Mattel Experiment Tries to Show That Barbie Isn’t as Evil as You Think

How do kids really play with her, anyway?

If you asked a group of women over 25 to name some toys they played with as kids, Barbie would certainly come up. Less so now if you asked a group of girls under 10. The iconic toy has long been a volatile topic in the toy industry, especially in the context of girls and body image. But now, Mattel is trying to control more of that conversation with The Barbie Project, an initiative that wonders: What happens if we just let kids play with Barbies?

Mattel clearly wants to make the point that parents are seriously overthinking Barbie. At the very top of the Barbie Project's "About" page, text reads: "No other doll has sparked as much conversation as Barbie. But maybe kids don't see Barbie the way adults do?"

The brand got two documentarians and a play specialist to go into people's homes and actually film kids playing with their Barbies. "No scripts. No rehearsals. Just real kids, real parents, telling their stories," says Mattel.

The two-minute launch video is fun to watch. There's less hair/makeup/boyfriends than you'd expect, and more superheroes/gymnasts/veterinarians. I particularly enjoyed the little girl who beatboxed while Barbie broke down some hot moves.

Of course, documentaries are never truly unbiased, and I'm wondering if they'll include clips of girls undressing Barbie and bewilderedly examining her anatomy. However, the Barbie Project experiment is being carried out on multiple platforms—Tumblr, YouTube and eight different mom blogs—so it'll be interesting to follow the frank discussion surrounding the toy whose hair I once lovingly butchered with a pair of Fiskars.

Join the foremost brand marketers, such as Marc Pritchard, Brad Hiranaga, Kory Marchisotto and more, for Brandweek Masters Live on Sept. 14-17. Secure your pass and learn from the brand masters.

Roo Powell is freelance contributor to Adweek.