Mattel Sends Barbie On A Road Trip to Find a New Home

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Barbie's going real-estate shopping.

Mattel is kicking off a major North American tour for its flagship doll that will see "Barbie's Motorcade" traveling through 14 cities in an effort to find the doll a new place to call home. 

The motorcade includes a 20-foot high trailer truck, which has a doorbell and a doormat, and two accompanying cabana tents that will park outside shopping malls and retailers. Mattel has teamed up with retailers including Walmart, Target and Toys 'R' Us, and will set up shop in three locaitons in each market.

Inside the truck there's a runway where girls and moms (and "even boys and dads," according to Bill Gross, the experiential programs director for Oasis Events, the Seattle-based agency that created the campaign) can play dress up and star in their own fashion shows. A mirror that uses the Pepper's Ghost technique lets kids can see an image of Barbie alongside them when they stand in front of it. 

The campaign was teased earlier this year when Mattel announced that Barbie put her Malibu Dreamhouse "up for sale" for a cool $25 million. The teaser involved realtor-to-the-stars Josh Altman, who listed the 3-walled-house on real estate site Trulia. 

The campaign enlists Mario Lopez to be one of Barbie’s helpers, and the star will also be sharing photos of the move on his Twitter account. Cathy Cline, VP-marketing for Mattel's girls brands, said that Mr. Lopez is a "huge fan" of Barbie (he has a young daughter) and when the motorcade first leaves Malibu Friday, he'll be there, helping to pack up, along with a host of Ken-doll lookalikes.

"It's important for Barbie to be culturally relevant," said Ms. Cline. "As a toy brand, she can speak relevantly about the real-estate landscape, something that's top-of-mind for people, from moms to brand fans of all ages."

Tongue in cheek
February's dollhouse "sale," for example, was a fun, tongue-in-cheek way to speak to moms of the six-to-eight-year old demographic, she said.

The trucks that will drive across the country as part of the motorcade are packed with "moving boxes" -- like the trailer, they're in PMS 219, Barbie's signature pink -- labeled as containing "glitter" or "lip gloss." The two tents alongside the truck will contain design activities that let girls design their own looks using charcoal rubs and construct a Barbie room with Mega Bloks. 

Despite trends indicating radical changes in kids' play behaviors, Mattel continues to see growth. The company reported first-quarter net sales of $995.6 million, up 7% compared to $928.4 million a year ago. Barbie, however, has not fared as well: sales fell 2%. Still, she remains the leading doll in the industry.

Ms. Cline said the brand is trying to combine the digital experience with the physical doll. We "try very hard to make connections to the product itself" through Barbie-starring web series and apps, she said.  For example, Barbie videos featuring sing-alongs and recreations of classic fairy tales tie into actual dolls that resemble the ones in the videos.

The Motorcade campaign is also a way to mix traditional toy play with digital and social. Parents can share images of their kids playing dress up, for example, and the brand will geo-target Facebook ads based on where the pop-up lands up next.

Criticisms, protests
A longtime criticism of Barbie has been that the toy has a heteronormative and regressive approach with regards to girls and the toys they should play with. Just this week, protestors marched outside Barbie's Dreamhouse Experience in Berlin, saying that it promotes sexism and sees women as being one-dimensional, with their primary interests being the color pink, cooking and cleaning.

With the Motorcade, Ms. Cline said that they tried hard to make sure both girls and boys can experience the pop-up in different ways, from fashion to design to building.

"Any time you're a pop icon people are going to find something to talk about," she said, adding that the Dreamhouse sale from February emphasized Barbie's role as a "career woman and homeowner," who counts the house as one of her most valuable assets. 

At the end of the motorcade campaign, Mattel will announce a new home for Barbie, which will coincide with the re-launch of Barbie's Dollhouse in July.

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