Ken Carson, better known simply as Ken, has spent over 50 years as Barbie's arm candy. The doll has been a prince and a musician, a doctor and a king.
Now Mattel, the California-based toy company responsible for Barbie and American Girl, among other brands, is finally giving the doll a makeover. Well, quite a few makeovers.
Its new Ken lineup features 15 dolls with three body types ("slim," "broad" and "original") and a variety of hairstyles and skin tones. Observers on Twitter, likely well outside the target demo for Ken consumers, were quick to weigh in:
Man-bun Ken doll just interrupted me to tell me that Bernie would have won. pic.twitter.com/Mnu8pAXV7F— summer goth (@NicCageMatch) June 20, 2017
That new Ken doll has already ignored 2 of my texts while still liking my Instagram posts.— Alison Leiby (@AlisonLeiby) June 20, 2017
The new "Man Bun" Ken doll comes with shirt, shoes, and keys to Barbie's car that he's driving until he "gets back on his feet again." pic.twitter.com/gYmXwR9WEc— Benjamin Siemon (@BenjaminJS) June 20, 2017
The Ken doll with the man bun comes with a bottle of wine from Trader Joe's that it won't shut up about.— Rex Huppke (@RexHuppke) June 20, 2017
Does man bun Ken doll also come with a Soul Cycle membership, vintage record player, and $50,000 in student loan debt? pic.twitter.com/ulEwGSxxb1— Emily Jashinsky (@emilyjashinsky) June 20, 2017
(There seems to be a fair amount of hostility to man buns online.)
But the new line of Kens is Mattel's latest effort to provide diversity in its products, part of its playbook since 2015.
"Evolving Ken was a natural evolution for the brand and allows girls to further personalize the role they want him to play in Barbie's world," Lisa McKnight, senior VP and general manager of Barbie, said in a press release.
Twenty-three new dolls were debuted in 2015 as part of Barbie's "Fashionista" line, which included new body types like "curvy."
It seemed to help, at least at first. Barbie-division sales increased 7% in 2016 as company net sales fell 4%. But by the first quarter of 2017, Barbie-division sales fell 13% as company sales declined 15%.
The Fashionista line is nonetheless considered a bright spot, named this year's Toy Industry Association "Doll of the Year" and finding success especially in international markets.
Now Mattel is hoping it can help itself by expanding the Fashionista revamp to Barbie's main man, who's now Asian. Or Latino. Or has a man bun.
"We are redefining what a Barbie or Ken doll looks like to this generation," McKnight said in the release.