Barbie Battles Back

October 21, 2009 at 9:52 am Leave a comment

BarbieThe Wall Street Journal reports Barbie’s newest incarnation, the Fashionistas line, a trendier, more posable (12 joints) version of the iconic doll. According to the article, two new dolls are ready to challenge the champ–Liv dolls from Spin Master, best known for toys for boys; Moxie Girlz from MGA Entertainment, the company that lost a crushing legal fight with Barbie parent Mattel over the Bratz line.

Barbie is a company unto itself with annual sales topping $1 billion and a globally recognized brand. Its marketing issues resemble those of Tide detergent, another “company-within-a-company.” In an earlier post, I mention the orange monolith that is the Tide display in the supermarket laundry product aisle. That’s only outdone by the pink grotto which is Barbie’s turf in the typical toy store (even a manly guy like me will find himself there if he has daughters).

Like Tide, Barbie has a variant and sub-brand for every perceived customer, from “Peekaboo Petites” ready to throw down on Polly Pocket, to the “I Can Be” line which casts Barbie as a career woman, to “Barbie: Collector,” the $40+ resident of Mom’s knickknack shelf. Of course, there’s plain old Barbie in Fairy-Tastic, Wedding Day, and Fashion Fever formats. Ken better look out. There’s also a Barbie accompanied by Spongebob Squarepants.

Barbie suffers from line extension fatigue, as decried by my favorite branding experts, Al and Laura Ries. In their book, The Origin of Brands, Al and Laura assert that the effort to force existing brands into new positioning would be better spent creating entirely new brands to satisfy changing consumer tastes and needs.

Bratz fulfilled that new doll brand opportunity as it went sassy instead of statuesque, straight-up urban diva versus fantasy princess/Malibu beach girl/modern bride/astronaut/curio. The one problem: designer Carter Bryant was still in Mattel’s employ when he devised the “disruptive technology” doll. Mattel proved it in court and won a $100 million judgment against MGA Entertainment and the right to shut down the Bratz line–a business and legal miracle that allowed the big, slow established company to thwart the upstart that had absconded with its share, something the incumbent brand was unable to accomplish in the marketplace.

The irony: Bratz probably would have never seen the light of day had Carter Bryant submitted the concept to his bosses at Mattel. Just as Xerox squashed the personal computer technology developed at its PARC think tank, just as Kodak forgot the first digital camera came from its labs, Mattel would have seen the pouty, cooler-than-thou Bratz as an affront to its Barbie dynasty and shipped them to the dumpster.

Now everyone is trying to be Bratz, including MGA Entertainment with its comeback Moxie Girlz and Mattel with the Fashionistas. Barbie has morphed more than Madonna. It’s time for the true material girl to concentrate on her strengths and adjust sales and market share expectations accordingly.

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Entry filed under: Branding, Marketing. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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