Barbie, at home in the mall

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Better homes & gardens hits the road this week with its 15th annual shopping-mall tour, and it's taking a record number of top-level sponsors along.

Designed to celebrate home-related products for healthy living, the BH&G mall tour takes portable "rooms" to malls at 20 cities nationwide, where consumers are invited to explore products and ask questions.

Top sponsors include Mattel Consumer Products, which is making a splash with a Barbie-themed girl's room; American Plastics Council, showing a variety of useful household products and designs, and General Motors Corp.'s Envoy, demonstrating the sport utility vehicle. Each will be represented in advertorials appearing in the magazine during the next few months; sponsor prices varied and were not disclosed.

Originally drawing only a handful of smaller sponsors, in recent years BH&G has been inking bigger deals with major sponsors, said Publisher Jeannine Shao Collins. Past top sponsors have included Intel Corp., 3M Corp. and Microsoft Corp. This year the tour drew three major sponsors for the first time, and Ms. Collins expects to meet or exceed that goal next year.

Mattel is using the mall tour as a launch pad for a raft of Barbie-themed home-decor items including comforters, curtains, lamps and furniture; the target audience is families with girls ages 3 to 10.

Mattel came aboard because the tour presented an opportunity to concentrate products from diverse categories in one display area, said Richard Dickson, a senior VP at Mattel overseeing girls and consumer products.

"The mall tour not only brings the Barbie brand to life, but it helps us establish a retail connection through malls without being dominated by any single retailer," he said.

The tour is expected to draw thousands of visitors at upscale malls, beginning June 8 at the Mall of America near Minneapolis and ending Oct. 21 in Houston. J.C. Dolan, St. Louis, coordinates Mattel's tour; other aspects of the mall tour are handled in-house.

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