Barbie, the Dream Gap, and Busting Bias in Advertising

by Samara Anderson

My Q&A with Erica Green, Global Group Creative Director at Mattel

What do you get when you mix globally recognized creativity, a drive for social and civil justice and a resume consisting of both agency and brand powerhouses? You get Erica Green. She’s the Global Group Creative Director at Mattel and someone I’m proud to call a friend. Last month she sat down with me and Nashville’s American Advertising Federation to discuss Barbie’s 60th anniversary, the Dream Gap project, and busting bias in advertising. Here’s a recap of our Q&A.

Q: It has been two years since we last sat down with you and so much has happened. I guess first and foremost Barbie—although she doesn’t show it just turned 60 years old! What are some of the ways you celebrated?

A: In her 60th year, we wanted to remind people of her purpose and role of inspiring girls since 1959. We started with a celebration video in order to emphasize Barbie’s original purpose—teaching young girls that they can be whatever they want to be. We also ended the celebration with Pop Up Experience in NYC which celebrated not only our past with historical Barbies, and our present with a life-size Dreamhouse, an interactive Vlogger station, and our current Role Models. But it also highlighted our future and the last generation of firsts.

60 Years in 60 Seconds from Erica D. Green on Vimeo.

Q: Can you tell us more about that, “the last generation of firsts?”

A: It’s the idea that someday soon we’ll already have had the first female everything. President. FBI Director. Lunar Explorer. This generation of young girls will break these glass ceilings and be the last generation of firsts. At our popup, we had these life-size doll boxes that girls could stand in and customize to say “First _________” and fill in with whatever they wanted to be. It was really cool to see these girls come up with things we hadn’t even thought of and be inspired to be the first.

Q: You also mentioned celebrating Role Models. I know this was the second year in a row that you all did that. What did you do, and why are Role Models so important to the brand?

A: Through Role Models, we honor women from around the globe to inspire young girls and give them examples and resources to show them they can be anything. By seeing women from all different places and all walks of life succeed, we hope they’ll be able to see more opportunities in front of them. This year, in honor of the 60th anniversary, International Women’s Day, and the Dream Gap Project we honored more women than before. We had 20 women from 18 countries represented.

Q: Sounds like a heck of a 60th celebration! Now, what is this Dream Gap Project? Did you all come up with the name?

A: At age 5 girls start to develop this belief that there are limits to what they can be. That’s the Dream Gap. At a young age, cultural stereotypes start to take hold that women aren’t as smart as men, and the media perpetuates these beliefs. Grown-ups even do it subtly too—boys are 3 times more likely to receive a science-related toy. The reinforcement of these stereotypes actually affects which careers girls pursue.

This flies in the face of our purpose and our You Can Be Anything campaign. As the original girl empowerment brand, we felt it was our obligation to tackle it.

Q: How are you tackling something of this magnitude?:

A: The Dream Gap is an initiative, not just a campaign. We’ve vowed to show more role models, and we’re creating inspiring content and empowering products. Also, this is a highly under-researched topic so we’re funding a research program with a professor at NYU to identify the issues that are holding girls back.

Q: And how did you ultimately decide on the storyline & strategy behind the “Dream Gap” spot?

A: We felt this message was going to be the most impactful coming from the people it actually affects most—little girls. And the first step in tackling this was to raise awareness that there’s very little awareness of the issue as it stands.

Q: You’ve been so busy. Seeing all of this, Barbie has gone through quite the shift over the past few years—from plastic fashionista to becoming a toy for little girls dreaming of careers in STEM or robotics engineering when they grow up. How has this change been received by consumers?

A: We have made so much change and progress in the last 4 years we’ve been doing this and it feels really good. We work hard and we all work together toward this common goal. We’re working on something that actually feels like it’s making a difference. And it’s being really well received. Between digital impressions and shares of the content we’re putting out as well as people, young girls especially, showing up to the celebration and seeing their faces, it’s all been so rewarding.

Q: How do you see the evolution of Barbie continuing in future years and how does a legacy brand like this stay relevant?

A: Relevancy is important for any brand—and making sure that you’re doing it in an authentic way. Consumer insights are a huge factor, as well as always keeping your finger on the pulse, never getting complacent, and living beyond your bubble.

As for Mattel, we have no plans to take our foot off the gas. I can’t share what’s to come, other than that there is more.

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