Barbie’s Break into the Comic Book World: Global Franchising and Catering to New Generations


Barbie Franchise. Source: Barbie

In Derek Johnson’s book, Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries, Johnson discusses the various methods one can take in studying and analyzing the growing corporate conglomerations use of franchising as a boundless and ever expanding form of marketing and remarketing a focal creative product. Johnson describes perspectives in which some critics see franchising as a form of marketing that brings down the value of a product’s creativity and cultural relevance once over-marketed. But he also introduces ways in which we can look at franchising as a form of multimedia and industry expansion, especially across global boundaries. Johnson discusses how corporations have found ways to maintain and retain fandoms across generations by continually remodeling their singular product based on the cultural relevancies of the day. With that in mind, looking at what is a huge focus of box office smashes at the moment – one can easily see the influence of the comic book world upon the narratives of current Hollywood. And with the narratives of comic books reaching across different media and industries, comes their deconstruction into industries outside of original comic book lore.


Source: Kelly Thompson, Lit Reactor

From the article of comic book blogger, andtherecameaday, the author writes about the success of comic book films – “Why do producers make big summer movies? To make money. It’s not to make art. If superhero movies only cater to comic book readers, they’ll fail.” What andtherecameaday is pointing out in his article is how the comic book phenomenon that manifested in Hollywood cinema took time to develop. Once the marketers and creators of these films realized the necessity to market efficiently to the right audiences of movie goers, rather than pay homage back to the original plot stories of comic books, the crowds began to respond excessively well. Johnson has pointed out that a particular product can transform tremendously when placed in a different media market or industry because of catering to the change in receptive audiences. With audiences’ eyes set on the comic book craze spreading across varying markets and industries, corporations and marketers are beginning to cater their products towards the booming market of comic book-related material.


Super Sparkle. Source: Barbie

That is why Martell Inc. has pushed straight into this market with their newest configuration of Barbie – Princess Kara, and her crime-fighting superhero alter ego – Super Sparkle. Upon accessing’s homepage, one is immediately drawn into the comic book-style animated front page marketing to this new form of Barbie – showcasing toys, movies, online games, and even more products that are immediately transcending beyond a one market system and branding a franchise right on their website. This new generation of Barbie also helps attract customers that have already began consuming superhero and comic book related products made popular by current Hollywood cinema. When you enter a toy store, you will probably find superhero Barbie situated in the same aisle as the superheroes of popular film; Batman, Superman, Captain America, etc. Super Sparkle is also being featured on the front pages of Barbie’s international web pages, including the majority of Europe. Johnson speaks upon this blooming franchising across international borders, stating, “so whereas previous scholarship has conceptualized global franchises like James Bond and Pokémon as products of specifically national cultures, this alternatively transnational approach enables us to consider franchised production as a spatially complex and temporally dynamic process unable to be contained by or fixed to a strictly national frame” (Johnson 155). The fact that Barbie is a hetero, white female, denoted mainly as an American, would leave one to think that her marketability would be left in limbo by the lack of diversity to her name – yet Martell has compensating their diversity continual through the addition of more characters to the Barbie name, characterizing them as family members and friends of Barbie. Branching out to the international market has planted Barbie as a global icon in children’s rooms across the planet, for the product has been given the ability to appeal to the mass audience of children worldwide.


Barbie Origins – Lilli. Source: Foundation Tanagra.

Franchises’ ability to stay relevant in the current day is the driving force for the changes that take place to an original product. Martell’s skill in continually reconfiguring the look and style of Barbie in order to cater to current international audiences gives the company their edge in marketing successfully and continually. Witnessing comic book franchises spring up from an original narrative of a comic book, and then witnessing the deconstruction of the comic book world upon the international toy and symbol of Barbie shows the paths in which franchising to particular markets transcends beyond cultural containment. The symbol of Barbie as a superhero fits appropriately well to modern franchise culture. Her look will only continue to transform in order to cater to what is befitting of a fashion icon such as Barbie, keeping her franchise forever expanding and diversifying.

As an addition to Barbie’s transformation into a comic book-styled superhero, I wish to mention that Barbie is the successor to the German Bild Lilli fashion doll, made popular from 1955 to 1964. The doll was based on the comic-strip character, Lilli. So maybe Barbie has more claim to recognize as a comic book character more than one may think!

Featured image via FanPop.


Andtherecameaday. “And There Came A Phenomenon – Comic Book Movies Are For Everyone (and There’s No Place for Robin). And There Came a Day… WordPress. 26 April 2013. Web. 21 Feb 2015.

Johnson, Derek. Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries. NYU Press, 2013. Print. Postmillennial Pop.


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