Fashion & Pink Power-May 2012

Fashion & Pink Power-May 2012

Peterson Milla Hooks decides to let Barbie be Barbie.

The Strategy

Peterson Milla Hooks (PMH), the Minneapolis-based advertising agency, knows about icons. It helped hone one with its nationally noted work for Target. So the shop was up to the task when asked to create a commercial for Barbie, the doll that’s a cultural Rorschach test. “We’ve got to let Barbie be Barbie,” says Tom Nowak, president at PMH. “And people can choose to buy into that, but it wasn’t about changing perceptions of Barbie—Barbie is fashion and pink power. We just decided let’s embrace it and not overthink it.”


The Creative

The result is a 30-second spot, digitally enhanced by another Minneapolis-based firm, Pixel Farm, featuring the tagline, “See what happens when you play with Barbie.” It focuses on the imagination unleashed by playing with Barbie (as well as the fashion accessories for the doll—and the girl—that are sold separately).

“Mattel was interested in our visual style as an agency largely because of our Target work,” explained Nowak. “We’re not a design shop, but we have a very design-centric approach to advertising.” Target’s not the only company that’s taken notice. After it shook up its agency roster, PMH did work for performance apparel brand Athleta, owned by Gap. Eventually it did work for Gap itself, as well as K-Mart. And now PMH will be the lead creative for national retailer JC Penney.

The business burst has replaced the Target billings, says Nowak, who notes that PMH is “adding people like crazy.” As the agency does not place media billings, Nowak could not offer the standard ad agency metric of billings to estimate his shop’s size. Nor would he reveal Mattel’s planned expenditure for the Barbie campaign.


The Buy

The spot is clearly aimed at girls. But unlike most toys, the controversial doll has a secondary target: their moms. “We were speaking to girls and wanted moms to feel good about that message as well,” says Nowak. “We know Mom’s overhearing that conversation.”