Barbie shoots for the stars

A PR stunt for the Mattel brand's diamond jubilee sees the iconic doll (dressed as an astronaut) airlifted into space on camera.

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It’s a plane… It’s a bird… It’s Barbie!

Kitted in a dome-shaped hood, silver spacesuit and Canadian flag in tow, an astronaut Barbie was launched into space on Friday in London, Ontario. Her three-hour journey to the outer layers of the atmosphere was captured on camera a la Reese’s Piece’s, as part of a PR stunt that adds to a host of activations, in Canada and abroad, for the iconic doll’s 60th anniversary.

As per the brand’s current messaging, Barbie has been “inspiring girls since 1959″ and this year’s bevy of PR-driven campaigns is meant to “inspire the limitless potential in every girl.” That potential can exist in the STEM world where fewer women have been found to pursue a career, which is why the Mattel-owned brand designed a doll with a passion for the field of science, exploration and discovery, launching her into space using a high-altitude weather balloon, in partnership with non-profit STEM Camp.

At the town event, young girls were also given the chance to meet-and-greet Aerospace Engineer Natalie Panek. She’s one of several global ambassadors who Barbie has chosen to represent the brand as a role model: Canada’s own Olympian Tessa Virtue was also selected to join the ranks of powerful women, with dolls created in their likeness as part of the Barbie Shero Dolls collection when the brand first kicked off the anniversary year.

Barbie first tried to distance itself from negative criticism that the brand is a contributor to unhealthy body image issues in 2016. Back then, it came out with decidedly more realistic dolls that shied away from a dated, unrepresentative skeletal figure, debuting dolls with curvier bodies and different skin tones (sales jumped 7% as a result). Soon after it rolled out the “You Can Be Anything” platform that included yet another buzzy activation, less focused on body image and more directed at encouraging thoughtful discussion around pursuing one’s passion. (Its focus on the future careers of budding young girls was actually in the works two years prior to the brand platform, when it created a Career line doll to get girls excited about being an entrepreneur in 2014.)

The brand is about halfway through its year-long celebrations, which have not been confined to Canada and have extended to the far reaches of the world. Global markets have seen the doll attempt to protect its brand by shifting perceptions to be seen as a model of empowerment for girls as part of its diamond jubilee.

Beyond lighting up skyscrapers across American, Asian and European cities in bright pink hues, Barbie has hosted a series of pop-ups that celebrate the worlds of art and fashion, always with a nod to its overall messaging around empowerment. In the U.S., for example, it hosted a “Be Anything” tour with musician Kelsea Ballerini, where the brand visited Walmart stores for the artist to give talks to young American girls. Similarly, the brand also activated inside Target stores with an apparel collection, dubbed “What Will You Be.”

Retail partnerships have also been embraced in Canada, where the brand is working with Toys ‘R Us to ring in the anniversary celebrations, introducing the first Barbie in a wheelchair both in the U.S. and here. A more long-term play comes in the form of an ongoing initiative to #CloseTheDreamGap as part of the Dream Gap Project Fund to support orgs that are set up to help  “level the playing field for girls.”

The STEM Camp partnership and on-site programming was managed by The T1 Agency while media relations and role model engagement were managed by GCI Communications.

Mattel Canada- Inc--Barbie- Celebrates 60 Years as a Model of Em