Mattel Diversity Initiatives Usher Barbie into New Era

Mattel Diversity Initiatives Usher Barbie into New Era

UCLA Anderson alumnus Nathan Baynard (’11) helped reestablish the brand

Barbie VP of global brand marketing Nathan Baynard (’11) has worked for the award-winning brand since 2013

  • Mattel’s Dream Gap Project, Creatable World and Barbie Fashionistas consider the importance of products that represent all consumers
  • Throughout his nine-year tenure with the legendary brand, UCLA Anderson alumnus Nathan Baynard (’11) has enjoyed evolving roles developing stories and experiences for consumers to connect to
  • He credits Anderson with teaching him how to build an effective team and preparing him for a major corporate position

Empowering children is an important mission. As Mattel’s vice president of global marketing – Barbie and dolls portfolio, Nathan Baynard (’11) considers this a daily goal. Though not immediately equated with the dual psychology and theater degrees he earned from Stanford University, Baynard’s career journey — one that started at UCLA Anderson — is exactly where he was meant to be.

Post-Stanford, while working as an associate producer at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre (ACT), Baynard was accepted to Anderson. “I saw getting my MBA as an opportunity to have a more solid business background,” he says. “I felt if I was going to be in a major business position, I wanted to have those fundamentals and academic rigor. Anderson has that.”

But when Baynard received a dream job offer to become New York Stage and Film’s (NYSAF) general manager, Anderson allowed him to defer his enrollment. He worked two and a half years at NYSAF, gaining the experience of running a small business and better preparing himself to focus on earning his MBA.

At Anderson, Baynard partook in the school’s networking activities and recruiting events, and landed a few internships in entertainment while also pondering opportunities that represented a career switch.

“If we were going to inspire every girl, we needed to make sure they saw themselves and the world around them in our product line, which meant increasing racial, body and ability representation.”

By chance, he met with Mattel Inc., a company with strong ties to Anderson. “The more I talked to them, the more I became fascinated by their product development process and how they thought about IP [intellectual property] and their brands,” Baynard says.

When it came to developing a story and experiences for consumers to connect to, Baynard found himself drawn to Mattel’s Barbie brand and its more than 90% global awareness. “As someone with a theater background interested specifically in brand marketing oriented around storytelling, it resonated with me,” he says. “I loved the idea of getting to sink my teeth into a brand with such legacy, history and complexity.”

In 2011, Mattel came knocking about an opening on Barbie’s global brand team. The gig, associate marketing manager, focused on developing marketing plans around the releases of 15 movies with Universal Studios based on the Barbie catalog. Baynard’s live events and theater background, as well as his Anderson internship with Universal, made it an ideal fit. “It was a connecting-of-the-dots moment across pieces of my background and what I’d unlocked through Anderson,” he says.

At the time, Mattel was launching a Barbie series on YouTube, which was just emerging as a platform. “We got to 500,000 subscribers in that first year,” Baynard says. “Now we have over 10 million.” On the experience side of things, Mattel was launching a program with Royal Caribbean cruise line with the development of an add-on Barbie experience package. “It was a meaty thing to dive into and forced me to quickly connect to different parts of the organization, create new systems and be entrepreneurial in an established, large corporation.”

Over the last nine years with Mattel, Baynard’s role has evolved. As manager of entertainment strategy and marketing, he worked with the Barbie portfolio across short- and long-form content with Universal, while also establishing Netflix as Mattel’s primary partner. He credits Anderson, particularly his stint as MBA orientation co-director, with teaching him how to build an effective team.

Three years into his tenure, a reorganization moved Baynard away from the Barbie brand into another area of content and content distribution, something that didn’t click. “I loved being at the heart of the brand and on the team setting the vision for what we would accomplish with this billion-dollar-plus brand.” When Baynard first got into brand marketing, he focused exclusively on Barbie, then he jumped at the opening of a brand marketing position focused on macro brand strategy and campaigns for Mattel’s entire dolls portfolio that encompasses about 15 brands and several teams.

With the new job came challenges. “Business was declining,” Baynard says. “We were searching for the right insights to reestablish the business and brand.” Portfolio and lifecycle management were crucial. “It’s rare to have a doll that lasts 60 years in the toy industry,” Baynard says of the Barbie brand. “That side of the business is much more volatile and dynamic, which has been a really fun part of my job.”

Two recent projects have been rewarding: the Barbie Dream Gap Project and Creatable World. “Philanthropy and doing good in the world is something the team has wanted to do for many years, but was trying to crack the nut on the right mission and issues appropriate for the brand,” Baynard says of these programs.

“I loved the idea of getting to sink my teeth into a brand with such legacy, history and complexity.”

The Dream Gap Project was first sparked when Mattel came across research from New York University’s psychology department. The phenomenon the NYU team uncovered? Around age 6, girls suddenly develop a belief that they’re not as smart or capable as boys. Mattel enlisted NYU’s Andrei Cimpian to delve deeper and conduct further research into gender perspective differences in kids, an area often underfunded.

Mattel’s Barbie Fashionistas

Launched in 2018, the Dream Gap Project seeks to empower young girls subjected to self-limiting beliefs and gender barriers, a societal issue shown to set in as early as age 5. Mattel established an internal language, realigning its messaging around empowerment. “This begot a whole new brand campaign and a diversification of our product line,” Baynard says. “If we were going to inspire every girl, give them tools to imagine a different future for themselves, we needed to make sure they saw themselves and the world around them in our product line, which meant increasing racial, body and ability representation.”

Another step in Mattel’s multipronged campaign was committing resources to battling the problem. In 2019, the Dream Gap Project Fund was established, issuing $250,000 in grants to nonprofits and charities that support education, mentorship and leadership among girls. “We continue to bring partners on board to help find meaningful ways to put girls and boys on a level playing field.”

The experience of the Dream Gap Project led Mattel to wonder: How do we create even greater impact? “When you have a platform and a brand this size, you have an opportunity to generate awareness for things that are going on in the world, and also commit your resources to making change.”

Enter Creatable World. The project embraces inclusion by dispelling biases, be they related to gender, race or other differences, through dolls kids design. “It was born out of research and the insight that kids see gender in a different way than adults — kids see gender as something that continues to grow.”

Mattel’s Creatable World line was designed to be gender-inclusive

Baynard considers working on Creatable World a career highlight. “I was thrilled when my scope expanded to include launching Creatable World, the first gender-inclusive doll line on the market.”

Developed with a pediatrician, the bodies of Creatable World dolls were designed age-appropriately as prepubescent, giving kids a blank slate from which to create. Each doll comes with short hair and a longer-haired wig. For clothing, Mattel partnered with New York’s Phluid Project to design apparel focused on gender inclusivity.

Time magazine honored Creatable World, naming it one of the best inventions of 2019. “Creatable World is a magical and powerful thing to a lot of people; it certainly is to me as a gay father and member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Baynard says. “It speaks to finding products that connect with our consumers, especially those who feel marginalized.” Keeping this momentum flowing is the new Barbie Fashionistas line, featuring dolls with nine different body types and 35 skin tones.

Projects like the Dream Gap Project, Creatable World and Barbie Fashionistas are now part of Mattel’s DNA, Baynard says. “They’ve become a piece of how we think about Barbie and our portfolio — the importance of products that represent all consumers.”