AGENDA: Mattel in move to modernise toys - Departures at Mattel have hit the toy manufacturer as it seeks to modernise key products, such as Barbie, to appeal to a new generation of computer-literate children. Lisa Campbell reports

Mattel may have seen off rival Sindy with its Barbie brand, but with a spate of recent marketing management departures (Marketing, July 9), the question is whether it can keep its flagship product at the top of Santa’s list.

Mattel may have seen off rival Sindy with its Barbie brand, but

with a spate of recent marketing management departures (Marketing, July

9), the question is whether it can keep its flagship product at the top

of Santa’s list.

The toy manufacturer last week lost Melanie Stubbing, its group

marketing director, to outdoor-play company Hedstrom. This came just one

week after Sally Plumridge, marketing director for girls’ toys, left to

join Swatch.

The company has also been without a managing director for four months

following the sudden departure of Denis Horton after weaker than

expected sales figures in 1997.

However, a new managing director is about to be appointed, just in time

for Mattel to gear up for the crucial pre-Christmas period when the

sleepy toy industry suddenly springs to life. Richard Sanderson,

formerly of Black & Decker, will join as vice-president and managing

director of the UK and Republic of Ireland.

He will oversee a rapid programme of new product development, which

includes revamping and extending the Barbie range to appeal to two

distinct audiences.

The classic, pink fantasy Barbie aims at the younger end of the market,

while older girls in the eight to ten age group will be targeted with an

updated Barbie.

The doll has a new face, its first in 13 years, not because at almost 40

she has wrinkles, but because Mattel is attempting to give her a more

contemporary look.

To convince older girls that Barbie really is cool, Mattel is launching

Cool Colours Barbie in September, a hip Barbie in Doc Martens and a

retro knitted hat.

A promotion offers a free back-to-school bag as well as hair mascara for

use on both doll and girl. It follows a promotion last January on the

new Bead Barbie, which saw Mattel linking up with Collection 2000 to

offer free lipstick.

New clothes

’The industry is so fashion-driven that you constantly have to be

evolving and broadening the market. Promotions are becoming much more

important and NPD is a crucial part of the business, with 90% of the

product range being new each year,’ says Andrea Bergstein, Mattel’s

general marketing manager for girls’ toys.

Last November saw the high-profile ’pink month’, which included painting

a whole street in Manchester pink on Barbie’s behalf. This year, Mattel

promises an even bigger PR and marketing push on the brand, which has

doubled sales in the past two years and now commands 84% of the

fashion-doll market.

Mattel also recognises that new technology plays a crucial role in the

toy market. To prevent being left behind with traditional toys and

dolls, it has a number of electronic developments.

Barbie’s Fashion Designer is a CD-Rom allowing girls to design Barbie’s

clothes on computer to print out and make up. The new Mattel media

division is also working on interactive Winnie the Pooh and Barbie

riding games.

Computer additions

Bergstein says: ’The girls market is really untapped as far as

electronic toys are concerned, but it has opened a door for Barbie in

particular. Girls have been very excited about the CD-Roms, which allow

greater interactivity. A new product in the autumn will allow girls to

transfer pictures of family and friends to computer to create their own

story book.’

Yet despite the apparent emphasis on Barbie, and the fact that next year

is her 40th birthday, other brands are also receiving a significant

amount of marketing support. Of the pounds 20m spent on TV ads last

year, well over half was ploughed into other divisions - boys and games,

pre-school and girls’ toys (excluding Barbie).

Stubbing says: ’Although Barbie will be developed other key brands will

also be supported. It is only in the past two years we have had a strong

boys’ presence and there are exciting plans for the Hot Wheels brand.

Another focus will be the integration of Bluebird into the Mattel


The pounds 46m purchase of Bluebird - maker of doll brand Polly Pocket -

is in the final stages of negotiation. It comes hard on the heels of the

purchase last year of Tyco Toys. The addition of brands such as Matchbox

and Tyco Radio Control increased the might of Mattel Wheels within the

pounds 140m vehicles market, helping it to end 1997 in pole position

with a combined market share of over 19.5%.

Games is also an important area of development, and grouped within the

boys’ division, it accounts for a quarter of Mattel’s business. Girls’

accounts for 40% and pre-school for 35%.

Pre-school includes the brand-leading Fisher-Price, which this year is

mounting an aggressive new pricing strategy including a broader range of

under-pounds 10 toys.

The developments aim to inject growth into the toy market, which from

the year-end to May was flat on value and down on volume. Mattel also

aims to catch up with rival Hasbro which, according to 1996 figures, was

1% ahead in the UK with a market share of 17%. Hasbro has also been

making headline-grabbing plans, including a rumoured gay version of

Action Man and the extension of its Monopoly brand into cafes.

’The market needs fresh ideas all the time. However, the developments in

the CD-Rom market indicate huge growth potential so we’re confident

about the future,’ says Stubbing.

Mattell’s top five brands

1   Barbie

2   Fisher-Price

3   Hot Wheels

4   Sears Games

5   Winnie the Pooh


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