Marketing and Comms
Barbie, 'Sesame Street' Encouraging Kids to Bust Social Stereotypes

This might be the best recent trend in children’s brands.

After years of being a less-than-progressive feminine role model, Barbie is on the verge of becoming the feminist icon she should be. Mattel’s latest ad features a college professor, a veterinarian, a soccer coach, a businesswoman, and a museum tour guide — all girls under the age of 10. It asks the audience, “What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?”

There have been several controversial choices for Barbie over the years (not the least of which are the unrealistic body standards she sets), including packaging her with books on “How to Lose Weight;” and having Teen Talk Barbie infamously proclaim, “Math class is tough!” In the book, Barbie: I Can Be an Engineer, Barbie is portrayed as an incompetent computer engineer who needed the help of male co-workers to remove a virus from her computer — inspiring a #FeministHackerBarbie movement of re-captioning pages and posting the improved dialogue online.

The agency behind the new ad, BBDO San Francisco and New York, brought Barbie back to the original concept behind the doll: that imagining the future through play is an important part of growing up. The ad reminds girls, “You can be anything.”

Barbie creator Ruth Handler is quoted on the Barbie website as saying: “My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

Sales of Barbie have been declining every year since 2011. Mattel CEO of three years, Bryan G. Stockton, resigned in January after failed attempts to boost sales, including the release of toys such as Entrepreneur Barbie.

The shift to an empowerment message behind Barbie has been a long time coming. In order to reclaim her spot as top doll — from the "Elsa" doll of Frozen fame — there’s no time like the present for Barbie to start presenting herself as the smart, independent, creative woman she now encourages her fans to be.

Meanwhile, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind “Sesame Street,” has introduced a character with autism to enhance awareness and empathy. The organization launched the Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children initiative on Wednesday. Created for communities and families ages 2 to 5, the website and a free downloadable app incorporate video, digital story cards, and a storybook. It is also the introduction of Julia, a new character with autism.

"This is what makes our project so unique," Dr. Jeanette Betancourt, SVP at Sesame Workshop, told PEOPLE. "When we explain from a child's point of view that there are certain behaviors, such as slapping their hands or making noises, to express excitement or unhappiness, it helps younger children to understand how to interact with their autistic peers. It makes children more comfortable and therefore more inclusive."

"If you're five years old and see another kid not making eye contact with you, you may think that child doesn't want to play with you. But that's not the case," said Sherrie Westin, EVP of Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. "We want to create greater awareness and empathy."

Sesame Workshop uses its reach with young children to target a range of issues, from widely applicable topics such as financial empowerment and grieving to location-specific topics such as division in Ireland. The organization also has an ongoing partnership with the Produce Marketing Association and Partnership for a Healthier America to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to children in the US.

This latest project aims to help families with autistic children and the general public understand and discuss autism and learn about best practices for everyday stressful situations. The digital toolkit is well suited for families with autistic children, as they are already looking to technology. It is also on social media using #SeeAmazing.


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