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Unpublished Paper
Globalization Versus Normative Policy: A Case Study on the Failure of the Barbie Doll in the Indian Market
ExpressO (2011)
  • Priti Nemani

The Barbie doll leads in the world of young females, with her vast wardrobe, her extensive life experiences, and her many diverse friends. Barbie’s maker- Mattel, Inc. – has sold the doll around the world by making superficial ethnic and racial modifications to the doll; however, the international marketing of Barbie has not been wholly triumphant. Mattel no longer promotes the Barbie in India; rather, the global company now mainly markets gender neutral products, like board games, to the Indian market. Why did the Indian family reject Barbie as the appropriate toy for their daughters?

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 article 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 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 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.

Publication Date
April 4, 2011
Citation Information
Priti Nemani. "Globalization Versus Normative Policy: A Case Study on the Failure of the Barbie Doll in the Indian Market" ExpressO (2011)
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