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
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
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
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
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.
’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
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
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
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
3 Hot Wheels
4 Sears Games
5 Winnie the Pooh