By Joanne Fischetti, Senior Account Executive, R&J Public Relations
Most recently, Rebecca Sypin and Jane Bingham, two women whose lives have been impacted by cancer, created a petition to encourage Mattel to create a “Beautiful and Bald Barbie” with whom children with cancer and hair loss illnesses could identify. They also proposed that Mattel create accessories such as wigs, head wraps, scarves and hats for these dolls. All of these accessories are items cancer survivors use to help cope with their illness.
Despite over 141,000 Facebook fans and over 400 articles written about the movement, Mattel has yet to address the issue publicly. The only response these women received was a letter claiming that Mattel doesn’t accept ideas from outside sources. But this is one of those times when a rule should be broken.
I don’t know if the people over at Mattel have ever seen how cancer affects a person, let alone a child. Let me tell you from experience, it sucks. Hair falls out, tears are cried, “why me” questions are asked, and breaking points are reached. My father passed away from bladder cancer in May 2011. My 5-year-old cousin was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a malignant round-cell tumor, last year and is currently in remission. It’s an emotional roller coaster for the patient and the family alike. No matter how you are involved, it’s one of life’s hardest experiences.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can and will attack any one – mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. In this day and age, it’s very rare to meet a person who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by cancer, which is why it greatly surprises me that the people of Mattel can’t sympathize with this petition.
From a PR standpoint, Mattel is in trouble. First of all, Mattel needs to address this issue publicly and quickly. This isn’t one of those issues you can just sweep under the rug. The news is out and someone needs to address it now. What will Mattel do? Will it continue following its rule on not letting outside sources submit ideas? Will it work with girls who have cancer to design this new Barbie? The issue needs to be addressed now before the public’s perception of the company becomes more negative.
Secondly, aren’t children Mattel’s target audience? According to the National Cancer Institute, in the United States in 2007, approximately 10,400 children under the age of 15 were diagnosed with cancer. Are those 10,400 children excluded from Mattel’s target audience? Are Barbie and Ken immune to cancer? Barbie can be a mermaid, but she can’t be bald? This doesn’t make any sense to me.
Lastly, when it boils down to it, sometimes money isn’t everything. In October 2011, Mattel reported a profit of $300.8 million, up from $283.3 million a year earlier. In the long run, how much will it really cost Mattel to produce a limited edition Bald Barbie or Ken Doll? The company manufactured much more controversial dolls such as Pregnant Midge (equipped with a baby in the Barbie’s stomach), Growing up Skipper (pull her arm and she hits puberty), Teen Talk (“math is tough!” is one of the lessons this doll teaches children) and Totally Tattoos Barbie (she comes with a tramp stamp in honor of Ken). With money like that to spend, there’s no reason the company can’t afford to create these Bald Barbies and Kens and submit a large portion of the sales to a children’s cancer organization.
Mattel lost out on a great opportunity to show its customers just how important and relevant children with cancer are. They are loving, feeling human beings – despite their cancer diagnosis. And the overall societal lesson that Mattel could have taught would go a long way toward showing all children that the disease does not define the person. Hopefully, the company will reconsider and do the right thing to help these children cope with what will be one of the most difficult times of their lives.