Now that she's 36 years old, Mattel has finally realized Barbie's adult appeal. A print campaign breaking this week in People and in October issues of women's magazines sells Barbie to collectors who grew up with the original fashion doll.
"We haven't done anything like [this campaign] before," said Lisa McKendall, Mattel director of marketing communications, since all previous Barbie advertising has targeted children. "It's really positioning Barbie collectibles as a brand."
Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles, created the ads, themed "Because you're never too old for Barbie.
Fans have long sought vintage Barbies and accessories through the collector network, but Mattel is finally getting in on the adult market. Three years ago it started opening a few Barbie Boutiques in F.A.O. Schwarz and Toys "R" Us stores .
In September, the boutique at the flagship New York City F.A.O. Schwarz's reopened in an expanded and redesigned format, and in the next year Mattel plans to have a total of 500 of the shops in department stores.
"This whole collectible Barbie business started unbeknownst to us, and now we're trying to play catch up," Ms. McKendall said.
The brand is experiencing double digit sales growth, she said, and ad spending is being increased accordingly.
A sweepstakes later this fall from O&M will support the collectibles campaign. "You'd have to spend a fortune on Fifth Avenue to have a wardrobe like hers" is the contest's theme, which offers a shopping spree.
The latest moves are putting Mattel back in a market it has largely given up-high-end department stores. Boutiques are planned for May Department Stores Co., Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Bloomingdale's, Filene's, Kauffman's, and R.H. Macy & Co. stores.
The revamped F.A.O. Schwarz boutique unveiled in September seems to foretell the future of the Barbie business. The first floor is "elegant, like a boutique for any fashion designer," according to Ms. McKendall, and is being billed by F.A.O. Schwarz as a "collector's paradise." The second floor will carry products designed for the traditional little girl market. Another collector's line will target older girls.
Little girl-size Barbie nightgowns will be sold alongside adult-priced Nicole Miller silk scarves.
Barbie's recent successes are part of the pay off of Mattel's effort to recreate old markets.
"In the past seven years, we've more than doubled our Barbie business," said Ms. McKendall, with earnings jumping from about $430 million in 1987 to more than $1 billion worldwide in 1994, and average sales coming to 1.5 million dolls a week.
To explain the surge in Barbie interest, Ms. McKendall said, "we really focused on marketing the brand." Brand marketing, and creating new markets for Barbie, such as the lucrative collector doll business, have been part of Mattel's strategy to dramatically hike sales for its longtime product lines.
The collector doll business is the fastest growing segment of Mattel's Barbie empire, and the company expects to double sales in that niche this year alone.
When Bloomingdale's offered its second limited-edition designer Barbie in mid-August, some 30,000 Donna Karan Barbies were sold within three weeks.
Bloomingdale's CEO Michael Gould said the Donna Karan doll is expected to earn just under $2.5 million, while last year Bloomie's Nicole Miller Barbie brought in about $1 million in revenues.