan puts it all in a broader perspective in the Boston Herald, suggesting that Barbie — who has stiffed Ken in pursuit of her many careers for all these years and has “never gotten pregnant or done drugs” — is not the problem. The industry is.
“I spent hours reading these objections — and they’re ridiculous,” she writes. “Ladies, we’re living a paradox here. Barbie and Bar Rafaeli, ex of supermodel-obsessed Leonardo DiCaprio, are the least of our woes. The entire media/advertising culture conspires against little girls.”
And preteen girls. And teen girls. And boys of the same ages. And not only in the unrealistic images that we project. Unless you think that kids 8 to 18 spending “more time (44.5 hours per week) in front of computer, television, and game screens than any other activity in their lives except sleeping,” as the American Psychological Association points out, is a healthy development.