This Ad About Barbie’s New Makeover Is Rory Kennedy’s First as a Commercial Director

Big-name talent for a big change

Headshot of Tim Nudd

There's been a lot of debate today about Barbie's introduction of curvy, tall and petite dolls to go with the original, and whether the Mattel makeover represents real progress in the area of girls' body image and self-esteem. But unmentioned until now is the involvement of a famous female filmmaker in the campaign—acclaimed documentarian Rory Kennedy, whose spot below, exploring the makeover, is her first-ever commercial.

Kennedy—Oscar-nominated director of Last Days in Vietnam, and daughter of Bobby Kennedy—crafted the piece as a mini-documentary featuring kids and Mattel execs (mostly designers) talking about the move to toward dolls with more realistic proportions.

The designers are self-congratulatory, which isn't a surprise but is a bit irritating coming from a brand that epitomized the problem, and resisted change, for so long. The kids are fun to listen to, though, even if they make pronouncements about body image that seem beyond their years. (It's a bit hard to imagine the first girl coming up with this on her own: "It's important for Barbies to look different. You know, like the real people in the world?")

Still, one area where the spot embodies its own message is in the casting of the kids. They couldn't be more diverse, from race to body shape, which helps reinforce the importance of manufacturing dolls that look at least somewhat more like these kids and the people they know, with looks that aren't wildly unattainable.

Kennedy's involvement brings credibility to the proceedings, in any case. And as obvious as it might be, it's nice to see Mattel and BBDO prioritize the involvement of women in the creative process—much as brand and agency did last year in hiring Karen Cunningham of Slim Pictures to direct Barbie's hugely popular "Imagine the Possibilities" ad. 

Kennedy signed with Nonfiction Unlimited for ad representation two years ago but hasn't shot a spot until now. Check out Adweek's interview with her from 2014.

Client: Barbie/Mattel

Agency: BBDO San Francisco
Matt Miller, Executive Creative Director
Amber Justis, Creative Director
Kevin Thomson, Creative Director
Ian Hill, Copywriter
Tu Phan, Art Director
Nicole Dongara, Account Manager
Kim Fredkin, Account Director
Jacqueline Djanikian, Business Affairs
Whitney Ferris, Producer

Production Company: Nonfiction Unlimited
Rory Kennedy, Director
Michael Degan, Executive Producer
LJ / Loretta Jeneski, Executive Producer
Patrick Degan, Head of Production
Jim Shippee, Producer

Editorial: Whitehouse Santa Monica
Joanna Manning Post Supervisor
Charlie Harvey Editor

@nudd Tim Nudd is a former creative editor of Adweek.