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July 14, 2023

Barbie movie: MSU experts can comment on cultural impact, marketing efforts

“Barbie” is one of the most anticipated movies of the year. The movie’s promotion has included an extensive list of brand collaborations and ignited conversations about the doll’s influence on culture. MSU experts are available to comment ahead of the movie’s July 21 release.


Patricia Huddleston, professor of retailing in the MSU Department of Advertising and Public Relations, teaches courses on consumer behavior, retail strategy and strategic brand communications. She authored the book “Consumer Behavior: Women and Shopping,” which focuses on women’s shopping motivations. 


“With over 100 brand collaborations, the ‘Barbie’ movie is grabbing our attention, partnering with such disparate brands as Airbnb (Barbie’s Malibu Dream House) to Ford (Barbie Pink Ford Bronco) Introduced in 1959, Barbie is a ‘baby boomer’ brand with 99% brand awareness. While nostalgia drives the long-lasting affection for Barbie, her ability to change with the times helps keep her relevant. Barbie has had over 200 careers in the past 60 years and has run for president. Barbie is a brand with one foot planted firmly in the past and the other in the future.

Ayalla Ruvio is an associate professor of marketing in the MSU Broad College of Business and academic director of MSU’s No. 1-ranked marketing research master’s program. She studies the psychology behind consumers’ shopping behaviors and retail trends.


On nostalgia and marketing: “The ‘Barbie’ movie is targeted toward adults, not kids. It is another step in keeping the brand relevant and embedding it in our everyday life. In the film, Barbie wants to be human: She’s dropping off different elements of her world that are fake, including her signature high-heeled feet touching the ground. Because Barbie is portrayed in a more authentic way, she has a new image that connects to our current cultural and societal values. The Barbie brand maintains its nostalgic elements, but in a contemporary context. It's part of the brand’s evolution. The movie is another step in making Barbie as relevant to us today as it was when she first debuted in 1959. It’s bridging old and new at the same time.”

On Barbie’s brand collaborations: “Collaborations offer more options to make an emotional connection to the Barbie brand. An adult likely won’t play with the dolls, but might wear a shirt with the Barbie logo, a Barbie makeup collection or a hot pink bag: something that gives more opportunity to interact with the brand.”

Rob Roznowski is a professor in the MSU Department of Theatre, where he serves as the head of acting and directing. He is also an award-winning actor, author, director, educator and playwright.


“I imagine there are both pitfalls and positive aspects of dramatizing a controversial and iconic figure that means so much to so many. Many people can fondly recall the hours they spent playing with the Barbie Dreamhouse and her iconic fashions. However, it’s hard to ignore the negative impact on body image that Barbie’s unrealistically proportioned figure causes. It seems that some of that controversy is addressed in the trailer. I hope the movie will be a fun watch, but also that it will acknowledge and remedy the impossible ideals Barbie has created.”

Théresa Winge is an associate professor of apparel and textile design in MSU’s College of Arts and Letters. Her research examines subcultural dress and popular culture fashions and costumes for their meanings and construction of identity.


“Over the years, Barbie has evolved from a child’s doll to a career role model for young girls to a collectable with noteworthy versions wearing designer fashions. Today, Barbies are diverse and celebrate women of significance, such as Katherine Johnson, American mathematician for NASA leading to initial space flights, and Frida Kahlo, Mexican artist celebrated for her paintings.

“Barbie’s body has resulted in great debates: her feet for high heel shoes and unrealistic body dimensions that project idealized and unattainable images to young children. At the same time, Barbie is a beloved doll for many who hold special memories of dressing her in spectacular fashions, even if her day was just driving her pink car around the living room with G.I. Joe standing in the passenger seat. Barbie’s fashions ranged from the everyday clothing that came with the doll to outfits from famous real-world fashion designers made in miniature for the doll’s unique proportions. Aspiring fashion designers often first design for Barbie; in fact, Etsy and other such online shops have one-of-a-kind fashions designed just for Barbie.”


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