Barbie Is Featured On The Cover Of The 2014 ‘Sports Illustrated’ Swimsuit Issue


For the first time ever, and in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the magazine, the Barbie doll is featured on the cover and in the pages of the annual Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. As you may be well aware, both Barbie and Sports Illustrated have been criticized in the past over their depictions of the female form and over claims that they offer a skewed and unrealistic impression of female beauty. As such, the two entities have teamed up for this new collaboration and have dubbed the promo campaign #Unapologetic. On the one hand, I can absolutely understand how this pairing could make for a genius marketing move (after all, almost everyone is very familiar with Barbie, the SI Swimsuit Issue or both) but, again, I expect that critics will have a field day with this #Unapologetic collaboration. Click below to get your first look at Barbie on the cover of this year’s SI Swimsuit Issue and learn more about this historic pairing.

TWO familiar brands that have for decades been the targets of complaints about their depictions of women have joined forces for a promotional campaign that tells critics they are proudly “unapologetic” about who they are. The brands are Barbie, sold by Mattel, and the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The campaign is centered on the 50th anniversary edition of the issue, which is to come out next Tuesday, and presents Barbie as a doll-size version of the magazine’s supermodels like Tyra Banks and Christie Brinkley, clad in a new version of the black-and-white swimsuit she wore when introduced in 1959. “Unapologetic,” the theme of the campaign, is underlined by its use, with a hashtag in front, in social media like Twitter, as well as on a billboard in Times Square. “As a legend herself, and under constant criticism about her body and how she looks, posing in” the issue “gives Barbie and her fellow legends an opportunity to own who they are, celebrate what they have done and be #unapologetic,” Mattel said in a statement on Tuesday. The partnership includes a four-page advertising feature in the magazine, photographed by Walter Iooss Jr., who has been shooting the magazine’s (human) swimsuit models for four decades; video clips; a cover wrap that will appear on 1,000 copies of the issue, declaring Barbie to be “The Doll That Started It All”; a limited-edition Sports Illustrated Barbie, to be sold exclusively on; and a beach-themed party on Monday night in Lower Manhattan. The alliance of the two brands ignited an online debate on Tuesday over the images of both Barbie and the swimsuit issue. Mattel has long contended with complaints that Barbie, with her lithesome figure and focus on fashion, is not a positive role model for girls. At the same time, Sports Illustrated is no favorite of some critics who believe that the swimsuit issue objectifies women … Mattel has been reaching out for some time to other brands to help its efforts aimed at redefining Barbie’s image, making the doll more appealing to contemporary consumers and addressing concerns that Barbie promotes unrealistic attitudes about the female body. Other examples include a campaign promoting a new Barbie beach house, which included the Bravo series “Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles” and the real estate website Trulia, and the introduction of versions of Barbie (and Ken) styled after characters on the AMC series “Mad Men.” “We’re always challenging ourselves to think differently about Barbie and how we can continue to keep her relevant,” said Lisa McKnight, senior vice president of marketing for North America at Mattel in El Segundo, Calif. Mattel is trying to do for Barbie what Sports Illustrated has sought to do for years on behalf of the issue: leave behind perceptions of babes in bathing suits and compare Barbie to swimsuit alumna like Ms. Banks, Ms. Brinkley, Kathy Ireland and Heidi Klum, who are celebrated for their accomplishments as entrepreneurs and career women. “We’re focusing on the legendary women of Sports Illustrated who, like Barbie, launched their careers in a swimsuit,” Ms. McKnight said … “Unapologetic” is a word that Mattel executives use internally, Ms. McKnight said, and “this is the first time we’re engaging in a conversation publicly.” The efforts at Mattel to reshape Barbie’s image may be taking on added urgency after sales results during the crucial holiday shopping season, which fell short of expectations among investors and corporate management. “The reality is, we just didn’t sell enough Barbie dolls,” Bryan G. Stockton, chief executive, said in a conference call with analysts on Jan. 31. Sales of Barbie fell 13 percent in the fourth quarter compared with the period the previous year. The partnership with Barbie is “a very exciting creative collaboration,” said John Joannides, associate publisher at Sports Illustrated in New York, published by the Time Inc. division of Time Warner, “one icon to another” … Mattel paid for the opportunity to integrate Barbie into the commemoration of the anniversary; Mattel and Sports Illustrated declined to be more specific.

