Mattel: Too Many Missteps?

by F+A Staff

June 25, 2015

It seems the last few months have been rife with crises, so we certainly had plenty to choose from this month.

One misstep that stands out is a recent kerfuffle with toy maker Mattel over a book called “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer.”

As part of Mattel’s strategy to position Barbie as a role model for young girls everywhere, they’ve given Barbie various professions, but this one that started with so much potential falls a bit short.

The story starts off promisingly when Barbie sets out to design a computer game. But things quickly go south when Barbie runs into trouble – and a computer virus – and has to run off to the IT guys to fix it for her.

Couldn’t Barbie, as a computer programmer, navigate this issue herself?

The Internet agreed and quickly took it upon itself to rewrite the story, which was originally published in 2010.

And while the Internet maelstrom took over, Mattel quietly pulled the book from Amazon and issued an apology over Facebook:

“The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

But does blaming the misstep on the year the book was published – 2010 – make up for the lapse in judgment? The idea of female computer engineers wasn’t too far-fetched even four years ago, making this story seem as an unfortunate slip in Mattel’s brand.

This case study reinforces the importance of monitoring blogs and other websites outside of the traditional news sphere. What started as a call-to-action by a disheartened blogger quickly spiraled into an online movement.

According to NPR, the blog that called for the re-writes has gotten more than 2,000 submissions.

We can only hope that Mattel had a robust online monitoring strategy to get wind of the problem before it spread too far. Blogs, Tweets and even online reviews have the power to mobilize an entire population.

F+A Staff
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Mattel: Too Many Missteps?