Marketing Moment 91: Barbie’s ‘Imagine the Possibilities’ video goes viral

To celebrate the Ad Club of New York’s 120th anniversary, The Drum is inviting readers to share their favorite marketing moments from the past 120 years.

Today’s marketing moment was chosen by Laura Lefever, senior partner strategic planning director at Maxus. Below, find out why Barbie’s ‘You Can Be Anything’ campaign is one of her favorite marketing moments.

It was a proud moment when Mattel launched the “You Can Be Anything” campaign last year.  I still remember playing Barbies with my best friend Jenny in the 80s, and imagining all the possibilities for my future. Doctor. Gymnast. Horseback rider.  Teacher. Or, as it turns out, Opera Singer and Ad Executive.

The brand nailed it in this two-minute spot aimed squarely at millennial parents, subverting their modern beliefs that Barbie played into an unattainable female stereotype. The content, created by BBDO San Francisco, was inspired by Barbie creator Ruth Handler’s philosophy that “through the doll, the girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.”

The “Imagine the Possibilities” spot showed five girls playing out what they want to be when they grow up, choosing a vet, a museum guide, a businesswoman, a college professor and a soccer coach. The careers were chosen by each of the young actresses, and they were filmed unscripted playing out their dreams in front of unsuspecting adults. My personal favorite is when the soccer coach is heard telling her team “knees up, like a unicorn. Higher, higher!” In the end, the aspiring college professor is shown to be giving her lecture to an auditorium of her Barbie dolls in her bedroom. 

At a time when Barbie was facing enormous pressure from Disney’s Frozen and the ramp up to the critical Holiday season, Mattel took a risk. They walked away from the tried true product spots highlighting the doll and her latest accessory.  And the result was this marriage of brand truth and key cultural insight that led to work that didn’t just advertise, but created a conversation.

To submit your own favorite marketing moment, email [email protected] and include ‘Marketing Moments’ in the subject line or tweet @TheDrum using the hashtag #marketingmoments. 

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