SAN FRANCISCO: Toy owner Mattel has shaken off the "blonde bimbo" image its Barbie doll had acquired by going back to the product's origins and purpose to appeal to millennial mothers, a top executive told Warc in an exclusive interview.

Ruth Handler created the doll 57 years ago out of a sense of frustration at the limited range available to her own daughter – back then there were only baby dolls encouraging girls to act out being mothers – and with the hope that it could be anything a girl wanted it to be.

"While the purpose of the Barbie brand is to inspire the limitless potential in every girl and is what has driven the brand for 57 years, we didn't always overtly communicate it to parents," admitted Kristina Duncan, Vice President, Global Marketing Communications at Mattel.

So, while Barbie's many iterations over the years have included pilot, policeman, doctor, CEO and astronaut, public perception focused on things like her body shape, wardrobe and accessories.

A campaign by BBDO San Francisco aimed to change all that: its 'Imagine The Possibilities' film of little girls pretending to be professionals in real-life settings and showing how they play with Barbie has been viewed 24m times on YouTube and reminded millennial mothers of their own positive experiences playing with the doll when they were young.

"We have evolved from talking about what Barbie is, and what she has, to what she enables," Duncan said.

That is a major difference from rival offerings from the likes of Disney: Frozen's Princess Anna remains a princess while Barbie comes with an "open narrative".

Accordingly, PR and social have been deployed to reinforce the 'You Can Be Anything' campaign message. And next year there will bean additional push on episodic content, with a series of short 11 minute episodes.

"Barbie is a reflection of culture," Duncan noted. "Most innovation now is pushing towards better reflecting society more by evolving the brand in a positive way and focusing more on professions than in the last few years.

"It is about focusing in on Barbie's purpose which is helping girls imagine what they can become."

Data sourced from Warc