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Mattel features little boy in Barbie ad, stirs controversy

In a new Barbie ad running on tv, Mattel includes a male actor. But we’re left wondering if they’re really interested in inclusion or sales?

moschino barbie

moschino barbie

Why the buzz around this Barbie ad?

Rock ‘n Roll Barbie. Airplane Pilot Barbie. Princess Barbie. Even Entrepreneur Barbie. Barbie truly can be anything, as suggested by some of their recent advertising, so their newest doll, Moschino Barbie, is not shocking.

There have been a number of other brand-sponsored and high-fashion Barbie dolls in the past including a Versace Barbie back in 2004 and, more recently, a M.A.C Barbie, complete with a whole line of coordinating cosmetics.

So why is the buzz around the new Moschino Barbie any different? Because Mattel has switched up their marketing game this time around and included a little boy in their ad campaign for the first time.

A great step toward inclusion, or a blatant stunt?

There’s been quite a buzz about the inclusion of this little boy in their ads. The young boy, who uses exaggerated facial expressions and dialogue, sports a faux-hawk, and is quite enthusiastic about the new stylish doll.

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Some are appalled, claiming that a little boy has no place in Barbie’s marketing, and that Mattel is simply using the child to attract attention and create controversy, thus further promoting their brand.

Bad press is better than no press in marketing, right? Others think the inclusion of a male child is a great step towards of inclusion of all children and the end of gender divided toys. With Target ending gender labeled toy aisles earlier this year, Mattel may just be piggybacking on that movement.

I’m not bothered by a boy in a Barbie ad

I’m not quite sure what Mattel’s motivation is in the ad campaign, but neither the inclusion of a boy nor his mannerisms are what bother me. First off, I had no idea who or what a Moschino was.

As a woman in her mid-thirties I had to put my Google-fu to work, only to find out that it is a designer brand that has been around awhile, or at least long enough to have it mentioned in the Notorious B.I.G’s hit Hypnotize in the mid-1990s.

I’m disturbed by Mattel pimping a designer selling $375 T-shirts

While some may feel the little boy’s clothing choices, sound bytes, and modus operandi are exaggerated and unrealistic for a child (really, a less exaggerated kid would have made a more bold statement), I’d say the same about the little girls.

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The whole ad is full of ridiculous hairstyles and fashion choices that are unrealistic for any child; it’s almost as if the ad could be a skit on Saturday Night Live.

I’m less disturbed by the presence of a male child than I am that Mattel is promoting a designer brand (that sells $375 t-shirts, mind you) to their core demographic of three to nine year olds.

Moschino is a word that’s never been uttered by their demographic, and if it has been then those fashion-forward children need a trip to the playground instead of to a fashion show.

If Mattel was REALLY concerned with gender…

Additionally, I think the argument that Mattel is simply advocating for gender-neutral toys, and the dissolution of “girl toys” vs. “boy toys” is unfounded. If Mattel was truly concerned about acceptance of all they would’ve considered making the high-fashion Moschino doll something other than an unrealistically thin, bleach blonde, white woman.

Sales of Mattel’s Barbie doll have been down for three consecutive years, as reported this past January in Fortune Magazine, so it’s no surprise they’re trying anything they can to revitalize the brand, but it would be argued that this choice of themed-dolls seems to attract media attention more than the children that will playing with the toys. They are toys, remember.

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What Mattel should do if they want to make an ACTUAL impact

I would instead like to see Mattel focused more on the real issues relevant to children these days. Expand the diversity line, partner with other toy-brands to expand reach, introduce new accessories or characters that would appeal to a broader audience, for example.

By tapping into more realistic personas and play-situations in which 3 to 9 year olds would find value, sales will be more likely to increase, and inevitably attract a more diverse group of consumers, possibly even including boys.


Written By

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.

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