Friday, February 18, 2011

Ken Boyfriend of Barbie Doll Comes to Life


With Mattel Wizardry - Will the Ken Doll Comeback Last?

This Isn't a Doll: It's a live Ken Model
The Grove, Los Angeles
Photo by MommyBlogExpert

It looks like Ken, Barbie's arm candy-like boyfriend, is having quite a year so far.

Until recently, he was mostly considered as Barbie's dream perfect dude with the looks that don't exist in the real world -- the strong, silent, handsome type.  

Now, Toy Story 3 -- the animated feature movie in which Ken makes his acting debut -- has already snared a Golden Globe and other awards -- and is currently up for 5 Oscars at the Academy Awards.  Let's not forget to mention Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend, one of the newest and hottest reality TV shows.

But, the biggest news of all for perhaps the best known man on the planet is that Mattel Inc. has literally brought Ken to life with live male models to help him celebrate a very big birthday: his 50th.    

Winter, Formal, Picnic Date Ken Live Models
Photo by MommyBlogExpert

"Born" in March 1961, "Ken Carson," was named after Ruth Handler's son Ken.  Ruth had invented Barbie (named after her older child) in 1959 and responded several years later when the world asked for a boyfriend for Barbie.  After Ken, Midge, Allan, Skipper and other dolls quickly followed and by the end of the 1960s Mattel was the world's biggest toy maker with sales of $180 million. 

I'm a baby boomer who played with the original Ken (and also the made in Japan Barbie, Midge, and Allan dolls from Mattel) in the 1960s.  In fact, until today, I had all but forgotten about those dolls of yesterday and the small but smart wardrobe of clothes and accessories to go with them, both store-bought and hand sewn, that my mom safely tucked away for me. 

Original Ken & Midge Dolls
With circa 1960s Beachwear
Photo by MommyBlogExpert

In my eyes, today's girls in Ken and Barbie's target market just don't have the same reverence for the dolls that my generation did.  

While we used to have one Barbie and one Ken, our contemporary counterparts have many dolls, maybe five or even more Barbies, not to mention a whole lot more outfits and accessories for them than we ever did.  And let's not even get into how well (not) these younger generations of kids care for their dolls or associated stuff.

The amazing thing is that -- in my own observations -- most of those who came out for the Every Doll Needs a Ken Valentine's Day event which was held simultaneously on both coasts at Times Square in New York City and in Los Angeles earlier this week appeared to be moms like me who have daughters or childless women who owned these dolls as kids.   Some women brought their hubbies or boyfriends, too.

Two of My Triplets Pose With Ken Event Signage
The Grove, Los Angeles
Photo by MommyBlogExpert

I just loved the Ken event that I dragged two of my kids to at The Grove in Los Angeles.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised, though, that I probably enjoyed Ken's Big 5-0 marketing bash a lot more than my children did because they just whined to go to look at books at Barnes & Noble and play on computers at The Apple Store.  On the other hand, I couldn't snap enough pictures, and was enthralled with how the human models actually did look like real dolls packaged in boxes, complete with their official Ken tagged wrists.

Me with Winter Date Ken Model
Photo by MommyBlogExpert

Having grown up in the pre-computer age watching television (both the black-and-white and color varieties) while being bombarded with Mattel commercials during the cartoons, I remember begging my parents until they bought me a doll.  I'm not sure how they're going to sell a record-breaking number of Ken dolls with the current campaign because it is largely targeted at adults, not kids.  Don't kids still make the demands, I thought, and then us parents buy whatever the children want?

Clearly nostalgic, I couldn't wait to get home after my photographic encounters with not one but many Ken dolls that were actually real live professional male models.   My hubbie has blue eyes and is blond -- so I feel rather lucky that I definitely married my dream Ken doll. 

Nevertheless, after I tucked the kids in bed, I secretly pulled out my old dust covered Barbie doll case and sat on the floor.  I played with my Ken, Barbie, and Midge dolls for the first time in over 45 years for several hours, reminiscing of my childhood while I tried on the few precious outfits my mom both bought and handmade for me.  Everything -- the dolls and the clothes -- I might add, I had taken such good care of when I was a kid.  Ah, those were the days.  What I wouldn't do to revisit that happy time in my life so many years ago.

The jury is out.  Mattel pulled off a comeback with Barbie a few years ago.  Will Ken have the same appeal to girls growing up today or any time in the next 50 years?  Comment below.

FTC Disclosure:  MommyBlogExpert discloses that I did attend the Every Doll Needs a Ken Event at The Grove in L.A. I did not receive any payment or other compensation associated with this post.  See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.

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