By Alex Hanson
Mattel’s Barbie toy has been around for 57 years, but she is adapting very well to new social media technologies. With 258 thousand Twitter followers, 698 thousand Instagram followers (with 1.3 million followers on her Barbie Style account), 1.1 million YouTube subscribers, and 13.2 million likes on Facebook, Barbie brand has a huge social media following. One of the most appealing aspects of social networking sites for many people is the ability to follow and interact with public figures, like musicians and politicians, on the same platform where they might connect with their classmates or family members. How does Barbie create such a large following, though, when she toes the line between brand and pop culture figure?
Barbie is far from the first social media account to be run by a marketing manager or team instead of a single personality representing themselves. In the early days of Friendster, people would make fake Friendster accounts, or “Fakesters,” representing bands, celebrities, and affiliations. Friendster banned these Fakester accounts, which was arguably a fatal decision for the company. They could not have known it in such early days of social media sites, but interacting with fake personalities and even brands would come to be a staple of the social media experience. Today, people like, follow, and retweet brands without question, and it is expected that brands have several social media accounts. The platforms even encourage it by verifying brands, so users can see which pages are official and which are fan-made. When users connect with brands on social media, they understand that they are participating in that company’s marketing strategy, but they trade their follows and likes for free content, whether it be images, offers, or videos (depending on the brand and platform), from that brand.
Barbie, however, is a unique case. Social media has been, traditionally, used by adults and teens. While the age of social media users continues to decline, most people that are on social media probably would not consider themselves the target audience for Barbie— they would probably say it was for girls under ten. So how does Barbie gather such a large following? Simple: she makes her social media content accessible to not only young kids, but nostalgic millennials and parents as well.
Barbie does this by manipulating platforms to address each segment of this very large social media audience, using some as Barbie, the character from the films and products, and as Barbie, the brand. Barbie’s YouTube channel is the best suited for the youngest audience, the kids that play with Barbie toys and products. In my personal experience as a babysitter, I have noticed many parents using children-oriented YouTube videos as a tool to keep their young kids occupied the way my parents would have given me a coloring book when I was their age. Barbie’s vlogs and short narrative films on her YouTube page make it a space for Barbie as a character to express herself and for kids to spend their time watching her.
Video from Barbie’s official YouTube channel
Barbie’s Instagram account, however, is more suited for the nostalgic millennial: young women who used to play with Barbie can now follow her on Instagram and like her outfits that parallel current popular styles amongst young women. The Barbie Style account, featuring Zoolander themed Barbies and the TIME Magazine Barbie cover, is geared toward taking Barbie from a source of nostalgia to a brand that is still active in millennials’ lives.
Picture from Barbie Style’s Instagram page
Screenshot of Barbie’s Instagram
Barbie’s Facebook page, while it includes images from her two Instagram accounts, features commercials and company events to make the brand appeal to parents. Pictures and videos of children playing with the dolls elicit comments from adult women recalling their days playing with Barbie and parents praising the brand for their development over the past few years.
By using different social media platforms to promote different perspectives on the brand, Barbie has expanded her social media audience to include several generations of fans. Her ability to adapt to this online content and marketing landscape has been impressive, and I believe will continue to strengthen the brand’s image and sales in the upcoming years.