NEW YORK (AP) — In and out of the big screen, Barbie’s world and Ken lives in it.
Barbie has always been more popular than Ken, as reflected in Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster film about the legacy of Mattel’s famous doll. According to Jim Silver, toy industry expert and CEO of the TTPM review site, eight to 10 Barbies are typically sold for every Ken doll sold today.
It’s unclear whether Warner Bros’ production “Barbie”, also co-produced by Mattel, will increase Ken’s production and sales. However, Silver noted that the film has “showed more interest in Ken than Ken has seen” for decades.
Ken was first introduced in 1961, two years after Barbie hit store shelves. But it hasn’t had nearly the same impact on the Barbie universe since.
“Barbie’s world is about Barbie. And (to some) Ken can be some kind of accessory,” said Ed Timke, an assistant professor in advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, pointing to years of marketing that naturally put the Barbie in center stage.
The new interest around Ken also backfired after the release of “Barbie.” Many note that the movie is about Barbie – not Ken – and that the spotlight should stay here.
Still, the dynamic between Barbie and Ken in the movie might have people reflecting on some big questions about gender and Ken’s evolution over the years.
Who and how has Ken changed as a toy?
Ken’s relationship with Barbie has been up for debate since the two of them hit the toy aisle together. While Mattel announced Ken as long-time Barbie’s boyfriend – and even detailing their breakup in 2004 and their reconciliation seven years later – many saw Ken as Barbie’s best friend and sometimes the weirdo icon. The New York Historical Society notes that Earring Magic Ken, a 1993 version of Ken in particular, has become quite popular with LGBTQ consumers. At the time, Mattel denied that Earring Magic Ken was weird and later pulled it off the shelves.
Other popular versions of Ken have ranged from the 1984 Dream Date Ken wearing a tuxedo to the 1978 Superstar Ken and 1979 Sun Malibu Ken (as reflected in Ryan Gosling’s character), which has become one of the baby’s most iconic looks. While Ken has had far fewer career changes than Barbie, his resume includes titles such as astronaut, barista, country western singer, and doctor.
“The great thing is that kids are free to take on their dolls any role they want,” said Ann Herzog, clinical instructor of child life and family-centered care at Boston University.
She also highlighted the importance of diversity in toy collections, “providing opportunities for open-ended play and not promoting stereotypes that the Barbie collection and dolls in general are gender-specific.”
Although children of all genders, including little boys, have played with Barbie and Ken over the years, Timke points out the contrasts in advertisements for products historically viewed as “boys toys”, noting that “marketing is strictly girlish” for both figures. . Like GI Joe. This legacy and other socialization still influences who plays with certain toys today.
Yet Ken – like Barbie – has evolved over time and become more diverse, especially after Mattel introduced more skin tones, body types, hairstyles, and more for Ken dolls in 2017. Some Kens also have prosthetic legs, wheelchairs and hearing aids. Silver said increases in various representations, along with similar changes seen for Barbie since 2016, have boosted the doll’s popularity and comeback sales.
Will Barbie (and Ken) sales increase after the movie’s release?
Mattel did not respond to Associated Press requests for data or comment on certain Ken and Barbie sales seen before and after “Barbie’s” debut on July 21. But overall Barbie sales for the US toy industry rose 40% in the last two weeks of July compared to the same period in 2022, according to market research firm Circana.
Circana does not separate Ken from Barbie sales. Still, Circana’s Vice President of the US toy industry adviser Juli Lennett wrote in an email to the Associated Press, “I suspect there will be a strong increase in sales of Ken dolls with the film.” Additional experts were also expecting a surge in interest, but were unsure of the long-term.
Lennett noted that the best-selling “Barbie” movie item in the last two weeks of July was the Barbie Gingham Dress, followed by the Ken Doll Set. Between those two products, she said, Barbie almost sold Ken for two.
For the second quarter of 2023, which ended weeks before the movie’s release, worldwide Barbie sales, excluding adjustments, actually fell 6%. Mattel executives told analysts that sales increased in July and that he expects the film to have a halo effect on the brand in the coming years.
Explaining that there was a stock transfer in the toy industry in the first half of the year, Silver states that record sales in the first years of the pandemic led to overbuying at the end of 2022. Barbie predicts a rebound in sales. Entering the holiday season with high toy spending and “Barbie” finally finds its way to flow.
And of course, sales after the release of “Barbie” won’t be limited to the toy aisle. Other branded items are also gaining popularity from the movie, including Ken-focused items such as “I am Kenough” sweatshirts and other “Ken-ergy” apparel, currently sold by third-party vendors on the following sites besides Mattel, Amazon and Walmart.