Barbie's fiftieth anniversary

Mattel is going all our for Barbie's 50th this year, with a series of anniversary celebrations. Here, Ronnie Dungan looks back on the last five decades of a toy icon...
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Mattel is pulling out all the stops for the Barbie brand in 2009, celebrating her golden anniversary with a series of events and promotions throughout the year, bringing alive the doll’s history and its close association with fashion and style.

Like Meccano, Action Man, Lego and Scalextric, Barbie is much more than just a toy brand.

Its arrival 50 years ago wasn’t just a product launch; it was part of, and a reflection of, a cultural change which saw young people assuming new significance and a new identity in the world and created a new toy concept and play pattern for girls.

Barbie was created after Ruth and Elliot Handler founded Mattel Creations in 1945 and was born 14 years later and unveiled to the world at the New York Toy Fair.

The inspiration for the doll came from Ruth’s daughter Barbara, who acted out scenarios with her friends using paper dolls. The first Barbie sold 300,000 in 1959 and 50 years later, after myriad changes of style and look, the brand is still going strong.

Which is why Mattel is partying like its 1959 and celebrating the 50th birthday of the fashion doll this year with a number of initiatives designed to highlight its past and present.

“The centrepoint of it all is the celebration of Barbie, not just her 50th birthday but the brand itself. It’s all about celebrating everything Barbie,” says Jackie Jordan, marketing director of Mattel.

“It’s based on what Barbie stands for – fashion, play and the empowerment of girls and women. Let’s look back but let’s also look forward.”

And with that vision in mind, messages about the anniversary are starting to appear in the media, and will eventually drip down to the brand’s core target group.

“The 50th gives us the chance to show the face of Barbie now and to show off our great partnerships. They all cascade down. So we can start with the brand and touch all our key audiences.”

Activities are spread across a number of different, leading edge media including a fashion programme at London Fashion Week, with Jeremy Scott creating a limited edition adult collection launching at Colette in Paris on March 9th.

Mattel is also sponsoring the autumn/winter 09/10 fashion shows by two of the capital’s most influential young female designers, Roksanda Ilincic and Danielle Scutt.

Both will design a wardrobe for a limited edition of 50 Barbie dolls inspired by their own collections.

A launch party will take place in Hamleys on March 8th. There will also be a Barbie window, too.

On March 9th a new Barbie website will launch to chronicle all the celebrations – a Barbie blog, essentially.

“We’ll also have a roadshow going up and down the country. We want girls to interact with Barbie alongside their parents and on their own too,” adds Jordan.

“We’re working with our retail partners to get them involved. We’ve got great P.O.P material and we want to spread it as far across the chain as we can.”

In the key Christmas period there will be the usual commitment to advertising and marketing for the celebratory range of pink products.

Barbie by numbers

Barbie’s iconic hour-glass figure is a key part of her enduring appeal, but here are a few other important figures that have played their part in the birthday girl’s success story.

300,000 Barbie dolls sold in 1959
43 - Number of years Ken and Barbie were together
7.25 oz - Barbie's weight
90 per cent of girls aged 3-10 own a Barbie
108 - Number of careers
11.5" - Barbie's height
50 - Barbie's age
$27,450 - Current estimated price of the original 1959 doll in mint condition
12 - Average number of Barbies owned by girls aged 3-6
$3 - Cost of the first doll in 1959
14 - Number of DVD movies Barbie has starred in
105,000,000 - Number of yards of fabric tat have been used in making Barbie and friends' fashions

Barbie timeline

1959 Barbie, the Teenage Fashion Model is introduced at New York Toy Fair on March 9th
1961 Ken arrives on the scene
1963 Barbie acquires a new best friend, Midge
1964 Barbie’s sister Skipper ‘born’
1965 Barbie goes to the moon as an Astronaut
1966 Sister Tutti arrives
1966 Barbie’s brother Todd is ‘born’
1968 African American friend Christie is introduced
1991 Is maid of honour to Midge at her wedding to Alan
1992 Barbie’s sister Stacie ‘born’
1992 Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie doll ever, is launched
1995 Sisters Kelly and Krissy arrive
2000 Barbie stands for President
2001 Launches her first DVD movie - Barbie in the Nutcracker
2004 Ken and Barbie break up on Valentines day
2005 Barbie becomes an American Idol Winner



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