We find out how Barbie has moved from a doll to an 'experience brand'.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Helena Mansell-Stopher, Mattel

How many licensed categories is the brand now in?

We are covering over ten different categories both in the girls and teen space; from partners in the toys and games category, creating innovative products which are TV advertised, through to our DTR with Avon, creating health and beauty products.

All partnerships complement Barbie’s core DNA and support the brand taking Barbie from a doll to an experience brand.

What are some of the most popular products?

Within the Barbie girls range IMC have injected true innovation in to the electronics category with their Barbie stiletto heal intercoms; this product was TV advertised in both 2011 and 2012 and has sold out in a number of retailers.
The Barbie magazine, published by Egmont, has also grown with copy sales reaching over 70k. Out every three weeks, our core audience truly engages with the brand through the title.
For Barbie’s older fans, our collections with Miss Selfridge have proved incredibly popular. The new Barbie 80s comic inspired range sold out in three days. Because of the success we’ve had in this area, we’ve also just launched a retro Barbie kids range in River Island.

Which categories are you looking to extend Barbie into next?

We’re working extremely closely with HTI to launch a range of ‘Barbie and Me’ role-play items this autumn/winter. The items are truly innovative within the sector, supporting the core DNA of the Barbie brand and allowing girls to incorporate their Barbie doll into play. Girls, and their Barbie doll, can pretend to work in a café, bake, be a hairdresser and so much more.
As well as HTI, new areas of development include promotions, brand experiences and deepening our offering in the accessory category.

Can you talk us through any major activity you have planned for Barbie for the rest of this year?

We have already started the year off with a strong launch in the construction category with MEGA Brands. This is a new area for Mattel and with good results launched to date and TV is planned for AW13, we see a great future ahead. We have also secured some great activity at retail where the consumer will get to experience the brand in a very different way.

You’ve secured some major fashion and beauty deals over the last few years, including with Paul’s Boutique, Christian Louboutin and Avon to name just a few. How do you decide which brands to tie up with? Is there a certain criteria they have to meet (fitting in with the Barbie brand as a whole, etc)?

When we look at what brands to work with next we first look to Barbie’s DNA. We look at which categories are a natural extension of the Barbie brand and then make a wish list of who we would like to work with from up and coming fashion companies to established businesses and designers.
We’ve worked with some fantastic designers and it’s great to see them not only understand the opportunities and fit between the brand, but also get excited about working with Barbie.

Are you likely to see further deals such as this moving forward?

Definitely, as Barbie has been in the market for over 54 years it is important that we continue to find new partners, products and areas of business to drive our cultural conversations and connect to our consumer differently.

Will we see more tie ups with the various Fashion Weeks?

Of course, as Barbie’s heritage and positioning is rooted in the world of fashion, we will always have a strong link with fashion and designers. Many designers speak fondly of creating their ‘first’ outfits using their Barbie as a muse, and we will continue to seek new partnerships and exciting collaborations. This type of activity not only extends Barbie’s fashion credentials, but it also creates desire and helps elevate the brand perception beyond the toy aisle.

Would you consider having a Barbie pop-up store?

In 2009 we launched a Barbie pop-up store at The Dover Street Market for our adult Barbie fans and this was a great success. Recently we have been looking in to how we can work differently with retail so the consumer truly experiences the Barbie brand. There are some exciting things to come, nothing I can share with you just yet.

What were some of the main challenges you encountered when looking to broaden the brand outside of the toy aisles?

One challenge has been to make buyers aware of the successes we’ve had as we’ve broadened the brand. A strong brand message with a broad consumer products programme is key to deepening consumer engagement with the Barbie franchise.
We ran small trials with buyers outside of the toy isle to gain momentum and built a product roll out plan from that base. This enabled us to show the benefits of category extension. We then planned to extend our retail distribution and depth of product further.

What makes Barbie so popular do you think? Why do so many licensees want to work with her?

There are many of us who have grown up with Barbie and have fond memories of the brand, but it’s because she continues to evolve that she remains relevant and aspirational with the girls of today. She continues to resonate with them and the core play patterns around dressing up, hair play and role-play. Mums trust the brand having grown up with her too.
Our licensees recognise the love for Barbie and the demand from girls to buy deeper. Some of our licensees have been working with us for over 15 years and they continue to play a vital role in expanding our offering to consumers.

What would you like to have achieved with the brand by the end of 2013?

In 2013 we want to deepen our consumer engagement through brand experiences; creating new ways to play with Barbie with launches in construction and role-play, and launch new content to enable girls to experience Barbie’s world like never before. We’ll also be paving the way for 2014 with new fashion partners and extending our adult and kid fashion offering.

And, longer term, how do you view Barbie’s future as a lifestyle brand in say five, ten, 20 years’ time?

Part of the beauty of the original doll was that she could continually evolve, and so at any given moment in history, Barbie has been able to reflect the times and remain relevant. She’s a brand with a huge history behind her but resonates with girls today just as much as she did before if not more. As long as we continue to tap into new trends, listen to consumers, invest in the brand and innovate, then Barbie will always have a place with the next generation.

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