Barbie’s not apologizing for being sexy

By Matt Gillis

Amidst the advertising clutter, it is no surprise that many companies use controversial promotional tactics as a way to break through the buzz. Most of the time, companies get just 15 minutes of fame from media attention surrounding their latest antics. However, despite beliefs from some critics that negative publicity does not promote long-term success for a brand, several companies have learned to capitalize on their controversial image and outlast many of their competitors.

Two brands, Barbie and Sports Illustrated, have managed to do just that. On February 18, Barbie will be making her Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue debut as part of an advertising scheme titled “Unapologetic.” These two popular brands, which are no stranger to the media scrutiny surrounding their debatably objectifying depictions of women, are teaming up as a promotional tactic to express their “unapologetic” nature about who they are.

barbie sports illustrated

The partnership is in promotion of SI’s 50th anniversary of the swimsuit issue and will feature Barbie, photographed by SI veteran Walter Ioos Jr., in a four-page spread in SI as well as on the magazine’s cover, video clips, a magazine cover wrap, declaration of Barbie as “The Doll That Started It All,” and a limited-edition SI Barbie sold exclusively at

Mattel, the company that sells Barbie, is claiming that the campaign is aimed at redefining the doll’s image in promotion of a healthy body image and a connection to contemporary consumers. In partnering with SI, Mattel hopes to make a comparison between Barbie and the magazine’s alum, which includes Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, and Heidi Klum, who all used their beginnings in swimsuits to launch successful careers as entrepreneurs.

Despite the company’s efforts, Mattel may have missed the mark. There is a clear disconnect between the target markets of both Barbie and SI, seeing as SI is not for little girls and Barbie is not for adults. In fact, Mattel might have done just the opposite of their objective to eradicate the objectifying nature of the doll by further defining the toy as a sex object that promotes unrealistic standards of beauty.

While the two iconic brands may not be the most likely of collaborators, the SI and Barbie partnership has generated a considerable amount of media attention. Despite Mattel’s effort to improve Barbie’s brand reputation, they may want to embrace their doll’s controversial image. Barbie has survived the market for over 50 years with nothing short of controversy, and that success requires no apology.

Reference list:

–       Elliott, S. (2014, February 11). Barbie’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Causes a Stir Online. The New York Times: Media. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from

–       Weir, S. B. (2014, February 12). Barbie Poses for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. We Give Up.. Yahoo Shine. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from

5 thoughts on “Barbie’s not apologizing for being sexy

  1. I do not agree with this marketing strategy. There is no doubt Sports Illustrated will recieve much critisism due to this cover. I believe real women started the swimsuit addition of Sports Illustrated, and what SI is saying is that their past models have been fake. Unless, Barbie is a real person…I think they definitley missed their mark, and their swimsuit issue sales will suffer.


  2. While I applaud the creativity that goes with two such different brands collaborating, I’m not sure this will be a successful match. Mattel has already had to deal with the controversy over the body image projected by Barbie, so using the doll as a swimsuit model (another industry criticized about body image) probably won’t help their cause. Clever, yes. Effective? Probably no.


  3. I agree with the above comment- it is an incredibly clever idea that will certainly get buzz, however, it may be more negative talk than positive, which Mattel seemed to be aiming for. Both brands have been held responsible for the unrealistic portrayal of women, and I think they should have considered the whole, “two wrongs don’t make a right,” thing before they decided on this collaboration.


  4. I totally agree that the two target markets are way too different to effectively boost either brand. I think it was a bold choice and very creative, but these two brands just don’t mix. It doesn’t have the same cool factor as seeing other characters in the past on different magazines. I don’t know if it’s just me, but seeing Miss Piggy on the cover of a fashion magazine is a lot cooler than seeing Barbie on Sports Illustrated. The crossover just doesn’t read well for me.


  5. I think the buzz Barbie is getting will be better than the benefit Sports Illustrated is getting from the collaboration. It’s funny to see Barbie on the cover of Sports Illustrated-unless you’re a typical Sports Illustrated subscriber.


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