an Ad a Day

A look at the marketing that surrounds us.

Vintage Friday: Meet Barbie and Her Friends!

Posted by Rosepixie on October 2, 2009

This is the very first commercial for Barbie from 1959.  It was shown during the Mickey Mouse Club.

I think it’s interesting how it actually encourages girls to dream of growing up to be exactly like Barbie.  She didn’t even have friends or a personality or background in 1959.  All anyone knew about her was that she was a teenage fashion model and had tons of pretty (if often ever-so-slightly out of fashion) clothes.  So what were you dreaming to be if you wanted to be exactly like Barbie when you grew up?  I also like that she was described as petite, since that was a desirable feature then.  This descriptor has long since been dropped from Barbie’s marketing.

Then we have Ken’s first commercial from 1961 (because she needed a boyfriend).  I can’t find Midge’s first commercial, but she came before Ken and must have had one, right?  At least I hope so, since Allen got his own first commercial a few years later!

Ken doesn’t get a perky theme song, but he does get a whole background story explaining how he’s connected to Barbie and how they met.  Not that he has any personality, but he makes up for it with a whole wardrobe of “perfectly tailored clothes”.  This commercial really reinforces that Barbie and Ken are supposed to be teenagers, which seems less clear in Barbie’s commercial.

Although we could go on forever with this, since Barbie’s world is made up of an incredible number of characters (she was unimaginably popular, although apparently made friends with few guys over the past fifty years), I’m going to share only one more commercial today.  This last one is Skipper’s very own first commercial from 1964.

Wow.  Skipper sounds like the most annoying little tag-along sister, doesn’t she?  For some reason, her hair is apparently more fun to play with than Barbie’s too.  What I find interesting here is that although she’s younger, closer to the age of the girls playing with the dolls (and certainly much younger than the Skipper we know today), we aren’t encouraged to identify with Skipper at all.  We’re supposed to want to be Barbie and want to brush Skipper’s hair.  Does this seem odd to anyone else?

Incidentally, Skipper is the first of Barbie’s siblings to be introduced, but she’s apparently got several stair-stepping down like the Brady Bunch, all the way down to baby Chrissy.  And even though we’ve met all these siblings (even the baby), we’ve never met Barbie’s parents.  She must have at least a mom around somewhere, right?  We have met Midge’s mom and dad, but somehow, Barbie’s parents have stayed safely in the wings.  They must be hiding in Willows, WI (the hometown Barbie never seems to visit anymore).

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