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A Barbie World: Mattel’s Aimee London Talks about the Iconic Doll’s Journey

Aimee London, Mattel’s vice president of global franchise marketing, described Barbie’s brand both before and after 2023’s blockbuster movie, and she encouraged UW students to find inspiration in the doll’s 65-year journey.

The salient point about Barbie, says Aimee London ’04, is not the doll’s fashion or its history or even the 2023 blockbuster movie it inspired. It’s that Barbie belongs to everyone.

“When you talk to anyone, they’ll often have a Barbie story,” says London, vice president of franchise marketing for Mattel, the company that sells Barbie dolls. “It’s kind of amazing, as I introduce myself and say what I do in life, immediately I get back a Barbie story. For a lot of the designers we work with, that was their first muse. They were making fashions for Barbie.”

London returned to UW–Madison in April to speak with students at Grainger Hall, delivering a presentation called The Evolution of Barbie. A Madison native, London went to work for Mattel right after graduation, and she’s been involved with different toys and product lines over her 20 years with the company. In 2022, she took on her current role in global franchise marketing, meaning that she leads efforts to grow Mattel brands — including Barbie — outside of core sales areas.

For Barbie — a doll that is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year — franchise marketing rose to new heights in 2023 with the release of the Oscar-winning movie Barbie, which earned more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales around the world.

“The movie was a transformational moment for us,” London says. “So many people reconnected with the Barbie brand. But that love, that passion was always there. It was just a bit dormant.”

The lesson London gave to UW students is that hard times can be inspiring — they offer a moment when people can reassess and reinvent. During her talk, she discussed the way that Barbie had developed as a doll and as a brand since its creation in 1959. In that time, the doll has seen both successes and difficulties. “Around 2014, we started to see declines,” London says. “We’d sort of lost our way, and moms thought Barbie was a little uninspiring. We really had to take a hard look in the mirror and listen to our consumers and then go back to the brand heritage. We revitalized the brand in 2016 to better reflect the world around us, and we're so proud that today Barbie is the most diverse doll line on the market.”

For Barbie, that heritage was the same as the message of the film: the doll offers children a chance to engage with creativity and be anything they want to be. 

“We reminded parents of what imaginative play unlocks for their kids, and so we came up with a brand purpose, which is to inspire the limitless potential in every girl,” says London. “Our tagline is you can be anything. It’s what we still use today.”

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