Fans Say Don’t Mess With “Dora the Explorer”

March 19, 2009 10:30 AM
by Cara McDonough
An older, more mature version of Nickelodeon’s Dora met with outrage from fans, underlying the importance of brand continuity.

Dora New, But Not Better

The blogosphere was abuzz with negative reactions after toy maker Mattel, teaming up with kids’ network Nickelodeon, announced that it would soon release a “tween” version of Dora for older children.

People referred to the new doll as “Dora the streetwalker” and “A poor example for kids,” according to the Associated Press.

That’s because the new Dora, which is aimed at five- to eight-year-olds, appeared to have long, glamorous hair and “shapely” legs—a far cry from the tomboy look of the original Dora.
Mattel and Nickelodeon both countered by saying there had been misconceptions; the first images of the new Dora made her look more voluptuous than she was supposed to look. And the original Dora isn’t going anywhere. "Pretty much the moms who are petitioning aging Dora up certainly don't understand. ... I think they're going to be pleasantly happy once this is available in October,” says Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel.
But the more important point is about changing a well-loved brand, says Jean-Pierre Dube, professor of marketing at the University of Chicago's graduate school of business. "We could certainly make a case that the public is overreacting … but there's some important information there, and that is, 'Don't mess with this brand unless you're very careful,’” he said.

Dora, a character geared toward preschoolers, along with her friends Boots the Monkey, Isa the Iguana, Tico the Squirrel and Swiper the Fox, have gained a huge following since the show was introduced on Nickelodeon in 2000; a Spanish version was introduced later.

Her huge fan base may be one reason the public has reacted so strongly to the idea of a new, different Dora, even if the original remains in the public eye.

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Related Topic: The perils of making changes to well-known characters

Brand changes, whatever positive reasons behind them, can result in major backlash. And the more popular the brand, the worse the reaction can be.

When Mattel released a new, more “real” version of Barbie, critics noted that the company’s intentions might have been noble, but that Barbie’s more realistic body was still pretty unrealistic to most women, New York Daily News reported.

Lynn Chancer, a professor of sociology at Barnard College who studies concepts of femininity and beauty, commented on the subject, stating that it was a move in the right direction. “Anything that begins to change the rigidity of beauty ideals for women is useful,” Chancer said. She added, however, that the problems with the blond bombshell doll remain, asking, “Does this new Barbie question a particular ideal of beauty or does she question all ideals of beauty that are oppressive to women?"

Many bloggers expressed their dismay when Disney made changes to Winnie the Pooh, most notably the addition of a girl named Darby in the place of Pooh’s original childhood friend, Christopher Robin.

“From the outset, Disney has mutilated my beloved childhood friend Winnie the Pooh,” wrote Sarah Houghton-Jan on her blog in December 2005. She wrote that she is a Pooh “fanatic” but only classic A.A. Milne Pooh. Of the then upcoming character Darby, she wrote that “In a move to further corrupt the perfect stories of AA Milne,” Disney had plans to introduce a new character.

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