Home Lifestyle Barbie | How did a $3 game inspire a multi-billion dollar dream world?

Barbie | How did a $3 game inspire a multi-billion dollar dream world?

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Summer blockbuster “Barbie” hits theaters Wednesday, with the iconic doll played by Margot Robbie. This film is about to launch Mattel’s cinematic universe and the collaboration doubles.

Last June, photos Margot Robbie And Rayyan Gosling, the stars of the upcoming Barbie movie, have gone viral. A year later, with the film’s release approaching, fans can now dress her up as their favorite doll. The Barbie x Impala roller skates, valued at 190 euros, are part of hundreds of collaborations and business partnerships signed by parent company Mattel to capitalize on the excitement generated by the film directed by Greta Gerwig, one of the summer blockbuster stars.

Barbie is at “the beginning of a new chapter in the evolution of the brand,” Richard Dixon, President and Chief Operating Officer of Mattel, told Forbes while donning a Barbie T-shirt. “Barbie has gone from doll to franchise. Our ability to expand and market the brand is more important than any product itself.”

If the world seems to be getting rosy lately, that’s by design. There’s everything from Barbie-branded Crocs bags to warm-pink Béis bags and Barbie x Moon electric toothbrushes. Fans can bathe in Barbie x Truly soap, apply Barbie x OPI nail polish, dress up in Barbie x MeUndies underwear and wear Barbie x Gap outfits. They can also listen to the movie’s soundtrack, which features new songs from Dua Lipa and Nicki Minaj. It’s even possible to spend the night in an actual Airbnb’s Malibu dream home (John Legend and Chrissy Teigen have taken their family there before).

The film, which also stars Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae and Harry Nef as Barbie, Simo Liu, John Cena and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Kens, and Will Ferrell as chief executive of Mattel, should fetch between $80 and $100 million. (70 and 90 million euros) during its opening weekend.

Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie and America Ferrera attend an interview session for the Barbie movie at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles in Beverly Hills on June 25, 2023, in Los Angeles. Getty Images

For a doll nearing retirement age (Barbie turns 65 next year), she shows no signs of slowing down, despite her long career as a model, nurse, ballerina, nurse sister, astronaut, or paleontologist. , florist, yoga teacher, etc. The dynamic company achieved annual sales of $1.7 billion (€1.5 billion) in 2021, a record. In the same year, Barbie was named the number one toy in the world.

And that was before this summer’s Barbie mania.

Mattel was founded in 1945 by Ruth Handler, her husband Elliot, and Matt Mattson. (Elliott handled the design and Roth handled the business.) “She was the driving force behind the company,” Tanya Lee Stone, author The good, the bad and Barbie. “Thanks to her, they moved from garage to rental premises.”

Ruth and Elliott Handler, March 20, 1968. Getty Images

As president of the company, Ruth was “the embodiment of her puppet,” meaning “a woman who can do anything,” adds Robin Gerber, author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Made It. “This woman was an entrepreneur, a business leader, at a time and in a sector where there were no women at that level.”

While watching her daughter Barbara and her friends play with paper dolls, whose clothes were constantly torn, she got the idea for Barbie. What particularly fascinated Ruth Handler was that the girls did not pretend to be children or mothers with their creations, but rather librarians and teachers. “I was struck by the fact that little girls only want to be big girls,” says Robin Gerber. But adult dolls designed to entertain children did not exist.

The inspiration for Barbie’s design came to Ruth during a family trip to Lucerne, Switzerland, when she and Barbara saw a doll in a toy store. It was called Bild Lilli and was based on a cartoon character from a local newspaper who was panning for gold. She bought three and set about creating a wardrobe for her own incarnation of the doll. “I immediately understood that you could make a doll and then separate the clothes,” says Gerber.

“Roth’s goal was to make a little mannequin and make it very easy for girls to take off their heads and change into clothes,” Tanya Lee Stone adds. In this way, “girls can fantasize about themselves however they want”.

