Globalization Versus Normative Policy: A Case Study on the Failure of the Barbie Doll in the Indian Market

Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall 2011

37 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2011 Last revised: 20 Oct 2014

Date Written: April 4, 2011

Abstract

Barbie leads in the world of young females, with her vast wardrobe, her extensive life experiences, and her many diverse friends. In a drive to capitalize on the growing phenomenon of globalization, Mattel repackages Barbie in a variety of ethnicities. Making superficial ethnic and racial modifications to the doll, such as adorning her unrealistic, sexualized physique in cultural fashions, has been a largely successful marketing strategy for Mattel in many international markets, winning the allegiances of little girls throughout the world. The same strategy, however, utterly failed to capture the hearts, and the brand loyalty, of young female consumers in India.

Mattel no longer aggressively promotes the Barbie doll in India; rather, the global company now mainly markets gender-neutral products, like board games, to the Indian market. Mattel’s attempt to disguise Barbie’s identity as a “symbol of American girlhood” by shrouding her in localized fashions was a marketing technique that did not succeed in India, despite having worked in several other countries. Why? What part of Mattel’s global marketing scheme failed to win over the hearts of little Indian girls? Why did the Indian family reject Barbie as the appropriate toy for their daughters?

To put it simply, the Barbie doll did not succeed in India because the toy failed to encapsulate Indian normative policy. The economic liberalization of Indian foreign trade policy in 1991 gave Mattel the power to build a retail empire in India; yet, the mere presence of pro-business trade laws does not guarantee business success overseas. The multinational corporation entering a foreign market must also adhere to local normative policy. Barbie - even when dressed in Indian clothing and accessories - did not achieve her usual levels of mass popularity in India due to the doll’s inability to overcome Indian norms that repudiate hyper-sexualized and ethnocentric Western depictions of the female form. Although India’s new trade reforms favored Barbie’s presence in India, cultural norms embodied in both written legislation and in the “unwritten laws” of the Indian public precluded Mattel from successfully selling Barbie’s gendered and ethnocentric values to Indian female children. Barbie’s failure to secure popularity in India illustrates an important lesson about the consequences that may arise when a multinational corporation fails to preserve cultural ideology in an attempt to market an originally American brand in international venues.

This case study investigates why Mattel- a multinational corporate giant in the toy industry- did not make a prolific profits from sales of the Barbie doll in India, despite enjoying success in several other international locales. In order for a global corporation to succeed overseas, it must adhere to the written and the unwritten laws of a foreign people. Part I of this paper discusses the era of globalization and its profitable impact on multinationals corporations, like Mattel. This section provides an overview of Mattel’s Barbie brand and its corporate philosophy behind marketing the doll to young girls around the world. Part II examines Mattel’s business practices in the Indian market both before and after India’s economic liberalization in 1991 and discusses the way in which trade policy reforms impacted Mattel. Part III argues that Barbie’s failure in India resulted from the doll’s sexualized body and her inauthentic depiction of Indian culture. This section discusses the way in which Barbie’s hyper-sexualized physique directly defied Indian cultural norms regarding sexuality and gender, ultimately leading to Mattel removing the Barbie doll from the Indian mass market. The article concludes with a reflection on the importance of responsible corporate marketing and the way in which willful ignorance of local normative policy creates a strong risk of international failure.

This article argues that, despite the liberalization of the Indian economy in the early 1990s, Mattel’s entry into the Indian market was unsuccessful because of the inherently flawed, gender exploitative Barbie product. Although India’s liberalized trade reforms favored Barbie’s presence in India, cultural norms embodied in both written legislation and in the “unwritten laws” of the Indian public precluded Mattel from successfully selling Barbie’s gendered and ethnocentric values to Indian female children. Barbie’s failure in India illustrates the consequences of failing to preserve cultural ideology in the attempt to market a global brand.

This study investigates the reasons for why one multinational corporate giant - Mattel, Inc. - failed to capture the Indian market and how other multinational corporations may benefit from the story of Barbie in India. In order for a global corporation to succeed overseas, it must adhere to the written and the unwritten laws of a foreign people. Part I of this paper discusses the era of globalization and its profitable impact on multinational corporations, like Mattel. This section provides an overview of Mattel’s Barbie brand and its corporate philosophy behind marketing the doll to young girls around the world. Part II examines Mattel’s business practices in the Indian market both before and after India’s economic liberalization in 1991 and discusses the way in which reforms in trade policy impacted Mattel. Part III argues that Barbie’s failure in India resulted from the doll’s sexualized body and her inauthentic depiction of Indian culture. This section discusses the way in which Barbie’s hyper-sexualized physique directly defied Indian cultural norms regarding sexuality and gender, ultimately leading to Mattel removing the Barbie doll from the Indian mass market. The article concludes with a reflection on the importance of responsible corporate marketing and the way in which willful ignorance of local normative policy creates a strong risk of international failure.

Suggested Citation

Nemani, Priti, Globalization Versus Normative Policy: A Case Study on the Failure of the Barbie Doll in the Indian Market (April 4, 2011). Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal, Vol. 13, No. 1, Fall 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1802793

Priti Nemani (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

No Address Available

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
679
Abstract Views
4,810
rank
39,417
PlumX Metrics