How Barbie Lost Her Groove, But Shouldn't Have

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 08-15-2005

Mattel's world-class competitive intelligence system crunches sales reports, children's play-pattern studies, and even findings on where kids go online.

The system picked up signals that young girls, heavily influenced by the gyrations of pop star Britney Spears, wanted a doll bolder and brasher than Mattel's pert-and-pale Barbie. Yet, today, MGA's hip-hop cool Bratz threaten Barbie's reign as queen of the dolls.

Worldwide sales of Bratz reached $700 million last year—growing more than 45% over the previous 12 months, while sales of Barbie have stagnated.

Barbie's share of the fashion doll market has shrunk from 75% in 2000 to roughly 60% today, and new rivals—Janay and Friends from Integrity Toys, Girls on the Go from Tolly Tots, and the Princess line from Disney—are all crowding into the doll aisle.

Mattel had the means to see it coming and act decisively to protect its franchise. What happened?

Story Guide:
How Barbie Lost Her Groove Great product; historical franchise; huge market share; unbelievable customer affinity. And rapidly dropping popularity

  • The First Tentative Steps: Mattel did see signs of trouble and started to react; but not strongly enough.
  • A Body at Rest Stays at Rest: Mattel isn't the only company that failed to react quickly, even to clear warning signs.
  • Barbie's Eye for the Competition: From the beginning, the Barbie franchise was protected by intelligence gathering and analysis, which helped Mattel reinvent her for every generation of girls.
  • Hard Analysis Gets Answers on Soft Subjects: "Are you ready for this doll?" "Whatever." "Hello, connect me with Design...."
  • Mattel Upgrades IT to Crunch Better Barbie Numbers: You're not going to predict the future with a white-box desktop and an Excel file.
  • Recovering From a Bad Relationship: Acquiring The Learning Co. turned out not to be the best move Mattel ever made. CIO: "Mattel was in a desperate time when I came on."
  • Barbie Fights Back: Mattel floods store shelves with new product, sues MCA and makes reviving Barbie its No. 1 corporate goal. Bratz still dominate toy-store shelves.
  • Barbie by the Numbers: Who's who and what's what at Mattel. Business stats paint a portrait of Barbie's caretakers.


    Operational Details on the Barbie Situation:

    Barbie's Heroes: Mattel's intelligence agents, their bosses, and who played what role in the problematic reinvention of Barbie.

    Roadblock: CEOs can be the Greatest Obstacle to Success. Mattel's intelligence told it kids wanted hipper Barbies; CEO Robert Eckert and Mattel reacted slowly, and paid the price.

    World Class Tool Box: Mattel uses a sophisticated set of data and intelligence tools to steer the Barbie franchise.

    Near-Sighted Corporate Intelligence Can Be as Deadly as the Competition. Rival companies with successful toys put Barbie in a tough spot. Politics, social pressures and fashion changes can sink you or—as Japanese car-makers demonstrated—make you a winner.

    ACNielsen: Retail Riches. Every day, ACNielsen gathers data associated with millions of retail purchases, from apples in Arizona and Barbies in Boston. It charges a bundle for the results. Is it worth it?