Much of the success of the toy giant, which introduced it to the world over 60 years ago, lies in its narrow plastic shoulders. Barbie and Mattel’s stories more or less go hand in handand although in some bad moments the company has achieved good results and has been able to maintain the balance of business thanks to its other brands, this remains fundamental. “Barbie is, of course, the queen of our product portfolio. And to some extent, it’s an indication of how Mattel works,” said Richard Dickson, the company’s president and chief operating officer, via video call.
While Dickson hasn’t disclosed the brand’s weight in the company’s revenue, its annual report shed some light, with roughly $5,458 million (a similar figure in euros) in 2021 reaching 6.081 million before discounts, returns and other adjustments were applied. . The doll segment generated approximately $2.3 billion in gross revenue and Barbie1,679, 73% of sales in its category and about 27% of the total. “Last year was the highest in its history,” Dickson says. Recording 903 million profits compared to 123 the previous year, Mattel’s revenue increased 19% compared to 2020.
Barbie is back in the limelight. “We are experiencing huge increases worldwide. Spain, in particular, is enjoying the Barbie revival. But for this impossibly sized blonde she has to change to survive, the road in the world of toys is full of curves. “The brand has a great history, it’s very loud, but it also has a lot of controversy,” says Dickson.
More than six decades ago, when the evaluation of toys by gender became even more apparent, Mattel co-founder Ruth Handler saw that her son Kenneth had more options than her daughter Barbara. While she could be an astronaut or a surgeon, Barbara and the other girls had to mainly entertain themselves with dolls in a simulation of what society had in store for her. “Ruth watched her daughter play with paper ladybugs, and what she noticed when playing with her friends was that when they played, they imagined what they would be like in the future.” So in 1959 Barbie was born as a way to unleash the imagination and potential of girls.
Although Barbie was a representation of corseted women by gender, at that time and in the social context, it was presented as a vehicle for girls to reflect themselves in settings outside the home and care. “And as time went on, she was always at the pinnacle of what we might call the cultural conversation. In the sixties Barbie represented many aspirations of what was going on,” says Mattel’s president. “She started her studies and her outfits represented the career girls could dream of. As time went on, Barbie and her style changed too.”
and they did too critics about his body and its effect on childhood. In 1965, the year the astronaut suit was introduced, Mattel had a 110-pound scale and on its cover, “How to Lose Weight?”, on the reverse “Don’t eat!” marketed a pajama party set that included a book that wrote In the early nineties, a newly talking Barbie uttered four sentences randomly selected from 270. Among them: “Math class is tough!”, a cliché that swells the most and still persists, or “You know what? Do you want to go shopping?”
But Barbie was surviving the surge, controversy, and competition in sales of other dolls like the Bratz of the early 21st century. But in 2014, the brand experienced its lowest hours in three decades. Plastic life has ceased to be fantastic. Dickson says sales volume is in a double-digit drop. The President asked, “Is the ‘Is Barbie dead in the UK?’ there was a headline,” he recalls.
Conversations about the baby’s body were heard louder than ever, representation, objectification, etc. problems were discussed. Barbie says Dickson has lost touch with the cause and cultural conversation she was born with, and this is her passport to failure. “The brand was in a place where it had monologues with consumers, and we needed to have a dialogue.”
It was time to listen and decide: “We made what could be argued as the brand’s biggest bet: we change the product”. Since 2016, Barbie has four body types and nine skin tones. They also started working with well-known women in different fields, creating a collection of dolls including Rosa Parks and Jane Goodall. More recently, for example, Barbies with prosthetics, vitiligo or hearing aids have arrived.
“People liked what we did, but we didn’t see that later in sales,” Dickson says. Gradually the line gained momentum, traders gave it more space on the shelves and it started to work well. “Barbie in a wheelchair was the 11th best-selling fashion doll the year we introduced it,” she notes. “Today, in the Fashionista line, more than half the volume is from non-Caucasian dolls.”
Although Barbie reintroduced herself in the story, the company did not have its best moments in the years that followed. In addition to the doll crisis, Mattel had to deal with two more major problems. Disney this year withdrew the commercialization of the dolls that reproduced their rescued princesses, putting them into the hands of rival Hasbro. In addition, Toys ‘R’ Us, whose goods were sold, was in trouble in the USA in 2017, which resulted in bankruptcy. As a result, Mattel’s figures for 2017-2019 were painted red.
Ynon Kreiz, who was appointed CEO in 2018, brought with him a new approach that included increasing intellectual property in addition to cuts, including staff cuts. Barbie’s world is waist wide and offers dolls and accessories, as well as games, television content and digital experiences, and a movie that will hit theaters in 2023. pop culture icon and now for an entire franchise,” concludes Dickson.
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