A Barbie Girl in What is No Longer a Barbie World
BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL
She entered the world in the late ‘50s, evolved to be popular, pretty, and fashionable, as well as proving via multiple careers to be ambitious, remaining on top of her game for a long time. Although no one can stay young forever, she’s kept up with the times by being in the know about trends and re-inventing herself as tech savvy. Yet some don’t think it’s enough, with others believing it’s time to put her out to pasture.
This is what the media is saying about Mattel’s one-time golden girl (overall sales sank 14 percent in the three months ending on Sept. 30th), but I feel a bit that they could be talking about me.
Like a lot of 50-plussers, on the outside I may not look as though I were born yesterday (or even thirty years before yesterday), but on the inside…I keep up with what’s au courant, have embraced technology, and stayed relevant in the workforce by expanding my writing career to include advertising, journalism and book publishing. But like Barbie, who’s now being usurped by electronic games and her parent company’s new line called SuperHero Girls, there are those who look past my cred to newer, shinier models.
A couple of months ago, I was in a meeting at an ad agency pitching new business. I was brought in to consult by the CEO, who is my age. Her small staff is made up of young people, who are, albeit talented, still green in many ways. I got into a debate/disagreement/argument (take your pick) with a couple of them about strategy/layout/copy — yes, it was quite the “discussion” – which culminated in the CEO putting her hand on my arm, a signal for me to stop talking, and essentially told me to do it their way. The reasoning: “They’re young.” That was it. That was the rationale.
Clearly, she believed that because they have their dewy little hands on the pulse of what’s hip in a way only 20-somethings do, that it translated into knowing what ideas were more on point and what would make for a better creative product.
I will not lie and pretend that I didn’t get a perverse pleasure when she informed me that they did not get the business. No, I can’t say with certainty that my way would have clinched it for the agency, but I can say they would have gone into the presentation with work that better represented the tone and manner of the prospective client.
I was indeed young once and full of juice, wanting to bring my fresh thinking and ideas inspired by the new, hot entity called MTV to the fuddy-duddies doing the same old thing. But more times than not – and much to my chagrin — the more practiced ones won out, their years of knowledge valued over “what could be really cool.” I was often told I had to pay my dues before I could be taken seriously or speak with authority about anything.
And so I paid; and now I, and many like me, am paying for having too much know-how.
Although I do read uplifting articles about veteran workers who used their layoffs as a way to reinvent themselves in other careers, as encouraging as it is, it also makes me a little dejected to think that decades spent cultivating talent and knowledge is not being taken advantage of by companies who could use the boost in sales or growth.
Unlike much of society, Mattel is not giving up on its 50-and-counting gal by creating a new ad campaign assuring girls that they “Can Be Anything.” Although I believe in their tenet, they need to amend it with “until you’re an expert in your field, then you’ll be asked to step aside for those who’ve yet to rack up their ten thousand hours, and are cheaper.”
Perhaps by the time their target audience of 3- to 8-year-olds reaches fifty, the pendulum will have swung back to the time when experience was actually mandatory and valued.