Girls Demand an End to the ‘Dream Gap’ Limiting Their Careers in Barbie’s Stirring New Spot

They're issuing a call to 'moms, dads, brothers and bosses'

In a new spot from agency BBDO, girls highlight the discrepancy in how they're often raised in contrast to boys. Mattel
Headshot of David Griner

It’s nearly International Day of the Girl, a moment of global discussion about the way today’s girls are raised and respected, and Mattel’s Barbie brand is coming out swinging with a powerful spot in advance of the Thursday event.

In its new spot from BBDO San Francisco, the global Barbie marketing team highlights “The Dream Gap,” described as the rift that “comes between girls and their full potential.” Young girls do the talking for themselves in this video, making it especially potent to hear stats like, “We are three times less likely to be given a science-related toy.”

Each data point cited by the ad’s stars is the tip of an iceberg when it comes to the cultural forces that seem aligned against helping girls succeed in science, math and executive careers. For example, the line about parents being twice as likely to Google search “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” is referenced in a 2014 New York Times opinion piece that analyzed search data and found a litany of gender-imbalanced trends. That analysis, by a Harvard-educated economist, found parents far more likely to Google their concerns about a daughter’s weight and appearance than they would for a son.

Barbie’s new commercial is especially interesting in its open-ended call to action, asking “moms, dads, brothers and bosses” to help address this issue through the ways they treat girls and often how they create products with girls in mind.

“Since 1959, Barbie has inspired the limitless potential in every girl and we believe that empowering them at a young age is a catalyst to unlocking their full potential,” says Lisa McKnight, general manager and svp of Barbie. “The goal of The Dream Gap Project is to leverage Barbie’s global platforms to educate society on gender biases and inspire any supporter of girls to join us as we can’t do this alone.”

In a statement announcing the new video, the brand outlined five pillars in its approach to addressing the Dream Gap:

  • Raising awareness through impactful content
  • Showing girls more role models
  • Leveraging Barbie as a role model
  • Continuing to offer empowering products
  • Rallying partners around the world

If it seems odd that Barbie is the brand ringing the alarm bell on gender stereotyping, that might be because you’ve missed the brand’s transformation in recent years—a turnaround that even Mattel’s chief brand officer was initially skeptical about when she arrived at the company. Through a combination of internal cultural change and external marketing from BBDO, the brand has become a case study in rapid modernization.

Barbie’s 2015 “Imagine the Possibilities” ad about career potential helped set the toy line on a new course, and more recent work like “Dads Who Play Barbie” (which aired during the NFL playoffs in 2017) have kept the momentum going.

Obviously, marketing can only carry so much weight. Barbie’s products have been evolving, as well, with the first female Doctor Who, Dana Scully and historic figures like Frida Kahlo getting their own Barbies.


Agency: BBDO San Francisco
Client: Barbie
Title: “Barbie Dream Gap”
Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars
Chief Creative Officer, SF: Matt Miller
Associate Creative Director: Adam Balogh
Associate Creative Director: Jason Moussalli
Head of Integrated Production: Louise Doherty
Business Affairs: Jacqueline Djanikian
Group Account Director: Kim Fredkin
Account Director: Nicole Dongara
Account Supervisor: Alex Hamill
Chief Strategy Officer: Crystal Rix
Group Strategy Director: Jessica Strode
Production Company: Slim Pictures Inc.
Director: Karen Cunningham
Executive Producer: Tom Weissferdt
Executive Producer: Catherine Finkenstaedt
Producer: Al Cooper
Edit House: Bread & Butter
Editor: Andrea MacArthur
Colorist: Company 3
Senior Colorist : Sophie Borup
Visual Effects: Jane Studios
Creative Director: David Parker
Flame Artist: Tim Bird
Producer: David Won
Executive Producer: Nancy Hwang
Sound Designer: One Union Recording
Senior Sound Engineer: Joaby Deal
Senior Sound Engineer: Matt Zipkin
Executive Producer: Vickie Sornsilp

Principal Composer: Amber Music
Exec Producer: Michelle Curran
Music Supervisor/Producer: Mike Perri

The Fans. The Brands. Social Good. The Future of Sports. Don't miss the upcoming Brandweek Sports Marketing Summit and Upfronts, a live virtual experience on Nov. 16-19. Early-bird passes available until Oct. 26. Register now

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."