Barbie’s popularity on the toy market began to decline in the 1990s, and struggled further when MGA Entertainment introduced a line of Bratz dolls, whose sexualized characters contrasted with Barbie’s older, chaste image. Mattel therefore attempted to overhaul the Barbie brand to keep the toy relevant to consumers in the modern age by bringing in consultants and conducting research on key market groups.
Mattel consultants initially considered reducing the Barbie’s breast size, but later claimed that the doll’s figure could not be changed because “being consistent is one of her biggest strengths.” This move might also have been rejected because of the success of the sexualized Bratz dolls of Mattel’s competitors. Mattel’s team also considered targeting market audiences of career women and their daughters by introducing lines of Doctor or Lawyer Barbies. However, Mattel’s research showed that girls were spending more time online than playing with physical dolls. Therefore, targeted career Barbies were discarded in favor of looking for more interactive platforms through online or digital media.
This resulted in the creation of the Barbie film series, which initially revolved around Barbie being reimagined a princess and eventually expanded into various worlds of fashion and fantasy. A primary benefit of this strategy revolved around marketing, as Mattel could sell dolls specific to each film separately from the DVDs and merchandise related to props, costumes, and sets from the films. Tim Kilpin, the senior vice-president for girls marketing at Mattel, stated that “What you see now are several different Barbie worlds anchored by content and storytelling.
A girl can understand what role Barbie is playing, what the other characters are doing, and how they interrelate. That’s a much richer level of story that leads to a richer level of play.”The strategy worked: US Barbie sales, led by the princess line, “increased by two percent in 2006, saving Mattel’s bottom line at a time when its worldwide share of the toy market was declining.” Within the films, Mattel includes performances by well-known companies and orchestras, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet. These associations could have been included as an enrichment strategy on behalf of Mattel’s marketing team, to help the films be seen as educational.