#Unbelievable: Mattel and 'Sports Illustrated' Team Up to Tackle Untapped Markets

02/15/2014 12:01 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2014

For decades Mattel has tried to convince conscientious moms that Barbie is a constructive toy for their young daughters rather than a time-released formula for body, self-esteem and priority issues that will spring into action in their tweens and haunt them for a lifetime.

But Mattel is now signaling it's ready to move on.

It apparently feels that if its exhaustive efforts haven't yet convinced these moms of the merits of giving their little girls a doll featuring a bombshell figure, a come-hither expression, and a smoking hot wardrobe, then nothing will. And with disappointing Barbie sales this past Christmas season, it became clear to everyone at Mattel that is was time to pimp Barbie to a fresh new market. After some very late nights of market research, Mattel set its sights on what promises to be a lucrative new demographic: stripper moms with young daughters.

"Look, there are a lot of strippers out there with young daughters, and these lovely ladies are tired of being made to feel like their career choice is something they should be ashamed of. They work hard and they make a ton of money, believe you me," explained a Mattel marketing department employee who declined to either give his name or the source of his market data.

"Many of them would love to position their daughters to have the exact same avenues to success as they themselves have enjoyed. Think about it. Just as lots of lawyers hope little junior might go to law school some day, there are plenty of strippers who hope that one day little Desiree might grow up to work at the club like Mommy. Well, Desiree is not going to have a snowball's chance in hell if she doesn't start prioritizing looking hot early on. I mean, it's not like you can up and be a professional dancer if you've been sitting on the couch, watching TV and stuffing your pie hole with french fries ever since you were old enough to eat solid food," he explained.

Surprisingly, the folks at rival toy manufacturer Hasbro, Inc. seem to agree. "It's a completely untapped market. No toy manufacturer has ever thought to specifically market to daughters of strippers before," said Trent Buckingham, a marketing executive at Hasbro. "But it makes total sense. Any halfway decent stripper has lots of cash at her fingertips, and Barbie is an easy sale."

Meanwhile, the folks over at Sports Illustrated had a problem of their own. They were wrestling with trying to prop up dwindling subscriptions in a digital age.

"You know the old joke, 'What's black and white and red all over?'" quipped media analyst Fred Harrington. "The answer isn't just newspapers anymore. It's every print publication's financial statement. With plenty of content available on line, the struggle to find -- and keep -- subscribers is no easy feat."

Market research eventually led SI to target "creepy guys." SI defines the "creepy guy" demographic as adult men who have a fetish for seeing women depicted as being young and/or powerless.

"We're talking about the man who likes to see young ladies dressed up like catholic schoolgirls and the like. But let me be clear: We're not talking about the full-on pedophile," Jason O'Brien of SI's marketing department hastened to explain.

"I mean, SI is a respectable publication, not some magazine for perverts. We would never go after the pervert demographic. But, hey, there's no law against being a little outside the mainstream. The creepy guy is that dude who likes to blur the lines a little, that's all," he stated, defensively.

Though their desired demographics were different, the challenge facing Mattel and SI was the same: Each needed to conquer a new market. Rather than launching two separate campaigns, each with its own hefty price tag, they teamed up to develop a single campaign that would reach both markets with equal effectiveness. The result is a remarkably creative collaboration that involves prominently featuring a bathing suit-clad Barbie in the magazine's iconic swimsuit issue.

Mattel will capitalize on the exposure that the swimsuit issue provides by marketing a limited edition Sports Illustrated Barbie available at And SI will capitalize on the unique cover by hosting special events like a beach party in Lower Manhattan specifically designed to appeal to the creepy guy demographic -- because everyone knows creepy guys love a good beach party.

Mattel feels that by seeing Barbie on the cover of a magazine specifically marketed to grown men, strippers' daughters will get two important messages reinforced from a very early age: 1. When they grow up, their bodies should look like Barbie's, and 2. Success is defined as having grown men ogle them. These two messages are very appealing to stripper moms because they know these are key to any aspiring stripper's success, our source explained.

And SI knows that seeing a toy doll in a one-piece bathing suit on the cover of a magazine traditionally marketed to manly men, creepy guys will not only feel included in the "good ol' boys club," they will trust that SI really "gets" them. SI is banking on its good will gesture to motivate creepy guys to become regular subscribers in the hopes that the Barbie swimsuit issue isn't a one-off event.

"We won't let them down," O'Brien promised. "We're already in negotiations with the folks at Justice, the clothing store for tweens. The leading idea we're kicking around right now is to have next year's cover feature a top swimsuit model like your Heidi Klum-type clad in a pair of Justice 'Oh So Soft' Glitter Cheetah Boyshort Panties and a Pullover Trainer Bra," O'Brien gushed.

Riffing off this year's #Unapologetic theme, branding possibilities for next year's campaign include #Underageable and #Unexplainable. The creepy guy demographic is reportedly all a titter over these possibilities.