Barbie's Going Big or Going Home With Her Ambitions to Close the 'Dream Gap'

Doll play just got way more interesting

Drawing from research that shows girls start losing confidence in their competence by age 5, Barbie has launched the Dream Gap Project to raise awareness about helping girls reach their potential over many years.

Below is the spot, created by BBDO San Francisco and free of low-hanging emotional triggers—apart from the fact that it's composed of a bunch of kids. (But seriously, we're just glad it's not another #LikeaGirl.)

The Dream Gap Project | Barbie

Age 5 has been a childhood development benchmark since Freud declared that's when personalities become fixed. Whether or not that's true, certain funny things do happen by a kid's fifth year. Boys start falling behind girls in school, and never really quite catch up. Meanwhile, girls become sexualized by the outside world and begin believing brilliance is exclusively male.

Take those individual ideas and scale them across the timeline of one life, then many, then a community. What do you get? Look around the angry internet.

What's more, Barbie is one of those toys that's controversial for modern parents. In many ways she embodies the constraints around girls—or kids generally—that we want to leave behind, up there with princesses and exclusively pink bedrooms. 

She's heterosexual and white, and has mostly been surrounded by white doll friends. She's painfully girly; her iconic convertible and Dream House remain a sickening shade of Pepto Bismol rosé. Her surreal body proportions betray an awkward history: She was inspired by a German gag gift for men.

And while her Instagram account has evolved with the times, she remains mostly interested in fashion, fun and staying in her damn lane. 

There's not much you can do about the fact that some kids like playing with dolls, or the fact that Barbie is one. The brand is doing what it can with the means it has—making the idea of play and imagination with dolls one that's more about potential than about, well … tiny little high-heeled shoes.

"Since 1959, Barbie has inspired the limitless potential in every girl, and we believe that empowering them at a young age is a catalyst to unlocking their full potential," says general manager and svp Lisa McKnight of Barbie. "The goal of the Dream Gap Project is to leverage Barbie's global platforms to educate society on gender biases and inspire any supporter of girls to join us as we can't do this alone." 

"Dream Gap" is intended to impact girls between the ages of 5 and 7. Over two years, Mattel will fund a post-doctoral fellowship with associate professor Andrei Cimpian of New York University to learn more about girls around the world.

These will be the points of focus:

• Creating content around how adults can support the girls in their lives.
• Highlighting at least 10 empowering female role models each year globally. (Hello, Frida Kahlo doll! Sucks about Mexico.)
• Using Barbie media for teachable moments. Barbie Vlogger, for example, has already geeked out on "science and space!", highlighting Katherine Johnson (who is also a Mattel doll now). 
• Leveraging other products to expand girls' dreams by highlighting unrepresented careers. 
• Rallying partners worldwide to build on these initiatives. 

We like the fact that Dream Gap's ambitions comprise efforts already in progress; it's not a promise, it's a longer commitment. 

And if nothing else, the BBDO video tells us a lot: Barbie's flush, but she isn't going to use expensive production values to superfluously elicit emotion about a topic that increasingly feels like an uphill battle as #MeToo bears miserably on. She wants to solve a problem over time, using facts, and in ways relevant to her market offering. 

"Our research is just the beginning. We need to dedicate more resources to this important topic so that we can better understand how to support girls," says professor Cimpian. "This collaboration with Barbie is a large-scale, ambitious effort to explore this important phenomenon and share what we know about childhood development to a mass audience, so we can help close the Dream Gap." 

It also bears remembering that kids don't just play with dolls. They do a lot of stuff, and dolls are one component. Playing with dolls also nourishes other kinds of exploration, and informs other interests—science experiments, reading, dress-up, video games. 

I only wish Barbie's ambitions had been this wide-ranging when I was a kid who had dozens strewn around the house. The only thing I could think to do with her at the time was mutilate her hair.

Agency: BBDO San Francisco
Client: Barbie
Title: "Barbie Dream Gap" 

Chief Creative Officer, Worldwide: David Lubars 
Chief Creative Officer, SF: Matt Miller
Associate Creative Director: Adam Balogh 
Associate Creative Director: Jason Moussalli 
Head of Integrated Production: Louise Doherty 

Business Affairs: Jacqueline Djanikian
Group Account Director: Kim Fredkin 
Account Director: Nicole Dongara 
Account Supervisor: Alex Hamill 

Chief Strategy Officer: Crystal Rix 
Group Strategy Director: Jessica Strode 

Production Company: Slim Pictures Inc. 
Director: Karen Cunningham 
Executive Producer: Tom Weissferdt
Executive Producer: Catherine Finkenstaedt
Producer: Al Cooper

Edit House: Bread & Butter 
Editor: Andrea MacArthur

Colorist: Company 3 
Senior Colorist : Sophie Borup

Visual Effects: Jane Studios 
Creative Director: David Parker
Flame Artist: Tim Bird 
Producer: David Won
Executive Producer: Nancy Hwang

Sound Designer: One Union Recording
Senior Sound Engineer: Joaby Deal 
Senior Sound Engineer: Matt Zipkin
Executive Producer: Vickie Sornsilp 
Principal Composer: Amber Music 
Exec Producer: Michelle Curran
Music Supervisor/Producer: Mike Perri 

Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad is the European markets editor at Muse by Clio. She also writes about gaming and fashion, and whatever else she's interested in, really. She's based in Paris and North Italy, so if you're local, say hi. She might eat all your food.

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