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Nestled between ads for beer and cars, the ‘Dads Who Play Barbie’ campaign that aired during the NFL playoffs was a 30-second spot targeting fathers. It continues Mattel’s strategy of promoting the evolving role dads have in childrearing.

The campaign features six real dads and their young daughters. "You would do anything, anything to make her happy," says one dad in the spot, in between clips of him playing with his daughter. “This body of work celebrates the incredible moments that every dad can have with his daughter,” says Matt Miller, executive creative director at BBDO San Francisco, “if he's just willing to pick up a Barbie."

Why shouldn’t dads play with dolls?
Barbie (2017) ©

In the US, the amount of time fathers spend with their children has nearly tripled from a generation ago, with 75% of dads responsible for their kids’ wellbeing. But only 20% see that reflected in media, with less than 2% of ads featuring men playing with children. Mattel isn’t the only brand to be paying attention to this shift, though – Pantene’s 2016 Super Bowl spot used on-field role models to encourage dads to wash their daughters’ hair, while Fatherly is an online media outlet intended to support and advise new dads. 

Mattel’s campaign – while highlighting the role of modern fatherhood – is inspired by research from Wake Forest University that found, “the more involved a dad is in his daughter’s imaginative play, the more he contributes to her real-life development.” And at a time when Barbie’s facing stiff competition from alternative toy brands, what better way to earn a few extra brownie points with the parents?


Isabel Pickard is a Psychology graduate currently based in Warwickshire. She has an avid interest in human behaviour and is curious to explore this in new and diverse cultures.

Canvas8

30 Jan 17
2 min read

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