March 7, 2014

On the Barbie/SI Swimsuit Cover: The Advertorial Girl

Barbie SI cover

So, I know I’m way late on this but I’ll take the demerit points.

• So let me ask you: is it a promo for an American sport magazine’s yearly franchise editorial feature or is it an advertisement for an iconic American children’s doll? (A free subscription AND a doll if you can answer that.) And a related question: Given the proximity between TIME’s Mexico “pay to play” cover and this one, in which Mattel dumped an oodle of cash on TIME’s sister publication, SI, for the cover advertorial, did the same ad salesperson sell both deals?

• What’s very clever about it (right, you only read Bag for the cognitive science) is how it works as a mnemonic device. In other words, Barbie’s so classically, generically, blonde-ly not real, her substitution in that iconic spot on the SI Swimsuit cover, for devotees that have all those “actual” covers stored in their heads, is like a lure to recollect every blonde (Kathy, Christie and the rest) who were ever real/really there.

• I think the watchword of design is: “make it new.” In contrast to NatGeo going to the well a 3rd time with McCurry’s “Afghan Girl” for its 125th anniversary cover, this 50th swimsuit anniversary concept is a smart example of making old new again. Take that, Mad Men (or The Way Back Machine), dusting off a swimsuit you haven’t worn since 1959.

Barbie Swimsuit inside

• And then, yes, there’s the outrageous provocation around body image, not (to mention the issue of the swimsuit institution itself). Suffice to say, I could hardly find an article, out of the dozen or so I looked at, that published this leggy inside shot. If SI only did the close-up cover in limited edition, this shot on the cover would probably have caused a riot. So much for progress on the emaciated model front.

(photos: Mattel via Sports Illustrated)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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