Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are new Black barbies too much or not enough?

Mattel just recently introduced a new line of Black Barbies. While, this new endeavor may not seem so novel, it’s definitely a new spin on something that has been around for awhile, and thus qualifies as innovation. The new line of Barbies have features like fuller lips and curlier hair that aims to better represent African-American women. Although, these are significant improvements when compared to the first Black Barbie, Christie, that was launched in 1969, there are still critics. Some say that the Barbies features are “unrealistic,” that the long, straight hair could be replaced by braids or an afro. Others , like a person who comments below the article, contend that “Barbie has always been white, and to change her race and keep her name, for the sake of profit or any other reason, is just sick”. Clearly there are very different viewpoints including those that applaud the new line.

This criticism of the new Barbie shows how innovation can be difficult for people to accept because it involves changing their current way of understanding the world. For some it may be easier to picture Barbie as White, while for others Barbie isn’t Black enough. At what point does innovation survive on it’s merits? Do we have an innate need for incrementalism? Clearly, some people want Barbie to have an Afro, but will this innovate too much? Is there such a thing? Does innovation have to be a complete transformation? Or can Barbie keep her long, straight hair and still be innovative? I, personally think this particular innovation is strong because it makes a small change that makes a big difference . I think Mattel should “envision the future” a little bit more and use it’s past offerings to inform how they can improve them and create more diversity on the store shelves. Doesn’t a Latina Barbie seem like the appropriate next step?


  1. It hard to know whether the Black Barbie critics find fault with the innovation process or with diversity/accurate representation Blacks. From the standpoint of basing innovation around environmental context, I think Mattel is on the right track.

    Ultimately, the strength of the consumer response will determine whether this is an example of good innovation or good intentions.

  2. I agree with the notion that Mattel is on the right track. It's ok that Christie, the black Barbie, is not an accurate representation of a black female-honestly Barbie is not an accurate representation of the natural body type of most (if any) mature women, regardless of race. I think the innovative aspect that we should value is that Mattel is branching out to various races. Maybe soon we can expect Barbie to go global and branch out into other cultures.