When Mattel announced that Barbie was changing its brand by adding, among other things, four different body types, some praised them for finally taking a step toward a body positive message and creating realistic standards for young girls everywhere.
Yet, skeptics pointed out that after holding their ground for so long, Mattel only changed their minds — and Barbie’s proportions — due to the company’s decline in popularity, in an attempt to increase declining profits. In fact, part of Mattel’s — and Barbie’s, for that matter — decline was due to Lego’s success with its products aimed at young girls. Hasbro also had a sudden rise when Frozen’s Elsa dethroned Barbie as the most popular girls doll.
For a company that held its ground for so many years by claiming that Barbie’s proportions did not cause body issues in young girls, the sudden move to change physiques seems like a last-ditch effort to boost the doll’s popularity once more.
Body positivity has been a prevalent issue in recent years and by creating this new doll, Mattel can say it supports these ideals — even if they don’t necessarily believe in them. By marketing its toys as inclusive — especially inclusive of the new beliefs their customers have — the company is trying to appeal to what it thinks people will buy.
Similarly, other companies affirm social stances through their marketing. Especially in television commercials, companies have promoted LGBT rights and other social causes. Whether they do it to look better in the eyes of their consumers or because they actually believe in those causes is left to debate. But why is there a need to attach social causes to brands?
When Campbell’s aired a commercial that featured a child with two dads, people were either enraged or excited. Some claimed they were never going to buy Campbell’s again while others pledged their continued support to the brand.
But does a soup really need to be associated with a social cause? Or toys? One could argue that by supporting these causes, these companies create a new normal and promote inclusivity — even when the desired effect in the end is for increased sales. No company is going to do something if it will lose them money.
One positive result of companies promoting inclusivity is that, depending on who you are, you might be more represented and people might become more accepting towards others’ differences. These types of campaigns serve well to promote new ideas — especially to younger children. They could make people more accepting towards others. Or they could produce the opposite effect, and people may oppose their stances and stop buying their products.
Yet we have to remember that companies, regardless of whether their messages have a positive effect on society, just want to sell their product. So they use trends and other strategies to promote whatever it is they’re selling.
The problem with this sort of marketing — besides the fact that we don’t really know if companies conveniently promote these ideas due to trends in social causes or because of their beliefs — is that consumers don’t look beyond the marketing. We support a brand because they say they support gay marriage or something else, but we don’t look behind their perfectly crafted ads to see what kind of impact they’re leaving on the world.
If we really cared about what brands stood for we’d investigate whether or not they used child laborers and if all their employees were given fair wages. But, since outsourcing jobs and giving their employees unfair wages suits us by keeping costs down, we don’t think about it.
Even when a scandal arises, most of us choose to ignore it among promises that the company will rectify the issue.
And yet we get mad and decide not to buy specific brands because of the social message that they are transmitting. Or the opposite, we praise them for supporting them and buy their product more.
Can’t soup just be soup and toys just be toys? Not everything has to be a social cause for something. And buying products because they align with our social ideals just seems like a way to ignore the bigger issues the company might be facing.