Technological watch

Barbie hoax spotlights an anti-plastics message

With all the attention on Barbie this summer, Daryl Hannah took the opportunity to put together a fake campaign claiming that she was partnering with Mattel Inc. to go plastic free by 2030.

"Mattel is a company that has made billions and billions of dollars in profits and it looks like they're on track to make a billion more from movies," Hannah said in an interview with Plastics News. "They may be a perfect company to start leading the charge."

Although the campaign was a hoax, it did generate coverage from multiple news outlets for the cause of eliminating plastics.

The fake campaign sent out a news release on Aug. 1 with made-up quotes from Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz and Head of Sustainability Pamela Gill-Alabaster. The release also included quotes from Hannah, an actress and environmental activist.

The campaign was clearly aimed at fossil-fuel-based plastics. One of the quotes attributed to Kreiz: "We have made more than a billion plastic Barbies, and enough is enough. ... With our plastic-free commitment, we denounce the empty promises of plastic recycling and take a bold step towards real ecological sustainability. Only sustainably-produced toys can provide sustainable joy."

The release also announced a fictional line of limited-edition MyCelia EcoWarrior Barbies modeled after Greta Thunberg, Phoebe Plummer, Julia Butterfly Hill, Nemonte Nenquimo and Hannah.

This fictional line said it was a project from the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO).

The fictional dolls were claiming to be produced using bio-based materials made from feedstocks including mushrooms and other organic materials.

In an interview with Plastics News, a public relations representative who identified himself as Mike Fishbeck also claimed that Mattel would be making porcelain dolls for collectors and moving away from plastic dolls and packaging entirely.

"Mattel is a company that is ready to roll up his sleeves and take on this massive problem," Fishbeck said.

News outlets including People and the Washington Times initially covered the story assuming it was real, with headlines like "Mattel to go plastic-free with 'EcoWarrior Barbie' modeled on Greta Thunberg."

Shortly after the stories were posted, though, news agencies realized they had been duped, and they added disclaimers to their initial reports. After their interview with PN, the tricksters sent another release with the headline "EcoWarrior Barbie Is Tasteless Hoax."

The announcements were designed in the style of the Mattel website and included video commercials and slick photos.

Hannah worked with political pranksters The Yes Men, Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin, also known as Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum.

During the zoom meeting Hannah and her team presented the false commercials. Hannah and members from the BLO spoke out about the effects plastic is having on the environment as well as sending a message to Mattel.

In a real response from the company, a Mattel spokesman told Yahoo News: "This release has nothing to do with Mattel. It is not a product and it is fabricated. This is false and inaccurate information."

Meanwhile, Mattel does have real plastics-related sustainability goals. In 2019, Mattel announced that it is transitioning to 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable plastic in its packaging and products by 2030.

Publication date: 02/08/2023

Plastics News - automotive


This project has received funding from the Bio Based Industries Joint Undertaking under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 837761.