Poor little Barbie, the ubiquitous Mattel toy, must be searching through her accessories for a miniature bottle of Valium right now.
She who could once do no wrong is feeling increasingly got-at and unloved. Fresh from a scathing attack by Greenpeace on her ‘rainforest destruction habit’, her makers were on the defensive again at Marketing magazine’s ‘Appeal to Kids and Sell to the Parents’ conference in London on the subject of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood.
Ruth Clement, head of strategic insight and business intelligence at Mattel UK held that the ‘over sexualisation’ issue was based on a false ‘assumption that children assess the world in the same way adults do’, and that marketers should ‘look at things through a child’s lens’.
Phew, that’s a relief then. There we were thinking that our idea of kitting Barbie out with a miniature Ann Summers wardrobe would be inappropriate for her pre-teen owners, when all along kids’ innocence and wide-eyed wonder at the world is immune to such blandishments!
Hello, is anyone at home? We appreciate that in the wake of the official Bailey Review on the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood Barbie and her ilk have come under closer scrutiny, and that Ms Clements may feel that attack is the best form of defence. But to say that sexuality is all in the eye of the beholder – especially when the beholder is a child – is to abdicate all responsibility for the social impact of your marketing activities.
Which is fine if you want the industry to forfeit its privilege of self regulation. But not if you want to prevent the Government from setting up a Hay’s Office style vetting agency – which it’s capable of doing at the drop of a decolletage.
Brands are hugely influential in shaping social norms and behaviour patterns, especially children’s –and if you don’t believe that you’re obviously in the wrong business.
The potency of ‘pester power’ was the premise behind the whole Marketing conference. Either marketing works or it doesn’t. And given that it does, brand leaders have to take an adult view of the world and balance their power with responsibility.
I’m sorry Barbie, baby, but it’s time you grew up.