You'd think they'd have learned something after the New Coke mess. But new generations of marketers seem doomed to repeat the same mistake and suffer the predictable consequences: Mess with a beloved brand and get your head handed to you on a plate.
Nickelodeon and Mattel teamed up to create new doll from the hugely popular Dora the Explorer cartoon series, a lightly bi-lingual show aimed at pre-schoolers. But in order to make her appeal to older girls (meaning 8-year-olds), they put Dora through the most exciting adventure of her life: They made her 'tween.
No longer an asexual little girl, the proposed 'tween Dora doll has longer, more feminine hair, jewelry, and wears a tunic over leggings. She's not exactly a Bratz doll, with bedroom eyes and slutty outfits, but her more grown up incarnation incurred the wrath of moms everywhere, much to the professed shock of marketing execs at Nickelodeon and Mattel.
"I think there was just a misconception in terms of where we were going with this," Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel, told reporters. "Pretty much the moms who are petitioning aging Dora up certainly don't understand. ... I think they're going to be pleasantly happy once this is available in October, and once they understand this certainly isn't what they are conjuring up."
What do I think? I think the marketing execs don't have kids yet.
Dora the Explorer became popular after my kids were pre-school aged, so I don't have the "relationship" with the character moms of younger children might. But I do understand the backlash. Small kids fixate on favorite cartoon characters, and every parent of a 3-year-old is forced to become intimate with favored shows because of repeated viewings. Despite yourself, you come to love the characters, too. My daughter watched Blue's Clues relentlessly, and when they eventually changed the actor who played "Steve," I remember having a bad reaction, taking it almost like a personal affront. How dare they? Bring back to old Steve! I never warmed up to the new character, "Joe," and the magic of the show was gone forever. For me and my daughter. (OK, so maybe I had a little crush on Steve, too.)
In other words, as much as toddlers and pre-schoolers hate change, moms hate it worse. The uproar doesn't surprise me at all.
I also think that moms chafe at the ongoing attempt by marketers to sexualize girl characters. True or not, the perception is out there that eventually, any wholesome girl character will eventually be made slutty in the name of profits. Look at Barbie. Look at Britney. Didn't she start out as a Mouseketeer? No wonder moms go postal when you propose "growing up" a beloved cartoon character.
Will this gaffe hurt the brand? Ultimately, probably not. Dora is huge, earning the companies who created her and her show mucho dinero in the form of merchandise and tie-ins. While execs are now soothingly reminding moms on the warpath that they're not proposing changing the cartoon version of Dora, it's only a matter of time before the franchise goes through this inevitable growth spurt. Tween Dora may be just a proposed doll, but mark my words, if she's a hit, 'Tween Dora will have her own show and her own merchandising empire before you can say "vamanos!"
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