Barbie, Clooney, and Why Reinvention is the New Invention: Adobe Summit Day 2

Day 2 of Adobe Summit brought digital marketing thought-leadership from the likely (Mattel President & COO Richard Dickson) as well as the unlikely (George...Clooney?). We recapped it here.

Day 2 of Adobe Summit’s Keynote Sessions had more to offer than just Hollywood bookends (i.e. Donny Osmond performing a Mulan classic and George Clooney being his charming self).

Crucial pieces of insight for the hundreds thousands of digital marketers listening were delivered, and we’re recapping the best of them for you. Right here. Right now. Enjoy!

Data Without context is useless.

John Mellor, VP Business Development & Strategy at Adobe, said it best:

"One of the most powerful tools we have is to take data, put it into context, and tell a story."

- John Mellor, VP Business Development & Strategy, Adobe

What he means is that data alone is little more than a set of coordinates without a map to place them on. When the lives of consumers are inarguably contextual, drawing that map is essential in order to best position brands in the lives of those they're speaking to. 

The value of data relies on making a connection to the human experience in a way that is consistent, continuous, and compelling. Humans are emotional beings, and our decisions are nuanced, rarely data or analytics-driven. We want to be moved, and on a subconscious level care less about the facts and more about the feelings an experience evokes. It’s the marketer’s job to recognize, value, and act on this insight, delivering experiences with the customer at the center.

Doing so is easier said than done. It requires bold creativity, and a willingness to listen to consumers and deliver what they’re asking for. It demands setting conventions and biases aside for a moment to consider: what is the story waiting to be told here, and why does it matter?

The answer to those questions is where the magic happens.

Reframe the conversation, don't reinvent the brand.

Speaker Richard Dickson, President & COO of Mattel, knew that for decades, the appeal of Barbie was that she was a best friend and role model to her owners. Yet, sales of the iconic doll were plummeting.


Barbie’s decline in popularity began when the type of best friend young girls desired started to shift, and concerned parents demanded a different kind of role model for their daughters, one that reflected their reality and promoted a healthier sense of self.

In other words, it was clear that Barbie’s decades-old story not longer fit the context of today’s consumers, and in order to stay at the top of the toy pyramid, her image had to change. She had to make sense in today’s reality of female presidential candidates and tech CEOs, but most importantly, reflect a culture that was inclusive of everyone. 

Barbie dolls from Barbie Evolves Campaign
Image courtesy of ©2016 Mattel 

So, Barbie evolved. She remains the beautiful fashion icon she’s always been, but now, dolls that are shorter, taller, lighter, darker, thicker, and thinner than those of the past have emerged. She’s still recognizable, yet now appeals to a new kind of discerning consumer.

The result? A more inclusive image, increased sales, and this key piece of insight:

"The most valuable form of invention is reinvention."

- Richard Dickson, President & COO of Mattel

Moving forward means looking forward.

This final piece of insight came from an unlikely source, yet considering George Clooney’s A-List status, it’s advice to make note of.

Clooney stressed the importance of not stalling to observe past success, but to continuously keep eyes facing forward to what you could be doing better or more of. He contextualized this in terms of his acting career and philanthropic efforts, as well as the ever-evolving film industry, but it’s easily embodied in a buzzword the marketing industry loves: innovation.

Innovation involves forecasting trends and acting upon them first, rather than resting on the laurels of former achievements. Traditional mediums of yesteryear saw immense popularity, but the television commercials and magazine ads that once caught our attention are going unnoticed in an environment that is unequivocally skewed towards the digital.

George Clooney on stage at Adobe Summit
Image courtesy of ©2016 B&T News, The Misfits Media Company Pty Ltd.

Marketers today are faced with platform after platform of digital media that, thanks to low barriers to entry, are saturated by brand messaging. In order to stand out it’s therefore essential that we’re calling where the play is going, rather than where it’s been.

This means holding an honest mirror up the market, and momentarily forgetting what served us well in the past, and focusing on what could serve the industry best in the future. That’s how progress is made, and that’s how we stop talking about innovation, and start modeling it.