In this highly cut-throat competitive market, brands are continuously launching new and innovative products keeping the demands of the consumer in mind. So on the rare occasion when there is a demand for a product proactively, most companies would roll out the red carpet and honour their customers, however, when the American toy company Mattel, Inc, famously known for their highly popular Barbie Doll toys, had a similar request, they did not seem to pay much heed. This, in turn, did not turn out so well for the brands’ reputation.
Back in 2012, a facebook page was created in an attempt to get the company to design a special line of Barbie Dolls that were Bald and Beautiful keeping in mind the struggle that cancer patients have to go through. The page started out with just 50 members however their numbers soon increased to an outstanding 1,25,000 community. As more people got together online urging Mattel to release this unique Barbie Doll model, media started to take notice too. Articles on the Bald Barbie movement started getting churned out left, right and centre. Just do a Google News Search for the term ‘Bald Barbie’ and you will get more than 450 articles on the same topic.
Now for any other company, this would be the perfect time to earn some brownie points be heeding to its customers’ demands. Not only would it be extremely good PR, but it would also do well in the market, considering the sheer volume for the demand for the doll. But alas, Mattel seemed to be uninterested.
A special-edition Bald Barbie Doll which would help girls with self-esteem issues stemming from hair loss due to cancer treatments, alopecia, or trichotillomania, and also help girls coping with their mother’s hair loss due to chemotherapy could only help the brand. Communities on social media quickly pointed out that it was a win-win situation for everyone, Mattel had nothing to lose and everything to gain from producing Beautiful and Bald Barbie.
Mattel has never shied away from launching a limited-edition Barbie doll in the past. It made sense for the brand to step up and seize the opportunity when the story broke out. This lack of interest in their customers’ wishes was interpreted by people as their abhorrence for unconventional beauty which didn’t align with the typical standards of beauty Mattel would like itself to associate with.
The company faced a huge backlash in the community, and to rub salt on their wounds by February, Mattel’s competitor MGA, maker of Bratz and Moxie Girlz announced its new line “True Hope”. The collection featured four girls and two boys all rocking the bald look, MGA even went ahead and announced that it will sell its “True Hope” dolls at Toys “R” Us, and will donate $1 from every doll sold to City of Hope for cancer research foundation.
This blunder by Mattel resulted in a loss of their market share, their reputation and a blotch on their goodwill. It took the company 3 months to realise their mistake and in an attempt to make amends, Mattel announced the creation of a Bald Friend of Barbie for distribution to children’s hospitals and charities in 2013.
Spokesman Mr Alan Hilowitz was quick to point out that Mattel did not create the doll in response to the Facebook page, but rather because “they helped us realize how important this was for us to do“. In the end, the toy company was praised for producing a Bald Friend of Barbie, but it is essential to note the toymaker ignored its community and by extension its customers for a long time. All it needed to do was agree to the very reasonable request of their customers when their interest exploded.
Mattel clearly missed the pulse of their customers and with it, an opportunity to garner positive press and major sales. When it comes to social media brands must be open to ideas, listen, engage, and respond efficiently. They must forecast trends and be trendsetters, especially when it’s their customers who are responsible for all the wealth that they accumulate.