What in the World—Week of May 1

Mattel introduces Barbie with Down syndrome

Mattel has introduced a Barbie doll with Down syndrome, the latest step by the toymaker to create “the most diverse doll on the market.”

Mattel worked with the National Down Syndrome Society to develop the doll, which includes a yellow and blue dress (colours associated with Down syndrome awareness). She also has a necklace with three chevrons representing three copies of the 21st chromosome, and ankle foot orthotics used by many children with Down syndrome.

“[W]e are dedicated to doing our part to counter social stigma through play,” said Lisa McKnight, executive vice-president and global head of Barbie and dolls, in a release. “Our goal is to enable all children to see themselves in Barbie, while also encouraging children to play with dolls who do not look like themselves.”

Once criticized for the unrealistic body shape of the original iconic doll, Mattel in recent years has introduced Barbies of different body types, disabilities and fashions—including dolls with vitiligo, dolls that use a wheelchair or prosthetic limb, and a doll without hair.

RTRO is social without the algo

Two experiential marketing execs are launching a new social media platform that will not be powered by an algorithm, emphasizing instead the ability for friends to chat and stay connected. RTRO will include a private chat section, public channels for brands and influencers to message followers, and ChatGPT integration.

“We are experiential designers. We started thinking, ‘What if we took a stab at looking at social media through our lens?’” RTRO co-founder Nicole Falco told Glossy.

There is no advertising or monetization plan at launch, but a number of brands and well-known influencers have already joined. Because the app will not use an algorithm to serve content to users, the founders say RTRO will be a better mental health option for young people, and was the inspiration for the name—which evokes a pre-algorithm era of social media.

“The plan is to take people back to a time where it’s just about connecting; connecting with people and connecting with great content,” said Falco.

Why is GM killing the Volt?

Just as it was starting to emerge as a success story for General Motors, the automaker announced last week that it is going to pull the plug on its electric vehicle the Volt.

Regarded as the cheapest EV in the U.S., Volt sales were up 50% last year, and GM expected to produce a record 70,000 cars this year, according to CNBC.

But GM (along with most of the big automakers) is manoeuvring to compete long-term in the fast growing EV category, and the company needs to retool existing manufacturing facilities for the next generation of EVs, including trucks.

After opening retooled production facilities next year, GM expects to be rolling out 600,000 EV pickups annually. While the Volt was not an immediate win for GM, and the brand was damaged by a widespread recall in 2020 and 2021 over fire concerns, GM dropped the price for the 2022 model year to as low as $27,000.

With Volt production ending, GM’s new entry-level EV will be the Equinox, which starts at about $30,000.

Mulvaney breaks her silence

Dylan Mulvaney, the transgender influencer who made Kid Rock so mad that he machine-gunned cases of Bud Light, spoke out on Thursday after weeks of silence.

In early April, Mulvaney posted to social media thanking the brewer for sending her cans with her face on them for the first anniversary of her gender transition. The Anheuser-Busch beer brand similarly worked with several influencers during the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament, and Bud Light has been supportive of LGBTQ rights in the past.

But the Mulvaney post sparked an anti-trans firestorm that led to two marketers being put on leave. “I think it’s OK to be frustrated with someone or confused, but what I’m struggling to understand is the need to dehumanize and be cruel,” said Mulvaney, who has 10.8 million followers on TikTok and 1.8 million on Instagram. “Dehumanization has never fixed anything in history ever.”

In the past few days, cosmetics brand Maybelline has faced calls for a boycott for working with Mulvaney.

Instagram Reels are good and bad for Meta

The popularity of Instagram Reels is growing fast, but for now at least, that growth is a good news / bad news story for Meta, reports Quartz.

People are now re-sharing Reels more than two billion times a day, twice what it was six months ago, said CEO Mark Zuckerberg during last week’s quarterly report. “Reels are also increasing overall app engagement and we believe that we’re gaining share in short-form video too,” he said.

That’s the good news story as Meta responds to the explosive popularity of TikTok. The problem is that Meta’s ad model for Reels, which launched in August 2020, isn’t as lucrative as that for Instagram Feed and Stories, and more time on Reels means less time on the Feed and Stories.

However, Meta is taking steps to improve how it monetizes Reels, meaning ad revenue will likely rise. Overall, Meta reported a 4% increase in reported ad revenue in the first quarter, while total revenue was up 3% to $28.6 billion.

David Brown