Pressure on Barbie’s marketing makeover to reinforce brand’s ‘positive values’ after sales dip

By Seb Joseph | News editor

April 17, 2015 | 5 min read

The scale of Barbie’s marketing challenge to stay relevant amid the popularity of connected toys has been laid bare as recent brand changes failed to stop its sixth consecutive quarterly sales drop.

Sales of the iconic doll slumped 1.4 per cent in the three months to March. Owner Mattel believes the performance belies how the launch of last year’s global strategy for the brand is starting to take effect.

To prove the point, it highlighted more effective merchandising and a strong reception to new creative in its focus groups in the quarter alongside marketing that had made a stronger connection with mums.

While Mattel declined to detail how it measured the success, it highlighted point of sale increases and higher scores across the board at retail as the clearest indication that it had the foundations in place to grow sales. It is also changing how digital data is used in order to fuel faster testing programs such as pricing in both its physical and virtual channels.

The insights will back a global advertising campaign later this year, which will realise the Barbie’s brand’s revamped strategy to reinforce its positive values and the importance of imaginative play. Barbie dolls have long been criticised for their unrealistic and damaging portrayal of women and upcoming ads will look to curb these concerns once and for all with what is billed as the most multicultural and multiethnic line of fashion dolls it has ever produced.

A focal point of the campaign will be a photo feature with Italian Vogue. The campaign is underpinned by renewed partnerships with retailers, both on and offline, alongside a tighter media mix around its most effective channels such as in-store and content.

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Richard Dickson, chief operating officer of Mattel, told analysts on a conference call yesterday evening (16 April) that the upcoming promotion marks both “real world product relevance and global fashion credibility on a scale that only the Barbie brand can achieve”.

“We are only getting started,” he continued. “But are making big strides quickly and most importantly we are seeing renewed enthusiasm for Barbie building with consumers and retailers alike.”

“No rock has gone unturned in the context of our marketing programs. We completely redid all our commercial advertising creative testing, the most effective test that we’ve had in years [that introduced] completely new graphics associated with the commercial advertising. We emphasized the tentpole specifically that was in the mix, which was Princess Power into a pop culture trend that really leveraged the power of the global connectivity that Barbie has in pop-culture to really create a superhero if you will trend in the marketplace, in addition to that our digital alignment across all touch points of Barbie reinforcing the same messaging. “

It isn’t just Barbie that has to reset itself for the connected generation. Fellow Mattel stablemate Fisher Price is four months into a global campaign that elevates the role of digital and user-generated-content in clarifying its expertise around early childhood development. Connected toys and partnerships with technology firms will be a key part of the positioning following the success of its award-winning Smart Connect range.

Despite its confidence, Mattel still faces many obstacles if it is to return Barbie to queen of the toys. Lacklustre sales are a tell-tell sign that it still has some way to go win over kids and their parents more likely to be wooed by innovative alternatives such as tablets and gadgets.


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