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The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Consumption and Consumer Studies by J. Michael Ryan, Daniel Thomas Cook

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Barbie

AGNES NAIRN

EM-Lyon Business School, France

DOI: 10.1002/9781118989463.wbeccs016

Barbie is a consumer and a cultural icon that continues to attract contradiction and controversy nearly six decades after her launch in 1959. At first sight, the 11.5-inch plastic doll, owned by the Mattel Corporation, is a ubiquitous and timeless consumer success story. Two Barbie dolls are sold every second across 150 countries, with more than one billion incarnations in existence; 90 percent of girls in the United States under the age of 10 own at least one, and the average number of Barbies per child is ten in the United States, seven in the United Kingdom and Italy, and five in France and Germany. As a collector's item, Barbie also seems to be an appealing and enduring investment: the original 1959 Barbie that sold for US$3 in 1959 fetched €27,000 in 2006.

However, 2005 saw a drop in sales of 18 percent worldwide and 30 percent in the United States, when a new range of sassier Bratz dolls from MGA muscled its way into Barbie's market space. Meanwhile, Mattel's 2009 US$30 million investment in a six-story flagship Barbie store in Shanghai failed to provide sufficient returns and was closed down just two years after its opening. The Barbie brand, it transpired, could not be stretched to encompass premium-priced designer fashion, a theme bar, or bridal accoutrements – at least not in China. Moreover, despite the creation of a Chinese Barbie called “Ling,” it seems that her “I Can Be” mentality ...

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