Corporate Eye

Tattoo Barbie Drives an Online Brand Buzz

Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie is the newest introduction to the Barbie brand product line up – I kid you not.  Mattel claims the tattooed Barbie has been selling well, but the opposite seems to be true if you look at the online buzz.  This month, online conversations have been all over the Internet with parents and consumers questioning the appropriateness of tattoos on a doll targeted to young girls.  They do not believe Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie is right for the Barbie brand.  Mattel has responded by saying the company has no plans to change or discontinue the product.

What do you think?  Does Mattel have a responsibility to develop products with the Barbie brand name that are all appropriate for the primary audience for the brand?  Is it ethical to sell a Barbie-branded doll with totally stylin’ tattoos on it?

It’s an interesting argument.  While I can certainly understand that Mattel is not promoting the tattooing of children with this toy, I can also understand parents who don’t want their impressionable children to get ideas that they want their own tattoos to look totally stylin’ like Barbie (I should mention that the tattoos that come with Totally Stylin’ Tattoos Barbie are temporary and can be applied on people, too, just like any temporary tattoo).

It’s an interesting brand debate – where the line of ethics and responsibility should be drawn.  I’d imagine this argument probably arises for the Barbie brand with each generation.  Decades ago, it probably happened when Doctor Barbie launched or when Astronaut Barbie hit stores.  Remember several years ago when Barbie and Ken got divorced?  The buzz was very loud about that.  There was even a Saturday Night Live skit about it!

It reminds me of a year or two ago when Disney launched Disney-branded wine.  A brand name associated primarily with children on liquor seemed wrong.  Suffice it to say, Disney pulled that product from the market very quickly after its launch.

Regardless of how you feel about tattoos, what do you think about this debate from a branding perspective?  Do brands have a responsibility to produce branded products that remain appropriate to the primary target audience? 

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

This one’s a tough call. While I can understand parents being protective of their children, Mattel is trying to keep Barbie current and relevant. I guess when you consider Barbie is intended to be a late-teen/twenty-something age, this should be expected. Is Barbie a role-model for girls to emulate and is that where the threat lies?

My four-year old daughter has fallen in love with Barbie in the past year and she also likes to get temporary tattoos. Am I worried about her getting a permanent tattoo right now, no, but if she wants one in her early teens; that’ll be a subject for serious discussion.

Now if it was “pierced” Barbie, I might have more of a problem. I don’t know why I’m prejudiced against piercing, but maybe it’s because there is no “temporary” option when it comes to that.

Maybe they’re trying to keep up with the Bratz dolls that took so much money away from them. I’ve seen some pretty questionable looking Barbies in the stores lately. I made it clear to my daughter that we would not be buying them.

I don’t see the problem here. Heaven forbid a parent explains to their child what tattoos are and what age it is appropriate & legal to get one.

Please let me know when they come out with Completely Awesome Pregnant Trailer Park Crack Whore Barbie – then I will have a problem.

This is where I stand: a company has a right to develop, brand and market just about anything they please.

I have a right, as a parent, to draw boundaries with my child. In my household, a parental “No,” still trumps childhood desires. Perhaps more parents should try that.

t’s a Barbie doll, this is about as dumb as people complaining music and video games are causing their children to make bad choices. Visible tattoos are becoming more and more acceptable along with body piercings. You see them everywhere, your kids see them everywhere. So just because your daughter has a barbie with **optional** tattoos I might add, doesn’t mean they’re going to get a bunch when they’re older. Also, who’s to say that having tattoos is a bad thing? Is that really a parent’s worse nightmare? Temporary tattoos have been around for years, so I mean a girl coming to school with a bunch on herself, well, I remember doing the same thing when I was in school. Bottom line, I think parents should be the ultimate influence on their children; not their toys, teachers, or friends.

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