Lammily In Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio


Reed: That’s a great point. I think it’s hard to disentangle the reasons why these numbers may be dropping so much for Barbie. To what extent do strategies like this appear to be more desperate attempts at marketing gimmicks at the 11th hour correlated with sales dropping and things of that nature? Don’t you want to make these changes when things are good?

Hains: It does seem a little bit desperate to me, especially considering that in 2012 and 2014, we saw independent brands launch dolls that look very similar to me to the petite Barbie. That’s the Lati doll that’s now sold in 30 countries and the Lammily doll that was a crowd-funding success in 2014. Mattel is late to the game. These dolls have already been put out there by people risking their own money, risking their own everything to make a change that they feel is important. They did the hard work for them in proving that there’s a market for it. You’d rather be the front runner.

Knowledge@Wharton: Over the last five years, LEGO has just exploded sales-wise because of the partnerships they have lined up with companies such as Disney. This move is probably seen as they’re reacting to something they may have missed within culture. With Barbie, there is seemingly a monetary tie because of how their sales have gone south in the last few years.

Hains: I do think that may be the case. What’s interesting to remember about the Barbies that I think a lot of people have been missing is the Barbie body types are only going to be in one Barbie line, the Fashionistas line. Not only are they a little late to the party, but they’re not going all in. We’re not going to be seeing curvy princesses or curvy rock stars. It’s only the fashion- and appearance-oriented dolls, not the ones that come in president outfits or astronaut outfits. They’re just testing it out, and I think they’re going to see what the reaction is and decide whether to roll it out to their other lines. I’m already seeing a little bit of blowback online. Some of the interesting critiques I’ve read are, for example, this curvy Barbie is really not like a plus-sized woman. It’s more like a plus-sized model, which we know is more of an average woman. When it comes down to it, Barbie is in a bit of a pickle because it is a paradox for such an appearance-oriented brand that is trying to address body image.

Knowledge@Wharton: How do you think these decisions play out with other toy makers?

Hains: I do think that other toy makers will be watching and interested to see what their sales are like, see if this gives them an uptick and helps their downward spiral. It’s definitely a case to watch. I really do hope that the parents who are committed to seeing a more expanded range of body types vote with their dollars and go and buy some of these toys. On the other hand, I’m a little bit worried that the retailers that make the ultimate decision of what items to stock on the shelves might leave curvy Barbie at Mattel headquarters and not even have her on the shelves for people to buy on the spur of the moment.

Knowledge@Wharton: Going back to the publicity aspect of this, if somebody goes to the store and doesn’t find the products, that’s going to blow back on the individual store itself.

Reed: Yes, there’s a big part of demand going on here. This is a dangerous game to play because if you’re trying to test it out, trying to find that sweet spot where this kind of demand will pick up, then Rebecca’s point about not going all in is going to be signaling to folks that perhaps this is not a part of an important message for you as an organization.

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