Bald Barbie: How Mattel Lost Out on a Huge Opportunity and Allowed a Competitor to Move Into the Dream House.

In early January 2012, a small Facebook page made big news when it suddenly went viral. The page, “Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let’s see if we can get it made” was conceived to ‘move’ Mattel to produce a bald Barbie doll to help young girls who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatments, Alopecia or Trichotillomania with self-esteem issues; or to help girls who have trouble coping with their mother’s hair loss due to chemotherapy.

By mid-January, the page grew from a couple of friends with a cause, to a movement of 100,000 plus. Naturally, the mainstream media picked-up on the story and by January 13, our Google News search for “Bald Barbie” generated more than 450 stories from news outlets around the world. This was amazing good news for the cause.

Far less amazing was Mattel’s response – they remained completely silent with NO statement whatsoever. Mattel’s tight lips forced the media to use the company’s most recent response to individuals proposing new Barbies, “Mattel doesn’t accept ideas from outside sources.” Mattel was SO absent from the social conversation that it seemed the brand was doing zero monitoring to see what was happening in the Barbie community.

You Snooze, You Lose

The social community was vociferous in noting that Mattel had nothing to lose and everything to gain from producing Beautiful and Bald Barbie. Considering their several questionable choices with Barbie in the past, see Tattoo Barbie, it only made sense for Mattel to be nimble and seize the day with the story when it broke – last January, four months ago. They could have produced the doll to support their Mattel Children’s Hospital (who knew?!), or as part of their limited edition collection. Instead, they did nothing.

Enter the competition, and proof positive that ‘you snooze, you lose.’ In early February, Mattel competitor, MGA – maker of Bratz and Moxie Girlz – announced its new line of “True Hope” Bratz/Moxie Girlz dolls at the American International Toy Fair in New York. It will feature six dolls, four girls and two boys, available for sale in June 2012. MGA will sell its “True Hope” dolls at Toys “R” Us and donate $1 from every doll sold to City of Hope for cancer research. Check out their news release here.

This week – some four months later – Mattel finally stepped up to the plate and announced the creation of a Bald Barbie Friend of Barbie for distribution to children’s hospitals and charities in 2013. Company spokesman Alan Hilowitz was quick to point out that Mattel did NOT create the doll in response to the Facebook page, but rather because “they helped us realize how important this was for us to do.” (?!?!?!)

Props for Your Community

With social media, it’s imperative to listen to your community, be responsive, be helpful and engage. Mattel completely failed to do so. And when they did respond, they totally failed to give their community credit for a great idea. In the four months it took Mattel to finally say “I do” to Beautiful and Bald (Friend of) Barbie, media coverage slackened and a competitor was able to claim Barbie’s space in the world of social good-doing. But the community never gave up.

While Mattel may ultimately reap praise for producing Bald (Friend of) Barbie, it’s important to note they ignored their community for four months. All they needed to do was to say “we’ll do it!” when interest exploded – last January. To ignore a brand community for four months is a lifetime when it comes to the news cycle and the world of social media.

Mattel clearly missed the boat, and a tidal wave of positive press and major sales, with this one. When it comes to being social, brands must be willing to listen, engage and react swiftly to their community. They must be trend-spotters and trend-setters and pounce on the next big thing, especially when your fans, who drive your sales, are giving you marching orders. Mattel’s slow response clearly demonstrates that the “we’re the company, we know what we’re doing” response has gone the way of the Dodo. Barbie fans called … Bratz answered.

Had Mattel been timely with a positive response to the call for Bald Barbie, they’d be happily driving their pink Beach Cruiser into the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. Instead, they minimized their opportunity to do social good and to do good by their community. It’s a cautionary tale that reinforces the need for brands to be nimble and seize the day, when your consumer knocks on your Dream House door.

Deb Weinstein


Deborah Weinstein (@DebWeinstein) is co-founder, partner and president of Strategic Objectives, an international award-winning, full-service public relations agency that delivers smart ideas and better solutions to many of Canada and the world’s leading brands. Headquartered in Toronto, Strategic Objectives is IABC/Toronto PR Agency of the Year 2011 and 2009. It employs more than 40 top public relations professionals, in addition to associates across Canada, and collaborates with Pinnacle Worldwide PR partners around the world.