“Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”
— Hedy Lamarr

Barbie? Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash

Guess what? Barbie turns sixty this year. In my opinion, she still looks pretty good for her age. A little nip and tuck along the chin line and some exercise to keep the muscle tone hasn’t hurt any. She never seems to put on an ounce of weight, unlike a lot of other dolls, so apparently fame never led her to change her values, or or diet.

Back in the early Sixties my mom used to sew Barbie clothes for my cousins as well as other girls in the ‘hood. For the purpose of fitting the clothes she sewed she had a couple Barbies we dressed for success, for the beach or for the ball at my mother’s whim. Because it seemed unseemly to her, she eventually bought a Ken doll to keep her boys from playing with Barbie.

Barbie eventually became the unrivaled brand champion in the international toy category.

One of the hallmarks of capitalism is the manner in which companies battle for marketshare and top-of-mind awareness in consumers. In marketing, companies seek not only to define their brand, its name and assets, but also to enthrone it in the center of the consumer’s mind.

Brush & ink illustration by the author.

Branding is a way in which a company differentiates itself from the competition. You can see this in the variety of flavors in which rock and roll came to America in what is known as “the British Invasion.” The Animals, Beau Brummels, Beatles, Dave Clark Five, Rolling Stones, The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience were groups which crossed the seas to win the hearts of young Americans, with varying degrees of success. (Hendrix himself was from Portland, but his group originated across the big pond.)

Over time, with the onslaught of fame and the music scene tabloids, the individuals within these groups became brands in and of themselves, again with varying degrees of success. Each of the Beatles went this route, as did Eric Burdon of the Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Clapton. If you said Jagger, everyone would know what you meant. He was clearly defined — the androgynous guy with big lips and hip walk — and even became a caricature of himself. Keith Richards represented everything you didn’t want your daughter to associate with. Though The Beatles played up their innocence and charm, eventually their various personas emerged.

Brand images are not always a positive. The Standard Oil Company spent a great deal of money trying to come up with a unique company name that had no liabilities in any language. They came up with the word Exxon. Unfortunately for Exxon, for years the image that popped immediately to mind when much of the environmentally conscious public hears the word is Exxon Valdez. The 1989 oil spill off Alaska’s Prince William Sound continues to rankle some.

The top five global brands of 2008* were Coca-Cola, IBM, Microsoft, General Electric and Nokia, in that order. Number six on the list was Toyota, the highest ranked automobile company. In 2001, Ford was the world’s top automotive brand, listed eighth, one slot behind Disney. But less than 10 years later, slotted at 49, Ford exemplified the slipping U.S. auto industry. (Now #35, so clawing back, but a lot of work ahead to displace Honda, BMW and Toyota.)

When we say beer, Anheuser-Busch wants you to think of Budweiser, the King of beers. Ranked #33 in the 2008 list of Best Global Brands, Budweiser is now being challenged by a Chinese beer of all things.

Actually, Budweiser’s number one seller 10 years ago was Bud Lite, which proves the company made a good move back in the Seventies when they saw the lite beer trend coming and fought hard to establish their cred in that arena. In the 661 billion dollar beer market, SABMiller’s Snow has been the world’s best selling beer for these past ten years, still #1 in 2018.

Well, back to Barbie, who in 2001 was ranked 84 in the list of Best Global Brands. Times have changed. In the current top one hundred, Barbie again failed to make the cut. That’s why she’s recently been spotted in several Manhattan taverns crying in her beer. And rumor has it she’s also been cited for drunk driving on Long Island. Twice. Fortunately, by keeping it out of the tabloids it hasn’t done too much damage to her brand image… unlike some other ditzy blondes in the news, for better or worse, though in that celebrity culture, sometimes even bad news is good, as long as they’re still talking about you.

*When I first wrote this, before updating.
Originally published at

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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