Plastic surgery: Barbie gets real makeover

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Barbie's getting a reality check.

Faced with the fact that its icon is slipping in popularity-Barbie didn't make the top-five-selling dolls in August-Mattel is introducing a line of My Scene dolls, including a more approachable and multicultural Barbie aimed at older girls.

"The fantasy theme, the nurturing theme, the aspirational themes worked well for Barbie," said Adrienne Fontanella, president-girls division, Mattel. But "when it came to more reality-based issues ... we realized we needed to reconfigure Barbie."

Mattel's answer: Madison, the designer-fashion hound; Chelsea, the bohemian; and the trendsetting My Scene Barbie. The trio could pass for Beyonce, J. Lo and Britney with their multicultural features and pop-star wardrobes.

"They really pick up on this notion there are various tribes girls want to belong to," said Ms. Fontanella. "Each character has her own personality and individuality, which is very important to tweens."

Even their physical attributes are more down-to-earth than busty Barbie. "We resculpted the doll to be more appealing to older girls ages seven to 12," said a spokeswoman, to be more "reality based."

Barbie's makeover is overdue. While Barbie is still Mattel's biggest brand, dominating the company's $2.2 billion girls division, worldwide sales of Barbie fell 3% in 2001 to $1.55 billion and U.S. sales plunged 12%. This year hasn't been much better, in the U.S. at least-Barbie's domestic sales slid 6% in the third quarter. Internationally, things look better for Barbie, with sales up 17% in the third quarter.

Barbie's fall comes despite a strong doll market, with category sales up 8% to $3 billion.

U.S. rivals have already flooded the market with competing tween lines. Though Barbie was the top licensed property for the year ended in June, NPDFunWorld said MGA Entertainment's miniature Bratz lines dominated the top three doll sales slots in August.

To back the My Scene launch, an integrated ad campaign began last week from Barbie roster agency Peterson Milla Hooks, Minneapolis. The effort includes a 136-foot fashion-model billboard in Times Square, three 15-second TV spots (AdAge.com QwikFIND aao16o) and print-a media combination rarely used by toy marketers.

Print ads of the dolls shot by fashion photographer Richard Burnbridge juxtapose alluring poses against high-attitude copylines including "Know what you're made of-Barbie on being plastic"; "Go ahead, label me-Madison on designer clothing"; "They can never be too tight-Chelsea on friendships." A Web site at myscene.com also will engage girls online "for talk, for tips, for trends, for you."

"We knew that in order to resonate with the target tween audience the campaign needed to represent reality, yet still capture the aspirational qualities tween girls find cool in today's world," said Brian Hooks, partner and exec VP at the agency.

Spending wasn't disclosed, but Ms. Fontanella said, "It's a very important launch for us and we'll spend appropriately." Barbie was supported with $66 million in measured media in 2001.

Michael Wood, VP, Teenage Research Unlimited, is optimistic. "As much hype as there is on this age group in terms of being sophisticated and wanting to dress like older girls, at the end of the day they're still little girls," he said. "It never ceases to amaze me how teenage girls still want to be little girls."

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