Come on Barbie, Let’s Sell Barbies

American Toy Companies, Led by Mattel, Have Entwined Marketing and Entertainment for Over Half a Century

The year was 1997.

“Un-Break My Heart” by Toni Braxton dominated the radio waves. Wallet chains and JNCO jeans were red-carpet staples. And plastic? It was fantastic.

Cool Shoppin’ Barbie wasn’t just made of plastic, she was the first ever doll to come with her very own piece of it. She came equipped with a cash register, bar code scanner, credit card reader, and two credit cards—a life-sized cardboard Mastercard, and a doll-sized plastic one.

In a year where a record 1.35 million Americans filed for personal bankruptcy, and the director of the …

A row of long socks with different patterns and colors, such as a black-and-white striped pair of socks and a rainbow pair.

Who in the World Named My Cashmere Socks?

Behind Every Witty, Punning, Trademarked Name, Somebody Like Me Worked to Make You Smile—and Buy a Product

Zócalo’s editors are highlighting some of our favorite pieces from the archive. This week: Writer Ellen Lutwak describes working as a naming consultant—and what’s …

Are Christmas Toys Dead?

There’s Not Much Room For Legos When Children Are Becoming Adults and Adults Are Becoming Children

It’s the time of year to give kids toys, and if you’re one of the shoppers trying to please them, you deserve even more sympathy and pity than your parents …