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BarbieLatina says 'hola' to Net

By Published on .

With the launch this week of BarbieLatina.com, Mattel is not only expanding the marketing opportunities for its popular girls brand, but also illustrating the rapid growth of Internet usage among U.S. Hispanics.

The target market has grown exponentially in recent years, to 55% PC penetration and 40% Internet penetration this year, according to Cheskin Research, and between 1998 and 2000 alone, household PC penetration in the market increased 68% to 9.3 million, or 42% of Hispanics. Further, said Felipe Korzenny, a principal and co-founder of the San Francisco-based firm, household broadband penetration equals that of the U.S. audience as a whole at 11%. "What [Hispanic households] explain to us is that they don't want their kids to be left behind," he explained.

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, U.S. Hispanics who use the Internet increased by 25% from March 2000 to February 2001, expanding to encompass 11 million adults.

The U.S. English site Barbie.com, which launched in 1998, is among the top 10 online destinations for girls ages 2-11, Mattel said, garnering an average of 5 million visits per month. The site has thus become an important branding tool, with online activities that Mattel has structured to engage the audience for extended time periods. Visitors average 28 minutes per session. "It's like having them watch a TV show," said Christina DeRosa, VP-Girls Interactive Group at Mattel. Thus, even though the precise benefits of Barbie's online marketing are unknown, Mattel has recently been contributing 7% to 8% of its annual marketing budget to online. According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Mattel spent $27.5 million to advertise the Barbie brand during 2000. On the site, Mattel worked with the San Francisco office of SBI. Given the Mattel brand's ability to straddle the line between entertainment and marketing, the Girls Interactive Group is also soliciting outside advertisers about appearing on the site.

Visitors to the site can dress Barbie and her friends by picking different outfits, create Barbie-themed stories, cards and posters and engage in fantasy scenarios within Barbie's branding-intensive world. Most of these play patterns are universal among pre-teen girls. "Girls like process," Ms. DeRosa said. "They like to be led through different steps that lead to a defining moment or conclusion."

As for BarbieLatina.com, the site bears a strong resemblance to its U.S. English counterpart, but also contains subtle differences. While the target age group, girls 3-8, shares a passion for fantasy and nurturing behavior, the U.S. Hispanic girls market has less interest in gaming and more interest in activity-based play than the U.S. English market, according to Ms. DeRosa. "You can't sort of just take [an existing site] and translate it, regardless of the language that girl may speak," she said. For instance, while Barbie.com is currently promoting a new game, "Sugarplum Fun," on the home page, BarbieLatina.com does not.

But other features are more similar. For one, the site contains a catalog where girls can look at-but not buy-Barbie merchandise and compile wish lists for items they'd like as presents. It also contains a Barbie calendar, which subtly introduces new products.

Even though reading is not essential for girls to enjoy the site, Mattel executives debated about whether they should create the site in English or Spanish. Even though most U.S. Hispanic girls are learning, or learning in, English at school, Spanish is still the primary language used at home. They went with Spanish.

Mattel plans to promote the site the same way it promoted its U.S English site: by placing the URL on commercials and packaging. (The company is also about to expand its placement on packaging of the URLs for its broad array of nine international sites, which also include French, German, Swedish, Dutch and a site for other English-speaking countries.)

Since Barbie.com has proven so popular, Mattel feels the promotional strategy will work. Cheskin's Mr. Korzenny is more skeptical, since he feels that Net-surfing habits aren't so ingrained among this relatively new target. "I think it's obvious they have to do [those promotional things]," he said. "But I think they have to do more [than that] because I think getting people to Web sites takes a little more work."

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