Mattel, the maker of Barbie, appears to be wading into a PR quagmire over a request to make a bald version of the doll that can inspire cancer sufferers and their families.
Two Long Island, N.Y., women, Jane Bingham and Beckie Sypin, created a Facebook page calling for a Bald Barbie after they heard about a 4-year-old girl from Mineola who lost her hair after cancer treatment. The girl’s parents happened to know the CEO of Mattel, Bryan G. Stockton:
Genesis Reyes, who missed having her “princess” hair, inspired the parent of another patient in the hospital to ask the CEO of Mattel, who happened to be a personal friend, to create a special bald Barbie doll for Genesis.
What did Stockton do? He didn’t respond. Big mistake.
As Jim Joseph, president of ad agency Lippe Taylor, noted on his blog:
I’m also not sure that Mattel responded in the most 2012 social-media-savvy kind of way. They pretty much turned their backs to it … but a can of worms was opened and it became a feeding frenzy …
The American Cancer Society also stumbled on the issue, initially criticising the idea and then apologizing for its criticism:
Andrew Becker, a director of media relations for the American Cancer Society, drew ire after posting a controversial blog post on the American Cancer Society’s website called “Bald Barbie Demand Is an Over-Reach.” In the post, Becker said the Bald Barbie movement could “do more harm than good for kids and parents.”
He then apologized and took it down.
The odd thing is that Mattel makes one-off collectible Barbies all the time. It recently did a limited edition punk Barbie with tattoos. It wouldn’t be offensive or out of character to auction off a small number of bald Barbies as a fundraiser. And yet, presented with an easy opportunity to perform an on-brand act of charity, Stockton has instead generated negative headlines for his company.