Breaking News: Barbie and Ken Financial Troubles
Barbie and Ken may have trouble in paradise. Instead of vacationing in the Hamptons, Barbie may need to pick up another job. She is already a doctor, vet, Miss America, airline pilot, socialite, teacher and busy wife – but her sales are declining so fast she may have to put one of her Barbie Dream Houses up for sale to stay afloat, and the happy couple may need to consider selling one of their many pink Corvette’s. This is literally just like punching my childhood in the face.
Apparently little girls are fully over Barbie, based on the reported 12 percent decline in sales. Now that Barbie is “older” (a lady never reveals her age) she is finding it hard to keep up with Gen Z, however Mattel has bigger problems than trying to keep Barbie young.
Hot Wheels are more lukewarm than “hot” these days and sales of Fisher-Price toys have also declined. American Girl was the standout in this fizzling party. Sales for the iconic doll and all of its accouterments (IE: clothes for both doll and child, furniture, movies, books, and a ridiculous amount of accessories that every girl must have to get the full American Girl experience) increased by 14 percent, albeit after an aggressive (and expensive) marketing campaign.
Little girls, why are you turning your backs on Barbie? While I doubt any children are reading this column, experts have their own theories as to why the iconic doll may be losing steam.
Body image may play a key factor in the ultra-skinny dolls declining sales. Barbie has traditionally been criticized for her too-thin frame, heavy makeup, and other assets that are impossibly large. Parents may be giving their little girls dolls that are not quite as perfect as Barbie. Enter: Monster High Dolls. That is a trend I just don't get.
Mary Shearman, a PhD candidate in gender, sexuality and women’s studies Simon Fraser University, speculated in an article in the Globe and Mail that Mattel may find themselves leaning on their non-Barbie dolls more and more as parents and children seek out more relatable dolls:
“There was a sense that you wanted to expose little girls to role models that were a little more diverse and not so stereotypical, so they tried to make Barbie active and gave her all kinds of activities to do and tried to make her more interesting than a beauty queen.”
Artist Nickolay Lamm gave Barbie a radical makeover to reflect the body of an average teenage girl. Average Barbie has not been endorsed by Mattel, and is modeled off the body measurements of a normal 19-year-old American girl using data from the CDC. She is shorter and broader, with a smaller head and thicker neck.
“If Barbie looks good as an average woman and even there’s a small chance of Barbie influencing young girls, why can’t we come out with an average sized doll?” Lamm tells TIME. “Average is beautiful.”
It can’t be guaranteed that declining sales are due to Barbie’s negative effects on body image, but that certainly is the prevailing opinion.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.