Barbie Environmental Hoax with Daryl Hannah Explained
A hoax that included a fake commercial to promote a so-called line of EcoWarrior Barbies and the promise that Mattel would abandon plastic by 2030 was perpetrated by Daryl Hannah and longtime pranksters The Yes Men
Taking full advantage of Barbie-mania sweeping the nation and filling multiplexes, famous pranksters Mike Bonanno (real name Igor Vamos) and Andy Bichlbaum (or Jacques Servin) — aka The Yes Men — partnered with Daryl Hannah for a very convincing environmental hoax.
The actress even went so far as to appear in a very convincing fake commercial for a new line of EcoWarrior Barbies that were purportedly to be inspired by environmental activists like Greta Thunberg and Hannah herself. Even more unbelievable was the claim Mattel had committed to stop using plastic entirely by 2030.
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It is unbelievable, too, because the company has made no such vow, and in fact, had nothing at all to do with the hoax, which was intended to raise awareness of environment issues.
A Mattel spokesperson confirmed with TooFab that the campaign was an elaborate hoax, which they had no involvement in.
The pranksters not only issued fake news releases and the aforementioned ad but also fake websites that replicated ones owned by Mattel, elaborately duplicating many of the toy giant’s identifying features. The hoax duped many media outlets (us included) leading to retracted stories and internet confusion.
“This is probably the most successful PR coup of all time when it comes to people thinking that because there are surface changes in the doll that it’s changing some fundamental dynamic in our culture, which it’s not,” Bonnano (real name Igor Vamos) told Yahoo! News.
“To say the doll is feminist now when the toy is contaminating the environment that the future of all humanity and all life depends on is kind of a colossal and bizarre joke,” he added.
As noted by Yahoo!, this isn’t the first time The Yes Men have gone after Mattel and Barbie. In 1993, after the controversial release of Teen Talk Barbie — with phrases like, “Math is hard!” — the group notoriously switched the voice boxes of hundreds of these dolls with tough-talking G.I. Joe dolls.
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Hannah noted that while the doll manufacturer has come along way with its messaging toward young girls, praising the company for taking “a big chance with a brand that’s very important to them” by adopting a far more feminist slant, there is still the issue of plastic usage.
“They’re one of the largest toy companies in the world and toys don’t need to be made of something that poisons children, literally, and that gets into our bodies, into our systems, into our landfills, into our waterways, into every part of our life support systems,” she said.
It is her belief that Mattel has the means and impact to make a difference in both arenas. “They have the power to be able to say, ‘Not only are we going to change what our brand stands for in terms of the messages [about] body image and self-esteem and feminism,” she said, “but also, like, the basics of just what the product is made out of.”
As it turns out, Hannah was already working with Vamos and Servin on a documentary about their original Barbie hoax 30 years ago when she suggested it might be time to turn their satirical eye to the iconic doll again.
Vamos said that aside from just having “fun” with their environmental message, this approach was also a way to get attention.
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“It’s not the best way to do activism, but it’s a way that works for a lot of people, and people like to share things that are fun, so it’s highly shareable,” said Vamos. “And … especially in dire times, it helps to be able to have a laugh while you’re trying to make a difference.”
Despite going after major corporations with their hoaxes over the year, like taking on Adidas over its Cambodian working conditions, they’ve only been sued once by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and that suit was dropped. Meanwhile, they “want to be sued.”
“We welcome it, and that maybe makes them fear us a little bit, because that would be an opportunity to hold them accountable in the court of public opinion,” said Vamos. “Going into court when you have the moral high ground, you may not win, … but at least you can make your point along the way.”
As they see it, no matter the outcome of the trial, it would be pretty clear to the public “who’s in the right and in the wrong,” which would “amplify the story” they sought to bring to the light with their hoax in the first place.
Hannah acknowledges that Mattel is far from the only culprit when it comes to the mass production of plastics impacting the environment, but calls it “a good place to start because of all the attention that’s on them now.” She also sees this as an opportunity for the company to “lead.”
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For its part, Mattel reiterated to Yahoo! its previous announcement that it was seeking a major shift by 2030, though not a complete departure from plastic as the fake ad campaign claimed.
“We have long-ago announced our sustainability goals, most notably to achieve 100% recycled, recycled or bio-based plastic materials by 2030,” said the company, offering up a link to its Citizenship page on the corporate website with their aim “to contribute to a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and sustainable future.”
Hannah and Vamos, though, have leaned into Greenpeace’s argument that recycling is a myth and “a dead-end street.” “All it means is that you’re using things that have been used before, but it’s still plastic waste,” said Vamos. “It just kicks the can down the road a little bit. It doesn’t solve the problem at all.”
“We have to face that the petrochemical industry has promoted recycling because it alleviates their guilt around the fact that it is all going to the landfill,” added Hannah. “It was all kind of a scam to make people feel better about using disposable plastics.”
In their fake press release, The Yes Men, claiming to be Mattel, said that the company would not only be plastic-free by 2030, but would pledge to “support a federal ban on nonessential plastic use in the USA.”
The fake press release and accompanying ad featured images of the supposed line of MyCelia™ EcoWarrior Barbies, as well as fake quotes from several Mattel executives. The hoax comes amid the success of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, which earned $162 million domestically just in its opening weekend alone, with the debut becoming the biggest ever for a female director.
You can check out the fake commercial, featuring Daryl Hannah, below.
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