Barbie has to work harder to help out sagging Mattel

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Amid executive changes, a sagging stock price and recent layoffs, Mattel hopes to build on and broaden one of its key brands: Barbie.

This year's Barbie line will debut more non-doll items including a lip gloss maker and a potpourri of girl-oriented electronics, such as the Share or Dare! Electronic Party Game and Secret Talking Electronic Scrapbook.

"A very big accomplishment and goal is to broaden the array of product beyond the doll," said Adrienne Fontanella, Mattel president-girls/Barbie.

Four new spots from Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Los Angeles, concentrate on some of the new products. The spots promote the Lip Gloss Maker Activity Set, a Sit-n-Style Barbie for hair makeovers, Pajama Fun Skipper and Hollywood Nails Barbie. Ogilvy's advertising features the line "It's a great time to be a girl."


"As a whole, the advertising is new and different," Ms. Fontanella said. "There's a new energy that comes through the graphics, the music and the colors."

Ogilvy's campaign is an evolution of its 1999 "Girls rule" and "True girl" Barbie effort.

Those ads were very "mom-directed," said Ms. Fontanella. This year's effort, however, is aimed at both mothers and daughters.

Barbie's marketing makeover includes a new logo and packaging along with the O&M advertising.

Bright graphics using yellow, orange and purple in addition to Barbie's signature pink, and contemporary music are being used to lure pre-teen girls.

"Fun and fashion, that's what we're trying to communicate," said Joe McDonagh, co-president of Ogilvy's Los Angeles office..

Barbie has long been the woman at the heart of the Mattel toy empire and the company's profit engine. Her sales, however, have been flat over the last three years. According to NPD TRSTS Toy Tracking Service, Barbie sales were $1.3 billion in both 1997 and 1998, and are projected to tally just $1.2 billion for 1999.

Part of the decline is a result of a trend among girls to outgrow Barbie at an earlier age. Ads previously targeted 3-to-8-year-olds, who accounted for 58.3% of sales in '99, according to NPD. Nine-to-12-year-olds accounted for only 12% of sales.

As a result, Mattel has taken several steps to appeal to pre-teen girls, among them including popular street clothing such as hip-hugging skirts and slacks paired with cropped tops. Mattel also tried to lure this age group last year with the launch of its Generation Girl Barbie line. These high-fashion dolls are into activities like snowboarding, spinning records and karaoke. Y&R Advertising, New York, handles the Generation Girl segment.

Ed Roth, VP at retailing consultancy NPD Group, says Mattel has a challenge in luring older girls, such as the 9- to 12-year-olds, with the Barbie brand. "There's a lot of competition out there with the Internet, sports and music."

Barbie has also been in the news lately. At age 41, she has a new face, her first belly button, slightly less-prominent breasts and a more athletic looking body.

Former Mattel President Jill Barad -- who was credited with much of the Barbie brand's growth during her 20-year tenure with the company -- abruptly resigned in February. The company, searching for a new CEO, has begun laying off hundreds of employees and has seen its stock price drop from highs in the mid-40's last year to the $10 range.

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