Sunday, June 5, 2011

Pink Power? -- part 1

“Nokia Decapitates Barbie to Sell Phone” Steve Hall 6/2/11 

The mainstream press regards any 11.5” fashion doll as a “Barbie” so the headlines Nokia’s “Freedom” commercial has garnered refer to Mattel’s signature character, but the star of the piece is actually a character named Jett from the first wave of Integrity Toys’ Dynamite Girls series – the 2007 Explosive Style collection.  Promotional copy about the Dynamite Girls on the Integrity Toys website explains that “These cuties live in a world of candy-colored, retro inspired styles, influenced by current trends and pop culture.”  

Director Dave Wilson states in the “Making of” video that "Being able to work with the Sugarbabes' 'Freedom' as a soundtrack for the piece lent itself to the empowered personas that we'd created for the dolls."  Thus, while the Sugarbabes exult:

So raise your hand
balled fist in the air
for freedom…

the dolls raise their fists in a gesture that mimics the black power salute.  Yet neither the Dynamite Girls collections nor the Nokia “Freedom” commercial references the blood red sacrifices that freedom fighters in the Civil Rights movement and various struggles for independence from European colonial domination were making in the heyday of the “flip” hairdo that Jett sports in the commercial.

Instead, the casting has curiously erased people of color from this celebration of “freedom” despite the fact that the Sugababes have remained a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group through multiple personnel changes, and Integrity Toys was founded in part to provide multi-ethnic alternatives to Barbie.  There are three black doll characters in the Dynamite Girls line – Reese, T.J., and Dayle, while Aria is described as a “proud Latina,” but none of them appears in the “world of hot pink and the glamour that goes with it” that Wilson created. 

The Huffington Post and other reviewers identify this commercial as an attempt to market smart phones to a more female audience (“Nokia Uses Dismembered Barbies to Pitch New Nokia N8 Pink”   but in defining freedom as “being alive/ not having a care…” and depicting it as a luxury that only pink people enjoy, Nokia has overlooked a major market segment for as the July 2010 Pew Internet report on “Mobile Access” notes,
minority Americans are significantly more likely to own a cell phone than their white counterparts (87% of blacks and Hispanics own a cell phone, compared with 80% of whites).  Additionally, black and Latino cell phone owners take advantage of a much wider array of their phones’ data functions compared to white cell phone owners.
With 76% of non-Hispanic blacks and 83% of English-speaking Hispanic respondents in the Pew 2010 survey reporting that they had used their cell phones to take a photo in the past year as compared to 75% of whites, Nokia’s casting oversight is particularly egregious given that the N8’s greatest strength is its still photo and HD video functions.  48% of non-Hispanic blacks and 45% of English-speaking Hispanic respondents as compared to 29% of non-Hispanic whites had used their phones to record video and on average twice as many black and Hispanic cell phone owners compared to white cell phone owners had used their phones to watch videos.  Thus Nokia overlooked the audience most likely to be excited about viewing the “Freedom” video and using the features of the phone it promotes. 

Although Steve Hall quips, “pink is the new success. Or success is the new pink,” the Nokia N8 Pink “Freedom” video obviously does not represent an advance towards a more colorblind society.  Whether the vision of “contorted Barbie dolls, prancing about in Lady Gaga-esque undergarments” as Engadget’s Christopher Trout describes the video used to promote this gendered phone signals an era of new freedom for women is a more complex question which I hope to discuss with readers in subsequent posts.

À Bientôt


  1. It would be very interesting to hear why they decided not to include dolls of color. Are people of color more color blind and so used to this blatant disregard, that we will buy no matter what? Are we more likely to buy if dolls of color are not in the commercial? Hmmm? It's so hard to figure out the psychological effects of years of blatant disrespect. Afraid I have no answers, only questions.

  2. My sense is that auditory signs of blackness are more acceptable than the visual reality. Stylistically, the Sugarbabes make that auditory link to black culture so maybe the producers of this commercial thought that would be enough to hook black audiences without alienating white viewers. This commercial raises many questions that I don't think the producers themselves can answer. I hope to stimulate some discussion here however.

  3. Brilliant observation, limbe dolls.

    I viewed the makings of this Nokia video last week and was unimpressed after realizing the obvious: Their selective omission of dark skinned dolls. Either they did not know or did not care to include Integrity's Dynamite Girls Reese, Dayle, or Aria in the video. Is it because they are not pink, do not represent success, do not deserve to exercise their doll freedom?

    Nokia's decision to exclude a target "conscious" audience is probably the reason I have never purchased their products and is the reason this practice will continue. I refuse to support a company that chooses to ignore me, my community, and our combined buying power.


  4. Hi Debbie,

    I actually have a Nokia phone -- a 2007 hand me down from my brother which is obviously not a smartphone. When I do step up to a smartphone (hopefully this summer), rest assured it won't be a Nokia product.