Barbie and Ken: Even Their Stale Social Media Feels Like Plastic

Barbie and Ken -- together again

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the very first Ken doll, Mattel — the creators of Barbie, Ken and their vast plastic empire — launched a social media campaign to help Ken woo Barbie back.  If you didn’t know, the iconic couple broke up a few years back — presumably to see other plastic people — but Mattel decided today was the right time to reunite the star-crossed lovers.

The problem is, Mattel used social media to drive their Ken campaign.

Normally, this would be a good thing… if the campaign was producing content worth discussing, or if it were actually taking the public’s opinion seriously.

But, since a happy ending was most likely in the works all along, any pretense of “letting the public vote” on the ultimate outcome strikes us as a sham for at least three reasons:

  1. Do you seriously think Mattel would spend millions of dollars just to announce that Barbie and Ken weren’t reuniting on Valentine’s Day — especially after they broke up on Valentine’s Day in 2004?
  2. The web is alive with trolls, and the likelihood that those digital misanthropes would hijack the voting process to ensure that Barbie and Ken would remain apart is quite high.
  3. Millions of people already saw Barbie and Ken come together on the big screen in Toy Story 3.  Creating an alternate, highly-commercialized “reunion” seems far less real — and less satisfying — than their Pixar rendezvous.

But maybe the largest problem of all with a social media campaign like this is…

Who cares?

Children and optimists will always vote for love.  Cold-hearted cynics will always vote against it.  And since cold-hearted cynics aren’t Barbie’s target audience, this entire campaign can be seen partly as “preaching to the choir” and partly as a public service reminder: “Hey, we’re still here.”

Ultimately, the entire campaign was really just a stunt meant to direct attention toward Ken’s 50th anniversary, in which the nearly 2 million Barbie fans on Facebook were used as leverage to catapult Ken into the mainstream news.  However, with Compete.com only registering 12,000 unique visitors to the barbieandken.com website in January, its traffic would need a sharp jump in February to match likely expectations.

Then again, today is the first day that Mattel will begin selling Barbie merchandise directly through Facebook, so it’s still possible (depending on sales) that the Ken campaign will eventually be seen as both a PR and a retail win for Mattel.

Which is nice.

But it isn’t social media.