Approaching 50, Barbie to Undergo ‘Sweeping Makeover’

We lost all faith in Barbie when in one mid-80’s version she professed to be astronaut (in a versatile hot pink and silver space suit) and then a few years later was exclaiming, “Math class is tough!” The venerable blonde of questionable quantitative skills turns 50 in 2009, and Mattel is celebrating—and hoping to revive slumping sales—with a redesign of all that is Barbie. The Wall Street Journal‘s Nicholas Casey has the details on “the sweeping makeover,” which will include everything from “revamping the corporate structure that oversees Barbie to changing the way the doll is photographed for ads. The goal: to make Barbie fashionable again with older girls, who are dropping her for other, edgier playthings like video games.” Among the first tasks of the overhaul: reining in the sprawling, inconsistent Barbie brand.

For years after her introduction in 1959, Barbie reflected and even shaped fashion trends with her bell-bottom pants and power suits. But the Barbie empire started to lose its focus in the past decade as Mattel put the Barbie name on everything from animated cartoons to golf clubs.

That meant Mattel wasn’t relying solely on doll revenue for the brand, but it also spawned inconsistency. For example, when executives reviewed Barbie’s packaging and ads, they found five different logos. Barbie’s color, pink, also ran the gamut, with 15 different shades.

The company has settled on a single logo modeled on Barbie’s scripted signature (although all of our dolls stubbornly refused to write) and is getting behind a single pink hue: #219 on the Pantone Matching System, to which Mattel reportedly owns the rights. Meanwhile, new ads slated to debut next year will “include close-up shots of Barbie’s face and show the doll posing as a model.” And next month, Barbie-crazy China is getting a massive Barbie store. Among the merchandise planned for Shanghai shoppers? “Everything from a Barbie-themed spa to a $20,000 dress designed by Vera Wang.”