Barbie. Do or die.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating.


From billboards to pre-rolls and reds carpets to movie trailers, who has not been hit by the pink parade? We’re talking about Barbie of course. The woman with a million faces is going to town and let’s everybody know it. And for good reasons.


As the 00’s went on, the business space became far more digitally dominated. This led to the rise and fall of many companies, however dominant they were. This brings us to Barbie and mother ‘Mattel’. A giant captain of industry, who believed that past success would guarantee future fortune. Boy, were they mistaken.


New technologies for an old-fashioned industry

While Mattel kept looking in the rearview mirror, new types of storefronts saw the light of day and changed the face of the retail industry (e.g. Amazon, Alibaba, Brick-and-mortar shopping and waiting in lines for much-anticipated items, just wasn’t the way things were done anymore. And with the bankruptcy of Mattel’s longtime partner and collaborator Toys R’ Us in 2017, Mattel seemed doomed to fail.


Search versus execute

But when you take a closer look, you’ll see that Mattel’s problem wasn’t just their hubris or digital ignorance. It ran deeper than that and had to do with the ability and willingness to change. Because staying ahead is not about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results. It is about reinventing yourself when there seems to be no apparent reason to look up and out.


So, what made Mattel change course? How did they do it? And is it in time?


Fresh watching

In 2018, Mattel was failing. They were losing it to their main competitor Hasbro and without their key distribution partner Toys R’ Us, they we’re barely hanging on. They needed to make a change and with the arrival of their new CEO Ynon Kreiz, that’s exactly what they did.


With a background in film and television, he seemed to be the right guy to flip the script. He started by breaking down Mattel’s business model down to its fundamentals and shifted gears.


Tell stories and products will follow

He first looked at Mattel’s key activities and revenue streams. And following the blueprint of Hasbro, he started with licensing out Mattel’s brands to make film and television content based on their products. By turning products into stories, they could tap into a whole new world of IP based ventures. With Barbie’s pink parade as their first and most notable outcome. The move to embrace the success and brand recognition of their products was a huge turning point in getting the company back on track.


Celebrate diversity

Secondly, they embraced the shift in the cultural landscapes through their new portrayals of the infamous Barbie character. Now Barbie comes is in all shapes and sizes. From multicultural Barbies to gender-neutral Barbies. No longer is she just the white-skinned, blonde-haired doll of decades past. They even changed her appearance by giving her a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and flatter nose. Now Barbie speaks to everyone and could be anyone.


Dress like Barbie

Another big step forward was reinventing their key partner and channel philosophy. Previously their main retail partner (remember Toys R’ Us) was just predominantly a distribution partner. Now they collaborate and co-create with retailers who are their own channel. Last year when pictures of Margot Robbie as Barbie, clad in an all-pink Western outfit, were released her look went viral on TikTok and sparked a 416% increase in searches for pink clothing.


Barbiecore was the top fashion trend and has been a mainstay of both celebrity and high fashion. There are dozens of brands dipping into the Dreamhouse stash this year, with names like Balmain, Airbnb, Gap, Crocs, and Zara who are all part of the pack. By collaborating with these types of icons of industry they now operate without the fear of losing market access, while diversifying their product portfolio and growing their bottom-line in the spotlights. Pretty smart for a toy company, don’t you think?


So, what do you think? Does Barbie save the day? Or is it just another fad?


To infinity and beyond

Well, what we can say is that Barbie turns out to be a pretty nice vehicle for change. But it is the strong business leadership and innovation savviness that finds Mattel, and Barbie, poised to stay around and in our lives for at least some time to come. Because it is not the fittest company that is most likely to survive, but the one who’s most adaptable to change.

about the author
Sjoerd Craenmehr
Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve gained some valuable insights from the article! I’m Sjoerd Craenmehr, Strategy Designer at Stay Future Proof. Want to learn all about strategy, innovation and transformation? Reach out and let’s talk!
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