In the first week of January, a Facebook page encouraging toymaker Mattel to produce a bald Barbie doll suddenly went viral.
In a matter of weeks, the page—“Beautiful and Bald Barbie! Let’s see if we can get it made
”—grew from a couple of friends with a cause to a movement of more than 100,000 people worldwide.
The call for the special-edition doll was issued to help girls with self-esteem issues stemming from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia, or trichotillomania, as well as to help girls who have trouble coping with their mother’s hair loss as a result of chemotherapy.
Mainstream media picked up on the story, and by Jan. 13 a Google News search for “Bald Barbie” would generate more than 450 stories from news outlets around the world. This was amazing news for the cause.
Far less amazing (at least not amazing in a good way) was Mattel’s response; it remained completely silent—no
statement whatsoever. The company’s tight lips forced the media to use the company’s most recent response to people proposing new Barbie dolls: “Mattel doesn’t accept ideas from outside sources.”
The toymaker was so absent from the social conversation that it seemed the brand was doing zero monitoring of the Barbie community.
You snooze, you lose
The social community was vociferous in noting that Mattel had nothing to lose and everything to gain from producing Beautiful and Bald Barbie. Considering the company’s questionable choices with Barbie in the past—see Tattoo Barbie
—it made sense for Mattel to be nimble and seize the day when the story broke four months ago.
It could have produced the doll to support its Mattel Children’s Hospital
, or as part of the company’s limited-edition collection. Instead, it did nothing.
Enter the competition, and proof positive of the adage that “when you snooze, you lose.” In February, Mattel competitor MGA—maker of Bratz and Moxie Girlz dolls—announced its new line of “True Hope” Bratz/Moxie Girlz. The line will feature four girls and two boys, available this June. MGA will sell its “True Hope” dolls at Toys “R” Us, donating $1 from every doll sold to City of Hope
for cancer research.
(Check out the news release here
Two weeks ago—that’s three months
after the Facebook page appeared—Mattel announced the creation of a Bald Friend of Barbie
for distribution to children’s hospitals and charities in 2013. Company spokesman Alan Hilowitz was quick to point out that Mattel did not
create the doll in response to the Facebook page, but rather because “they helped us realize how important this was for us to do.”
Props for your community
With social media, it’s imperative to listen to your community, to respond, to help, and to engage. Mattel failed in all these aspects. When the company finally did respond, it didn’t give its community credit for a great idea.
In the three months it took Mattel to finally say “I do” to Beautiful and Bald (Friend of) Barbie, media coverage slackened and a competitor had claimed Barbie’s space in the world of social good. But the community never gave up.
Mattel may ultimately reap praise for producing Bald Friend of Barbie, but it’s important to note the toymaker ignored its community for so long. All it needed to do was say, “We’ll do it!” when interest exploded—in January. To ignore a brand community for three months is a lifetime when it comes to the news cycle and the world of social media.
Mattel clearly missed the boat and, with it, a wave of positive press and major sales. When it comes to being social, brands must be willing to listen, engage, and react swiftly to their community. They must be trend spotters and trend setters, and they must pounce on the next big thing, especially when the fans who drive sales are giving you such clear and fervent calls to action.
Mattel’s slow “We’re the company, we know what we’re doing” response has gone the way of the dodo. Barbie fans called—and Bratz answered.
Had Mattel been timely with a positive response to the call for Bald Barbie, it would be happily driving its pink Beach Cruiser into the hearts, minds, and wallets of consumers. Instead, the company minimized its opportunity to do a lot of social good and to do right by its community.
Consider this a cautionary tale that reinforces the need for brands to be nimble and seize the day when consumers come knocking.
Deborah Weinstein is co-founder, partner and president of Strategic Objectives. Headquartered in Toronto, Strategic Objectives is IABC/Toronto PR Agency of the Year 2011 and 2009. Follow Deborah on Twitter @DebWeinstein. A version of this story first appeared on the agency's blog.