The Joy of Marketing Barbie-a Pop Culture Icon

by Nancy Zwiers | 29 Sep 2022

The Bloom Report

The Joy of Marketing Barbie--a Pop Culture Icon

By Nancy Zwiers


I had the pleasure of leading the teams that built the Barbie brand to its highest heights throughout the 90’s--what an amazing professional experience! 


For a strategic brand-builder like me, Barbie had it all:

  • A brand reason-for-being that we all could really get behind (allowing children to play out their dreams and aspirations).
  • The passion and brand loyalty of its consumers--kids and collectors alike
  • Marketing partners’ enthusiasm for the brand—retailers, fashion designers, artists, non-profits, fellow big brands—that provided an endless roadmap to business-building innovation
  • Inherent newsworthiness of our initiatives that translated into extensive media coverage.
  • Massive marketing budget—over $50 million each year to strategically invest
  • The best team members who were at the top of their game:
    • Bosses Rita Rao, Diana Pleva and Jean McKenzie
    • Direct Reports Debra St. Pierre, Anne Parducci, Sharon John, Lisa Gaudio, Lisa Licht, Elaine Carovilla, Carol Levine, as well as their own amazing team members
    • Peers Margo Moschel, Sujata Luther, Rick Dellacquilla, Rick DeHerder, Rich Molyneaux, multiple sales and operations leaders across the globe, and a cadre of top inventors
  • The full force of a $5 billion company that was primarily geared to supporting the brand in whatever way was necessary, as Barbie represented the lion’s share of total company profits.


Because Barbie’s power was both deep and wide, we were able to forge many new avenues to growth that nearly always succeeded…upending the typical risk/reward trade-off we marketers must navigate.


Some of the peak experiences Barbie and my marketing teams shared together:

  • Enlarging Barbie’s reason-for-being to embrace fantastical dreams like mermaids, fairies, etc., which unlocked millions of dollars in incremental revenue every year
  • Introducing the nurturing play pattern into the Barbie brand for the first time with the introduction Babysitter Barbie and followed by the highly successful launch of Barbie’s baby sister Kelly (Chelsea in Europe) which became the #1 small doll
  • Elevating Holiday Barbie to such a level of hotness that demand far outstripped supply and we were able to sell vouchers for redemption in January
  • Swiftly executing a massive promotion to clear excess inventory at retail (“Buy one for me--My friend gets one free!”) that was so successful, it drove measurable increases in store traffic at Walmart and Target and moved Mattel’s stock price
  • Introducing (with Toys R Us) Barbie’s first differently-abled friend, Becky, in a wheel chair
  • Introducing My Size Barbie, the larger-than-life 3 ft. Barbie doll
  • Introducing the top-selling kids computer game ever-Barbie Fashion Designer
  • Taking the Barbie collector business from a $6M niche business to an astronomically profitable $175M business in just three years, through initiatives that included:
    • Mattel’s first Barbie Convention in Disney World in honor of her 35th  
    • The first vinyl replica of the original bathing-suit Barbie that generated over $20M in incremental revenue
    • Tie-ins with the world’s top designers like Bob Mackie, Valentino, Christian Dior, etc.
    • Pioneering Mattel’s first direct response business including first ever infomercial (with Leeza Gibbons), DR program with Sears, and direct mail marketing


While the brand stumbled in the not-too-distant past, I’ve been thrilled to see Barbie on the rebound in the past several years.  Once again, Barbie takes her rightful place as a pop culture icon that, in turn, mirrors ever-evolving pop culture in both important and whimsical ways.


I recently learned through the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment tool that I’m a “Maximizer.”  I maximizer is good at taking things that are strong and making them even better.  No wonder I got so much fulfillment in maximizing the Barbie business during my tenure of leadership!


#Barbie #Barbie Collector #Pop Culture Icon Barbie Brand #Barbiecore barbie doll Barbie history

Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!