Barbie’s Future: Continuing the Legacy Beyond the 2023 Film

by Barbara

Nearly a year has passed since the Barbie film hit theaters, turning the world pink with its extensive branded content. As the brand commemorates its 65th anniversary, the focus shifts to how Barbie will sustain the monumental success of 2023.

Krista Berger, Mattel’s senior vice-president of Barbie and global head of dolls, is at the forefront of these efforts. “What I’ve learned is there is always another mountain to climb. There’s always the next big thing for Barbie,” she tells Marketing Week.


This year, the brand is launching a Barbie exhibition at the Design Museum to “continue the dialogue” with consumers in the post-movie era. “What am I going to do to top the Barbie movie? I’m not ready to give you the answer,” says Berger. “We’re going to do something because we always have. I think the proof point of a brand being in its 65th year is almost enough confidence in that.”


Leadership and Vision

Berger assumed her current role in February after a year at American Girl, a subsidiary of Mattel. Her extensive experience at Mattel, particularly with the dolls portfolio, positions her well for this challenge. She now oversees Barbie, Polly Pocket, and Monster High, working alongside entertainment partners like Disney.


“I know the power of this brand,” she says. “Barbie is a reflection of culture, and culture doesn’t stand still.” The Barbie movie’s colossal success in 2023, grossing $1.45 billion and becoming one of the top 20 highest-grossing movies, underscores this power.

Financial and Cultural Impact

Barbie-mania in 2023 led to a 16% year-on-year increase in global doll sales during the third quarter, rising from $519.6 million in 2022 to $605.1 million in 2023. For the entire year, gross sales of Barbie reached $1.5 billion, slightly down from its peak in 2021 but significantly higher than in the previous decade.

Mattel’s CFO Anthony DiSilvestro credited the robust marketing efforts for this success. “Our results benefited from the success of the Barbie movie, which became a global cultural phenomenon, and marked a key milestone for Mattel,” he said.

Berger emphasizes that brand health, a crucial metric, currently holds its “highest market share on record” within the doll category.

Adapting to Cultural Shifts

However, Barbie’s journey hasn’t always been smooth. In 2015, the brand faced its lowest sales volume in over 25 years, with $900 million, amid criticism for promoting unrealistic body ideals and gender stereotypes. Berger reflects on moments when Barbie “stopped evolving” with society, stressing the importance of keeping pace with cultural and consumer expectations.

“We can look back at really pointed moments where we know that from societal engagement, cultural conversation, and brand sales when we misstepped,” she says. “We hear from our consumers that they’re not as inspired or engaged in the brand.”

Berger acknowledges the “danger of not keeping pace” and highlights Barbie’s “critical responsibility” to remain in sync with culture and its consumers. “Barbie is at her best when she’s in a two-way dialogue with society and culture, so when she is both a reflection of and an inspiration to culture,” she adds.

Transformation and Innovation

The Mattel Playbook has been instrumental in Barbie’s transformation, focusing on four pillars: Purpose, design-led innovation, cultural relevance, and executional excellence. “We really focus on ensuring that every brand within our portfolio has a distinct reason for being and a unique brand purpose,” Berger explains, noting that customer feedback is key in shaping new products.

“We are in constant conversation with our fans around the world, getting that feedback from them about what they’re looking for, what they’re responding to, and then we’ll take that input and plan accordingly,” she adds.

Barbie Exhibition and Future Plans

The Barbie exhibition, launched on July 5, features over 180 dolls, including the rare first edition Barbie from 1959. It explores Barbie’s evolving appearance in response to cultural shifts around diversity and representation and offers insights into Mattel’s design process. The exhibition aims to “inspire stories” and “highlight the impact that Barbie has had on culture for the past 65 years,” says Berger.

Strengthening Barbie’s relationship with consumers is the ultimate goal. “Anytime you show up in a new and interesting space or give consumers a window into something that they don’t necessarily know about the brand, or to celebrate what they love about the brand, that’s how you strengthen that relationship,” she explains.

Alongside the exhibition, Barbie will roll out new consumer products and partnership dolls throughout the year.

Berger’s Vision and Leadership

This role marks Berger’s third stint at Mattel and the second time she’s been tasked with maintaining the brand’s momentum after a high point. In 2016, Barbie appeared on the cover of Time Magazine following the introduction of the first ‘curvy’ doll, a move praised for promoting diverse body types and credited for boosting sales.

Reflecting on her journey, Berger says, “This role feels a lot like coming home and revisiting moments of my career.” She emphasizes that there are no self-limiting beliefs in her current role. “I know the power of this brand,” she concludes.

As Barbie celebrates 65 years, the focus remains on innovation, cultural relevance, and maintaining a strong connection with consumers, ensuring the brand continues to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

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