Solution For Gen Z Screen Addiction? A Barbie Flip Phone


With more young people looking for ways to lessen their use of smartphones, Mattel and HMD are teaming up for a pop-culture solution: The Barbie Flip Phone.

Human Mobile Devices and Mattel revealed plans for the new device at the recent MWC event in Barcelona. And while Adam Fergusen, global head of marketing at HMD, says it’s too soon to reveal photos of the new device, he expects the phone to help Gen Z break up with the smartphone.

“Digital detox is a huge trend right now,” he tells Marketing Daily. “If you look for #bringbacktheflipphone, you’ll find 60 million views on TikTok.”

The Barbie phone builds on that desire, splashing some vintage pink and sparkle on the mental-health trend.

The Barbie news is just the latest new development from HMD, guardians of the Nokia brand and Europe’s leading smartphone manufacturer. Among the company’s new initiatives: Increased repairability for devices, scheduled for rollout in July, and a fusion platform, which allows people to build their own hardware and software integrations for a slimline smartphone.



HMD had a good year, achieving its first full year of profitability. But industrywide, sales of mobile devices have declined for two years in a row, a rare event. Fergusen says that means the industry is braced for a pick-up in 2024, which HMD hopes to capitalize on.

For the Barbie brand, he says this is an opportunity to further move into tech products. “Barbie is the original girl empowerment brand, and this helps Mattel move deeper into the STEM world.”

Primarily, the Barbie phone will offer Gen Z a much sought-after mental-health solution, with the limited connectivity of a flip phone effectively putting an end to doom-scrolling.

“Gen Z wants to take a step away from social media specifically, as well as screen time in general, a strong trend both in the U.S. and globally," Fergusen says. "They want to protect their mental health, and this is the perfect vehicle.”

The device, which will be available globally, allows for phone connectivity and texting. And it does have some limited internet connectivity. It will be very different from the smartphone experience consumers are used to.

The idea is to remove temptation. “You can walk out the door in the morning and think, 'I’m going to have a social-media-free day,’ but with all the buzzing, ringing and notifications pinging, there’s always that slight temptation to go and check," he says.

Just how many GenZ-ers are likely to go for flip phones? He thinks plenty. “A third of Gen Z in the U.S., for example, are already taking steps to limit their time on social media. And globally, about 81% of 16- to 24-year-olds have taken action to reduce general smartphone screen time in the last month.”

Certainly, flip phones aren’t for everyone. Smartphones make shopping easier with digital wallets. And many people can’t imagine life without Uber, Instacart or Amazon and email at their fingertips.

Fergusen says HMD is currently working on ideas for devices that would make room for “all the magnificent things smartphones can do and still block social media. But for now, this is a first step in helping people shield their mental health.”

And while the phones won’t be marketed to children, he thinks some parents are eager to have some phone connection with kids while still restricting access to social media.

Fergusen, who declined to say how much the Barbie Flip Phone will cost or give any details about the marketing, says he isn’t worried that the launch is coming too late, or that Barbie peaked in 2023. “Barbie will continue to gain momentum, particularly in any way connected to technology.”

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