Opinion

Barbie displays social purpose in sweet viral ad

Social video expert Unruly reviews the latest viral by Mattel.

The combination of social conscience and strong creative has been a sharing hit, with nearly 400,000 shares since release. 8/10

One thing that’s helped define the content of video advertising in the viral age is the increasing pressure on brands to display a social conscience.

Whether it’s fast food companies condemning battery farming , cosmetics giants endorsing 'Real beauty'; or AT&T sponsoring PSAs (public service broadcasts) against texting and driving, there is a consumer desire - powered by the increasing importance of social media - to see brands address social, political and environmental problems head on.

It’s something that toymaker Mattel has embraced in its latest ad campaign for flagship product Barbie.

Innocent beginings

Created in the late 1950s, Barbie’s success stemmed from the simple revelation that young girls wanted to make believe with grown-up figurines, allowing them to embody different lives and professions.

Pretty soon, however, Barbie’s blonde hair and long legs had become synonymous with a particularly restrictive, gendered way of thinking. ‘The Simpsons’ even devoted a whole episode to parodying the uncomfortable question of Barbie’s effect on young minds

True to the times, Mattel’s latest Barbie spot doesn’t tiptoe around this perception. Instead the campaign, promisingly titled ‘Imagine The Possibilities , harkens back to the toy’s original purpose and reframes Barbie as an icon of professional possibility for girls everywhere. It’s also very funny.

Shot in documentary style, the ad begins with the question ‘What happens when girls are free to imagine they can be anything?’. A lecture theatre fills with attentive university students, notepads and pens at the ready. Suddenly, an adorable little girl strides confidently into the room and announces that she will be their professor for the day.

Understandably, the students do a double-take. This formula is repeated again, with precocious kids taking over adult jobs. One takes a loud business call in an airport departure lounge. Another becomes head coach of an American football team. One particularly cheery girl enjoys a day as a veterinarian.

While it’s an incredibly simple concept - kids aping adults is obviously nothing new and a comedy staple that has delivered a number of memorable TV sitcom scenes and spawned ad campaigns such as Potty-Mouthed Princesses - the real fun of ‘Imagine The Possibilities’ is in its execution.

The ad zippily cuts between these budding professionals, showing both their attempts at aping adults and the bemused reactions of spectators around them.

It’s chock full of genuinely sweet moments, like the young museum tour guide who gives jovial names to dinosaur bones or the way that passersby break into laughter at a six-year-old complaining about her "tough day at the office".

Sharing success

The obvious referent for Mattel’s latest rebranding is Always’ feminist blockbuster ‘#LikeAGirl’. Having topped sharing charts in 2014 (not to mention, receiving a rare SuperBowl ‘re-release’), Always’ spot is perhaps the best example of embodying a positive social message resulting in massive sharing success for a brand.

As feminism comes further and further into the public discourse, we should expect to see more brands (particularly ones that have the cultural footprint of ‘Barbie’) addressing issues of gender equality in their marketing.

In Mattel’s case, the combination of social conscience and strong creative has been a sharing hit, with nearly 400,000 shares since release.

It will be interesting to see whether ‘Imagine The Possibilities’ can hit the stratospheric limits set by Always. But either way it’s encouraging to see more brands embracing progressive social values in their ads in a funny and engaging way.