Advocacy groups urge Girl Scouts to end partnership with Mattel and Barbie

A few weeks after her foray into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Barbie is entangled in controversy again, this time over her ties with the Girl Scouts. Two advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics _ the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream _ on Thursday urged […]

A few weeks after her foray into the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Barbie is entangled in controversy again, this time over her ties with the Girl Scouts.

Two advocacy groups often critical of corporate advertising tactics _ the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Center for a New American Dream _ on Thursday urged the Girl Scouts of the USA to end its partnership with the doll’s manufacturer, the Mattel toy company.

The partnership, announced last August, includes a Barbie-themed activity book, a website, and a Barbie participation patch _ the first Girl Scout uniform patch with corporate sponsorship.

“Holding Barbie, the quintessential fashion doll, up as a role model for Girl Scouts simultaneously sexualizes young girls, idealizes an impossible body type, and undermines the Girl Scouts’ vital mission to build ‘girls of courage, confidence and character,’” said Susan Linn, director of the Boston-based commercial-free childhood organization.

She said the Barbie patch – targeted at 5-to-8-year-old Daisies and Brownies – would transform these girls into “walking advertisements.”

“This is product placement at its worst,” said New American Dream’s executive director, Wendy Philleo, who described herself as a longtime admirer of the Girl Scouts.

“Our children are already being bombarded by marketers’ pitches at stores, at home, online, on TV, and in school,” said Philleo, whose Charlottesville, Va.-based group tries to counter the commercialization of American culture.

The Girl Scouts’ national headquarters in New York rejected the groups’ appeal.

“Our partnership with Mattel focuses on career exploration and teaches girls about inspiring women in a fun way,” its statement said. “We stand behind this partnership, as it helps us bring to over 2 million Girl Scouts the message that they can do anything.”

That’s the essence of the Barbie uniform patch – a bright pink oval with a gold-letter slogan stitched on it: “Be anything. Do everything.”

Barbie – still slim-waisted and long-legged after 55 years – had pursued roughly 150 different careers, and she stretched her boundaries again in February by posing along with real-life supermodels in Sports Illustrated’s 50th anniversary swimsuit issue. Anticipating the criticism that ensued, Mattel promoted the campaign with the catchword “unapologetic.”

In announcing the partnership with Mattel last August, Girl Scouts CEO Anna Maria Chavez depicted both her own organization and Barbie as “American icons.”

“Together, we are teaching girls that their futures are wide open with possibilities,” Chavez said at the time.

The Girl Scouts have not disclosed the monetary value of the partnership with Mattel.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said that a game on the Girl Scouts’ Barbie-themed website encouraged girls to identify careers based on attire – “from a veterinarian in a frilly miniskirt, to a pink-suited U.S. president, to a race car driver in stilettos.”

Said Susan Linn, the campaign director, “The website is little more than an interactive ad for Barbie promoting the brand’s insidious message that women really are what they wear.”

Due to their size and high profile, the Girl Scouts have been a frequent target of criticism over the years, notably from certain conservatives who contend – despite the Girl Scouts’ repeated denials – that the organization tilts toward the abortion-rights side of the national abortion debate.

Last month, some anti-abortion groups launched a boycott of the Girl Scouts’ annual drive to sell cookies.

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