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Fifty and Fabulous

MGA's Bratz, launched in 2001, and Hannah Montana, whose Jakks Pacific dolls followed in 2006, have taken a bite out of Mattel's Barbie business, with its toy and related merch sales flat-lining in the last five years. But with a half-century under her snug belt, Barbie doesn't look a day over 25 and the toyco is hoping to juice the doll's US$1.2 billion annual sales by making a play for the tween market through a number of branding and marketing initiatives planned to celebrate her big 5-0.
February 17, 2009

MGA’s Bratz, launched in 2001, and Hannah Montana, whose Jakks Pacific dolls followed in 2006, have taken a bite out of Mattel’s Barbie business, with its toy and related merch sales flat-lining in the last five years. But with a half-century under her snug belt, Barbie doesn’t look a day over 25 and the toyco is hoping to juice the doll’s US$1.2 billion annual sales by making a play for the tween market through a number of branding and marketing initiatives planned to celebrate her big 5-0.

Being responsible for approximately one-fifth of Mattel’s revenue is a heavy burden for those sleek, tanned plastic shoulders to bear. In fact, Barbie’s success is crucial to that of the company and Mattel is trying to recoup Barbie’s tween market share lost primarily to chief rival Bratz over the past eight years. (The fate of the edgier dolls manufactured by MGA remains up in the air despite last December’s court decision that settled the now-infamous copyright infringement case in Mattel’s favor. MGA has appealed and the matter’s gone back to court.)

To bring older girls back to the doll, Mattel is shifting gears to concentrate on positioning Barbie firmly as a high-fashion role model. As such, her clothing and accessories will reflect the world as depicted in the pages of Vogue and W. Additionally, Mattel is unifying the Barbie brand under a single logo that looks like Barbie’s signature and has decreed PMS219 the official Barbie shade of pink to make cohesive packaging and promo statements at retail.

‘We expect to regain the tween market with an edgier look and a consistency in the brand’s structure and vision,’ says Lauren Dougherty, co-chair of Barbie’s 50th Anniversary marketing campaign at Mattel. And to kick things off, on March 9 – Barbie’s ‘real’ birthday – a party is being held in L.A. at a full-scale version of her iconic Malibu Dream House, designed by celeb interior decorator Jonathan Adler.

Mattel also plans to take the occasion to highlight a slew of new high-fashion Barbie licensees and retailers signed on in advance of the golden anniversary. The list includes Bloomingdale’s, where new dolls will hit the shelves February 12, and Fred Segal, which will offer everything from high-end jewellery to MP3 players. As well, Dylan’s Candy Bar (truffles and candied lipstick) and Mighty Fine T-shirts (t-shirts) have signed on. Dougherty says there are still more partnerships to be announced in the coming months.

In a sense, one could describe Mattel’s approach to the year ahead as looking back to the future. ‘We have shifted direction and are now approaching Barbie as a fashion brand. We will be managing it with a distinct Barbie style and voice, from advertising to the product on the web,’ says Dougherty. ‘Everything we do will be unapologetically all-girl, playful and distinctly Barbie.’

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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