Helen Wang

When Barbie went down in 2011 in Shanghai yet another icon of US consumerism failed in China. Author Helen Wang looks back in Forbes and describes what Mattel did wrong.

Helen Wang:

Mattel didn’t quite understand what Chinese girls and young women want. The Chinese concept of “femininity” is very different from that of American. In China, “feminine” is more about sweet and soft rather than smart and strong, more about gentle and loving rather than dazzling and fashion-forward.  Although it has created a Chinese Barbie Ling with black hair who wears Chinese attire, Mattel failed to understand what Ling would represent in order to appeal to Chinese girls.

Instead of making Barbie a fashion and lifestyle brand, Mattel should have made Barbie an aspirational brand to empower Chinese girls. The idea of “I can be” is not encouraged in Chinese society, but is exactly what Chinese girls need. If Barbie, or Ling for that matter, could become a role model for Chinese girls, she would have re-invented herself and Mattel would have had a better chance to succeed in China…

Mattel tried to bring a 50-year-old brand to a new market that had just gotten to know Barbie. Chinese consumers are new consumers. They are not yet as sophisticated as their counterparts in the West. Although China has changed significantly, it hasn’t changed to the point that 6-year-old girls would want to have their own fashion runway. I grew up with only one doll. Many women of my age didn’t even have dolls when they grew up. Although my niece now has many dolls, I am afraid that having a design studio to design her own dolls is too much of a luxury for her. The market was simply not ready for that.

More in Forbes. 

Helen Wang is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

On Thursday November 1 the China Weekly Hangout will focus on eight years of harmonious society under Hu Jintao and what we can expect the next eight years under Xi Jinping. Including Janet Carmosky who will report on the findings during the National Committee on US-China Relations China Town Hall on Monday. The CWH is held on 10pm Beijing time, 3pm CET (Europe) and 10pm EST (US). More on the logistics of the hangout later this week at the China Herald or our event page at Google+.

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