Mattel has had a lot of success modernizing the perception of Barbie over the past few years, by focusing on her power to help girls imagine a powerful and fulfilling future for themselves. Now, the brand is quietly subverting gender roles, too, in a new campaign that shows fathers playing Barbie with their girls.
The "Dads Who Play Barbie" campaign, from BBDO San Francisco, kicked off this weekend during the NFL playoffs with a 30-second spot, "Doctor," in which a self-described "typical man's man" admits his Sunday afternoon ritual of watching football is now often interrupted by Barbie time.
For which, he says, he couldn't be happier. "You would do anything, anything to make her happy," he tells the camera, in between unscripted clips of him playing Barbie with his girl in a high-pitched voice.
There are two other 30-second executions, along with a 90-second anthem film of sorts, which you can watch here:
Kristina Duncan, vp of global marketing communications at Barbie, tells AdFreak that the campaign features six real dads and their young daughters.
"We looked for families that consumers could not only relate to in one way or another, but that had a true and honest connection between them," she says. "These play moments were completely unscripted, so throughout the campaign you will see imaginations run wild, genuinely funny moments, and of course the sweet tender connections between these dads and their daughters."
Matt Miller, executive creative director at BBDO San Francisco, says the work was particularly poignant to him personally.
"When our brilliant creative team, Rachel Kelly and Taylor Garrett, first showed this idea, I immediately fell in love with it. Not only is it a perfect expression of Barbie's purpose of helping girls imagine all their possibilities, I could see myself in it," he says. "I grew up with four brothers, no sisters, so I never had Barbie in the house. Despite that, now that I have a 3-year-old daughter, I often find myself on the floor with her, Barbie in hand."
Miller adds: "Those are truly amazing moments where I get see her imagination in action. One day we're doctors, the next we're sisters, the next we're fighting off ninjas. This body of work celebrates the incredible moments that every dad can have with his daughter if he's just willing to pick up a Barbie."
The campaign is a new articulation of the ongoing "You Can Be Anything" positioning, which has included the famous "Imagine the Possibilities" spot from late 2015, which showed little girls acting as teachers and doctors and businesswomen in real-world environments.
In press materials for the dad spots, Barbie cites research by Dr. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University showing that girls who have loving, communicative, supportive relationships with their fathers from early childhood are less likely to suffer from a lack of self-confidence and self-reliance as they grow up.
"We think it's important to shine a spotlight on all of the role models in a young girl's life that help to build self-worth and self-confidence, including men," Duncan says.
This integrated campaign will include TV, cinema, digital and print advertising. Partnerships with Social Native, Tongal and Time Inc. will further promote #DadsWhoPlayBarbie.
Father-daughter story lines have been popular in other advertising airing during NFL telecasts over the past few years—in particular, the memorable Pantene campaign from last winter in which NFL stars styled their girls' hair.
SVP, Global General Manager: Lisa McKnight
VP, Global Marketing Communications: Kristina Duncan
Global Marketing Communications Director: Liz Maglione
Global Marketing Communications Manager: Nicole Leeds
Agency: BBDO San Francisco