Richard Dickson Was Senior VP of Worldwide Business Development

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LOS ANGELES -- Toymaker Mattel has a new head of branded entertainment.

The company has named Richard Dickson senior vice president of global consumer marketing and
Although Barbie Doll sales continue to slide, the sale of Barbie-based entertainment products is booming.

entertainment, replacing Steve Ross, who left the company in November. He had been Mattel’s senior VP of worldwide entertainment and business development, joining the company in early 2003.

Consumer products and licensing

Mr. Dickson, a six-year Mattel veteran and former retail executive at Bloomingdale's, had shepherded the consumer products and licensing divisions for the company. He now adds on oversight of media and entertainment to his duties.

Among Mr. Dickson's top priorities is developing the toy manufacturers' properties into entertainment content, whether that's a series of DVDs, a feature film or mobisodes for cell phones.

Mattel has already been active in branded entertainment, but the toy giant plans to delve even further into the space, going beyond its Barbie and Hot Wheels lines to launch content around a variety of its properties including the preschool-targeted Fisher-Price and young girl-skewing Polly Pocket.

Live stage shows

The marketer also will push into live stage shows, video-on-demand, wireless content and other emerging media while stepping up its online presence for such franchises as the My Scene fashion dolls.

"We look at entertainment to help deliver a brand message," Mr. Dickson said. "It's the best way to tell a story, and each product line has one. We also create content to drive toy sales."

He and his team will emulate the model they've established in the past several years with Barbie, who has become a DVD star with such titles as "Barbie Live in Fairytopia" and "Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus." The six direct-to-DVD movies have sold tens of millions of copies, along with toys themed to each title, though they skewed to the young end of the spectrum, mostly girls 4 to 8 years old. The marketing muscle around those products also has boosted the line overall, though Barbie continues to suffer from sluggish sales, especially with tween girls. Mattel reported that Barbie's sales in the U.S. were down 30% in the third quarter.
Although Barbie Doll sales continue to slide, the sale of Barbie-based entertainment products is booming.

Entertainment based on the iconic fashion doll has been a bright spot, with successful DVDs migrating to Nickelodeon for well-rated TV airings. Next up is a tour starting in April that will hit some 80 cities over two years. Barbie's first live stage show, being created in partnership with Clear Channel Entertainment for domestic and international audiences, will be music driven, with tie-in products and licensed merchandise.

40-year-old Hot Wheels franchise

The marketer also has developed entertainment around the nearly 40-year-old Hot Wheels franchise. Four one-hour animated mini-movies based on Hot Wheels' new AcceleRacers line aired this year on Cartoon Network. Mattel also created 16 short films for the network's Web site with downloadable games and other interactive content aimed at the core consumer, 6-11-year-old boys.

A live-action feature film is still in development at Sony's Columbia Pictures with McG, who directed the "Charlie's Angels" movies and executive produces TV shows like "The O.C." and "Supernatural." There's no script yet and no set date to begin production, Mr. Dickinson said.

Mattel is working with talent agency Endeavor to step up its use of music in its toys, Web sites, entertainment and advertising.

The guiding principle for creating branded entertainment based on toys is "staying true to the essence of the brand and creating depth for the characters," Mr. Dickson said. In the case of Fisher-Price, the marketer wants to make mom-approved entertainment that gives some dimension and back story to the infant and toddler franchises like Little People.

Tapping into the play patterns

"It also has to tap into the play patterns and have a protectable point of difference," Mr. Dickson said.

His other new duties include media planning and buying, some of which is done in-house at Mattel and some will continue to be handled through MindShare and Mediavest. The marketer will look closely at emerging media as a way to reach young consumers, Mr. Dickson said, with those avenues playing an increasingly important role.
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