At 64, Barbie would qualify for Medicare next year. But the brand feels like it’s just beginning to peak. As we all know, she is now being celebrated in the movie, Barbie. The anticipation and then debut of the movie has stolen the summer. Licensing agreements are drowning us. One of our teammates was served a Barbie Land ad when she started her Lexus. Barbie and accessory sales are expected to grow exponentially in the second half of the year. Creating the movie even caused a global shortage of pink paint.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the Barbie hoopla. However, as marketers, it’s worth a look behind the scenes to better understand why Barbie remains relevant. Like most brands, Barbie has had her problems. Mattel, the owner of the brand franchise, was slow to diversify her.

For a lot of brands, especially toys, nostalgia is drag on staying relevant. Brand managers over-value and/or are uncertain about what to keep and what to evolve. Keep the pink. Challenge everything else.

Barbie as a Challenger Brand

Mattel challenged itself to transform the brand. They understood the need to make her relevant. Now Barbie and friends have many different skin tones and shapes. Mattel produces Barbies in wheelchairs and Ken dolls with the skin condition vitiligo.

Only after Barbie had been reinvented did Mattel decide they were ready for the movie. And that’s taken more than four years to craft.

Think what you want about Barbie, but there are lessons to be learned for how Mattel has kept the brand relevant. Culture can move a lot faster than legacy brands, but it’s never too late catch up, or even start leading. Where Barbie was once vilified by the 2nd and 3rd waves of feminism, it’s now celebrated in the 4th wave.

As Barbie would probably suggest, every brand needs a makeover from time to time.