Marketers, Using Social Marketing Halfway Can Be Harmful

For the first time ever, girls from around the world were asked to help Barbie ® select her next milestone career. Mattel used social media to solicit votes online and the winning career was unveiled at the New York Toy Fair on February 12th, 2010.

Barbie is now a geek. Well, sort of.

More than half a million voters weighed in and Mattel listened. According to, they added Computer Engineer to Barbie’s® existing list of 124 careers. But it’s too bad Mattel didn’t optimize the same “social” opportunity to take a vote on how to dress her. They did admittedly work with the Society of Women Engineers to ensure the authenticity of Barbie’s® dress and accessories. But, I find it hard to believe everyone (or anyone) wears pink glasses, a pink headband, pink shoes, a pink watch, carries a pink laptop and wears their pink binary codes on their sleeves.

I get it. Barbie is Barbie. But unless she works for, I think Mattel missed a great opportunity here. They used the social space to effectively reach out and connect with women in the programming industry, but then proceeded to reduce their profession to a stereotypical Valley girl who plays on the computer, as opposed to one who defines it.

Based on comments (like the one below) that I have read on several articles and blogs, female computer engineers participated in the voting process in hopes of creating a heightened interest in their industry among young girls. But now they feel betrayed.

I was excited when a friend sent me a link to vote for the next Barbie profession, encouraging me to vote for the computer engineer option. It became a mass endeavor by girl geeks everywhere. I was never a fan of Barbie, preferring Legos and science kits.

I voted anyway.

Why? Because I am a girl geek, a hardware designer to be exact. I am proud of what I do, and wish women weren’t so dissuaded from pursuing such technical careers. I thought maybe, just maybe, if parents are going to continue to push dolls on their daughters, then they could at least have a decent role model to play pretend with.

If the description in this article and the doll in the picture are anything to go by, then I was horribly wrong. What on earth is that awful creature supposed to be, Mattel?

That isn’t Computer Engineer Barbie. That’s Retro Indie Clubbing Barbie, milking the ‘geeks are sexy’ trend and failing miserably. – andi

So, be careful. When you ask what your market what she wants in the social space, be open to hearing it ALL. It will be interesting to see if Mattel is REALLY listening.

How do you feel about it?



Stephanie Holland is President and Executive Creative Director for Holland + Holland Advertising, Birmingham, Alabama. Working in an industry that is dominated by men, she is one of only 3% of the female creative directors in the country. Stephanie works mostly with male advertisers, helping them successfully market to women. Subscribe to She-conomy by Email

5 Responses to “Marketers, Using Social Marketing Halfway Can Be Harmful”

  1. They are marketing to children who love the childish stuff.

  2. Mattel could have done a lot worse. She could have been dressed in a woefully short mini-skirt. With knee-high stiletto boots. They could have taken the stereotype the other way and made Barbie look dowdy and boy-ish. Of course, then they wouldn’t have sold as many, the girl geeks would have been upset that Mattel was poking fun at them, and little girls who love pinktopia wouldn’t be nearly as interested in girl-geek Barbie as they are in Princess Ballroom Barbie.

    Mattel took computer engineers and made them sexy in that unrealistic Barbie sort of way, while keeping it tasteful and fun (and pink) for the little girls who love it.

    We can’t expect Mattel to do the parenting for us. There are going to be stereotypes involved regardless. Let’s be thankful they concealed the concept of a brain inside her pretty little head, giving our girls a dream to chase that’s more realistic than becoming a princess of utopia. And partner Barbie with good down-home discussions about stereotypes. Mattel can’t be expected to fulfill every computer engineer’s dreams for what their children’s toys should be.

  3. You never know, my ex co-worker is 100% Miss Kitty from head to toes.. It’s clearly an improvement in the options provided to children to identify with a Barbie that reflects their ideas on careers and personal style. More options –> More better.

  4. Hmmm. I understand how the geek girls feel and I see their issue with Barbie’s costume. But I wonder how the little girls who will play with Barbie feel about how she’s dressed? Would a more geek girl correct outfit appeal to young girls?

  5. I’ve been working in the digital advertising industry for a little over two years. It is very common that the work environment in companies such as mine, allow a very liberal dress code environment. Often times, the computer/IT/developer-oriented men would wear t-shirts, jeans, and converse sneakers. If people are all up in arms about what this particular Barbie is wearing, what do they suggest? Women developers, computer engineers, hardware designers, etc.: What do you where to work that you think would be representational for your industry?

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