Are medical communities the new marketing demographic?

Have you heard about the bald Barbie movement? It’s a grassroots, digital campaign asking Mattel to make a version of the doll without her trademark golden locks to benefit children with illness. According to the group’s Facebook page, which has gained more than 130,000 fans in less than a month, bald Barbie would let “children suffering cancer, alopecia and any other illness that causes them to lose their hair, feel just as beautiful as the dolls they play with.”

Regardless of how people feel about the plastic fashion icon—she’s been around for more than half a century but still seems to be a very polarizing figure; often because of her figure—the online support for bald Barbie is undeniable. Many people seem ready to overlook any issues they may have had with Barbie’s build and stereotyped past in order to focus on her potential as a cancer survival spokes doll. Here’s just a slight sample of the thousands of messages her online fans are sharing with each other:

I will keep posting all the great things about this Bald Barbie God Bless the work you are doing

I’ve forwarded it and wish I could do more. How can I help from Brazil?

Amazing idea! I re-posted a messages about a week ago that said…why don’t they make a hairless Barbie named hope dressed in pink with all proceeds going to help to cure cancer. I had no idea it was actually a work in progress! I 100% support this. I think it would make children fighting this feel good. Anything to help. And why not make dolls with other problems?! Spreading information and helping the cause or even a cure for the cause…what a Wonderful idea!

And it’s not just parents online that like the idea. Cori Liptak, PhD, a psychologist in the Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Children’s Hospital Cancer Center was recently interviewed about her support for the doll.“There’s nothing like this that really speaks to kids who are going through cancer,” she said. “It will be a nice representation and acknowledgment of a group of children who are so courageous and brave and manage with the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.”

As of now Barbie’s manufactures have been tightlipped about whether or not there are plans to make a hairless version of the doll, but if the conversation happening online is any indication of public demand, passing on the idea could be a huge mistake.

“It will be a nice representation and acknowledgment of a group of children who are so courageous and brave and manage with the debilitating effects of chemotherapy.”

If Mattel needs further convincing that reaching out to consumers living with medical conditions can yield positive results, they needn’t look any further than one of their biggest retail partners.

A few weeks ago Target ran ads featuring a model with Down syndrome and gathered a lot of acclaim in the process. The ad wasn’t pandering to the Down syndrome community or self-gratifying for the retailer, just a clothing commercial that happened to feature a model with Down syndrome.

“I thought it was wonderful,” says Angela Lombardo, clinic coordinator administrator of Children’s Down Syndrome Program and mother to a child with Down syndrome. “And I liked that it wasn’t a ‘special needs’ version of other ads—he’s just a kid like all the others. Our kids don’t typically blend in when it comes to advertising or the media, so to see that child fit in so naturally in the Target ad was perfect.”

This Target ad gathered a lot of prasie for the company

Including a Down syndrome model in an ad may seem like a simple gesture, but in doing so Target saw huge returns. Blogs praising the commercial exploded online, as did mainstream media attention. ABC News, Washington Post, CNN, Boston Globe, and MSNBC all commented on public support for the image.

So what do you think? Are bald Barbies or ads featuring kids with Down syndrome a true sign of growing acceptance for people with chronic medical conditions, or could this be a passing phase? If it really does mark a new, more inclusive chapter in advertising and product development, what are other medical communities that could benefit from this kind of corporate attention, but have traditionally been ignored?

In keeping with the story’s close tie to social media, please help us grow these conversation online via on our Facebook page and the Facebook pages of Children’s Down syndrome program or on twitter. Let us know your thoughts at @Thrivingkids, @ChildCancerCare and @ChildrensBoston.

 

  • Carly Thurman

    I think this is a great idea! It is important for young girls fighting cancer to know that they do not “look weird” or should be self-conscious because they may have no hair. I remember I always thought my Barbies were so pretty and it would be great for cancer patients to have something to relate to.

  • Jill Flinton

    There are so many opportunities for inclusion of special needs children in “mainstream” as well as opportunities to teach others.  The bald Barbie is not just a great idea for kids that have diseases that make them lose their hair, but it can be a great educational tool for other kids.  I know many parents who make “tubie-bears” for their children and other children so their tube fed child has a companion playmate.  A “tubie bear” can also provide a great educational tool to others.

  • Carol

    I am a new cancer patient. I have ten grandchildren. I cannot wait to purchase the new Barbie. Brilliantly creative idea. Being a social worker this will help so many families deal with many illnesses.