Barbie is a box office star, but the 64-year-old doll and her maker are also at the center of an elaborate hoax.
A group of climate change activists is behind the fictional “MyCelia Barbie,” a product that purports to be “decomposable, just like people.” A very convincing promotional campaign launched this morning with press releases, spoof websites playing on Mattel-owned URLs, phone numbers, a video starring actor and activist Daryl Hannah (Splash, Kill Bill), a phony product line, and user profiles on all the major social networks.
The fictional MyCelia Barbie product line is said to be produced using mushrooms and other organic materials and features dolls honoring Greta Thunberg, Julia Butterfly Hill, Neimonte Nequimo, Phoebe Plummer, and Daryl Hannah herself. A second fictional product line, “MyCelia EcoWarrior Barbie,” includes a limited-edition playset featuring dolls inspired by Pussy Riot, the Moscow-based band that was famously imprisoned in 2012.
A companion video features a catchy jingle and depicts kids playing out scenarios including sabotaging an oil pipeline, assaulting workers, and tossing Molotov cocktails at Russian President Vladimir Putin. A third spoof line, the “EcoWarrior Casualty Collection,” is said to “commemorate land defenders and ecoactivists murdered for their efforts to protect the planet.”
The Toy Book exchanged email messages with someone calling themselves “Beverly Hamm, a rep from the global product team at Mattel Inc.” before speaking with the individual twice by phone on Monday. By the end of the day, Hamm’s phone number switched from a 619 (San Diego) area code to a 310 (Los Angeles) number. Hamm provided fictitious quotes attributed to Mattel executives including Chairman and CEO Ynon Kreiz, Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer Lisa McKnight, and Head of Sustainability Pamela Gill-Alabaster. “Hamm” says that Hannah will hold a virtual press conference for members of the media via Zoom at 5 p.m. ET today.
A Mattel spokesperson confirmed to The Toy Book that the company has no sustainability news being released today.
Like any good hoax, there is an element of truth in the hook: Mattel is moving toward a goal of using 100% recycled, recyclable, or bio-based plastic materials in all of its products and packaging by 2030. The move comes as the global toy industry continues making strides toward a sustainable future following decades of wasteful production and packaging processes.
The path toward a better future has not been without its challenges — something that Mattel’s rival — and recent ally — Hasbro discovered when it had to partially backtrack on its plans to eliminate plastic from its packaging. Less than a year after introducing windowless, sustainably-sourced, plastic-free boxes for its action figure lines, consumer revolt led to the reintroduction of plastic window boxes sourced from recycled or bio-based materials.
In recent years, the members of the toy industry have kicked their sustainability goals into high gear following huge strides by The LEGO Group, including the development of bio-based bricks and running on 100% renewable energy three years ahead of schedule. Moose Toys, MGA Entertainment, Playmobil, PMI Kids’ World, Melissa & Doug, Radio Flyer, Headstart International, Schleich, Spin Master, VTech & LeapFrog, and ZURU are just some of the many companies that are committed to doing better. Additionally, The Toy Association is supporting its members’ efforts to evolve toward a greener tomorrow.
As for MyCelia Barbie, get ready for the inevitable Snopes listing marking this one FAKE.
Update: Aug. 2, 2023, 9:05 a.m. ET — Since the original publication of this story, a satirical group of pranksters called The Yes Men claimed credit for the hoax alongside collaborators from the Barbie Liberation Organization and Yellow Dot Studios. The Yes Men have played similar pranks on companies including Starbucks and Adidas.
Toy and game manufacturers with legitimate sustainable products are encouraged to submit them for editorial consideration for The Toy Book’s 2023 STEM & Innovation Issue, available December 15.