In terms of marketing and advertising, this is a smart move on both ends … tho, I think, Sports Illustrated comes out as the smarter of the two. SI was paid a handsome fee to put Barbie on their cover and will enjoy massive amounts of attention as a result. This is a total win/win situation for SI. For Mattel and Barbie, I think it’s less of a smart move (even tho my guess is that the collaboration with SI will prove fruitful). I guess the problem that I see is that a doll that is marketed for young girls is also being advertised on the cover and in the pages of a magazine that is not marketed to young girls. What does it say to a 10 year old when she sees her favorite doll in a magazine that features scantily clad women as well. Does the young girl become empowered from such imagery or does she learn that the “ideals of female beauty” rely on “perfect” body proportion in bikinis? It’s an interesting question. It’s clear that Mattel has been #Unapologetic for years but I also find it striking that they are now willing to be so open with the use of the word. It’s like they’re saying, We know some of you won’t like this particular ad campaign but we’re not sorry … and, essentially, We don’t care. That doesn’t seem like a smart way to entice sales of your product. Even if they feel a certain segment of consumers won’t buy their Barbie dolls, why poke those consumers with a stick by saying, We’re not sorry that you are offended? In purely pop cultural terms, this is a historic move for both brands. The marriage of Barbie and the SI Swimsuit Issue is a match made in heaven where pop culture is concerned. Tho, even still … I’m very curious to hear what parents of young girls who play with Barbies think. Is this a matter that bothers you parents? Or, in your opinion, is it now big deal?


  • Vicky

    Damn I wish I had hair like that.

  • Krissy

    I feel like the main consumers of the swimsuit issue are boys that aren’t old enough to buy p0rn yet. I don’t think they will be enticed by a Barbie on the cover. They want boobs!

    This might get attention, but I don’t think it will sell well. I guess we will see!

    • OG Emily

      LMAO Krissy, I was going to say, “Teenage boys will be SO disappointed.”

    • @Krissy — The Barbie cover will only appear on 1000 issues, I believe. It will get snapped up by collectors, I’m sure … those issues will be all bought up for sure … and the rest of the issues will feature the regular cover.

    • Krissy

      Oh, ok. That makes more sense. There are definitely at least 1000 rabid Barbie collectors out there, so I agree that this will sell out then.

  • OG Emily

    I’m confused more than anything else. I’m a business and marketing person, read this entire article, and I’m still confused. I mean, for Barbie I get it, they’re trying to be relevant. For SI, I just really don’t get it. Barbie doesn’t appeal to their demographic. This cover looks like a toy store cover, and if I were an SI customer I’d be hella confused and disappointed by lack of boobies.
    Also confused by use of #unapologetic – I don’t think this is particularly controversial, so why introduce the concept now? This is just a big head scratcher and IMHO won’t meet either party’s objectives. SI customers are not Barbie’s demo and Barbie won’t gain any relevance with that crowd.

  • Brenna Fender

    I’m glad my daughter would rather collect crime-fighting fairy dolls than Barbies. :)

    • Krissy

      Do you have any recommendations? I am going to see my 2 1/2 year old niece this spring, and I am trying to think of some strong women type activities for us to do. (She is incredibly verbal and talks more like a 4 or 5 year old). I have been researching books with strong girl characters, and have been thinking about bringing accessories for dress up that are like “safari adventure hat” or “Amelia Earheart fighter pilot hat”, etc. She has received a LOT of princess type stuff from her grandma, and I just want to balance that out a bit. ;)

  • Kiki1976

    Barbie obviously appeals to young girls and the parents that buy the dolls for them. (Let’s not get into the debate of girls and dolls and antiquated role models and gender roles. Let’s face it, girls like dolls.) SI appeals to basically men. Even more so with the swimsuit issue. So the first thing that comes to my mind when I see this, is that both companies are kind of on the opposite ends of the spectrum, and maybe this is their way of pulling the other over to their side. They both could say, “Hey, don’t blame us. We’re not the only ones objectifying women, look what they’re doing?” Both companies could say this pointing their finger at the other. So why not team up? At the very least, it’s certain to spark some dialogue.