Barbie debuted in 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York, but it wasn’t until children saw her first TV commercial later that year that the toy came to light. Some 300,000 dolls were sold in the first year at $3 each ($31 today or 28 euros). Today, the original Barbie doll in mint condition sells for more than $24,000 and contemporary Barbie collections range from about $9 for Barbie Fashionistas to a one-of-a-kind doll designed by Australian jewelry designer Stefano Canturi, which sold for $302,500 in 2012 (about $400,000 today). or 356 thousand euros).

Soon after Barbie’s arrival, the community was inundated with messages asking if she could have a boyfriend. In 1961, Kane – named after the wizards’ son Kenneth – appears. (Kenneth Handler died at the age of 50 in 1994 and Barbara Handler at the age of 82 today.)

“If you owned Mattel stock in the ’60s, you got double-digit returns every year,” says Gerber. But the next decade brought its own set of problems for therapists. Ruth, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer, resigned in 1975, three years before she and several former Mattel executives were found guilty by the Securities and Exchange Commission of making false financial statements. She eventually pleaded not guilty.

After a few rough years in the 1980s—during which Barbie worked as an aerobics instructor, cashier, travel agent, and veterinarian—there has been a resurgence. “It took 28 years for Barbie sales to reach $430 million (382 million euros) and only three years for them to reach $700 million (623 million euros),” John Ammerman, chairman of Mattel, told Forbes in 1991. It accounts for half of Mattel’s sales.

In the 2000s, Barbie entered the digital age. Richard Dixon oversaw the creation of Barbie Entertainment. The first Barbie movie, the animated film Barbie in the Nutcracker, was released in 2001. Barbie.com, her first website, was also launched.

Dixon left Mattel in 2010 and joined in 2014 when the company was going through one of its worst times. Barbie reached its lowest turnover in 25 years, at just $900 million (€800 million). One of the most shocking headlines when I came back was CNN, which was headlined, “Is Barbie Dead?” remembers “”. “The standard of beauty that Barbie has represented for more than 50 years — skinny, white, blonde — no longer resonates with consumers. Its embodiment of perfection has become obsolete,” he explains.

So Barbie needed a major change in image. Mattel started with her skin color and ethnicity. “The methodology used was not just to present the dolls with skin tone, but to completely change the graphic identity of the brand,” explains Mr. Dixon. Mattel packaging and advertising have been updated to reflect the new assortment. Barbie’s highly prosthetic body has been reimagined for the 21stH Century: The doll has been released in large and small versions and in more styles. But since Barbie was not the same size; His clothes, cars and house had to be changed. Everything had to be reconfigured. »

Barbie reflects the complex relationship audiences have with the 11-inch icon of the Handler couple over the decades. “Greta Gerwig champions the idea of ​​strong storytelling, led by women and in which women are celebrated,” explains Richard Dixon. “The Barbie brand is no exception and shows that the iconic doll is a very powerful heroine who is in control of her own story. This would not have been possible if we hadn’t done such an amazing job earlier.”

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling attend the European premiere of “Barbie” at Cineworld Leicester Square on July 12, 2023 in London, England. Getty Images

The decision to make a Barbie movie wasn’t just a brand extension, but a long-term business strategy that would be applied time and time again to the rest of Mattel’s portfolio, which includes nearly 400 toy brands.

Nor is it an entirely original strategy. Hasbro released the GI Joe movie in 2009. The first movie, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra, starring Channing Tatum, grossed $300 million worldwide. The sequel, which adds Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Bruce Willis to its cast, did even better with $375 million.

“We have over 13 film projects in development. We have over 30 TV shows in production,” says Richard Dixon.

Barbie’s exit also comes at a time when Mattel’s budget needs a boost. The company ended the first quarter in April with net revenue of $814.6 million (€725.2 million), down 22% year-on-year. Barbie grossed $177 million (€157 million) in worldwide sales, down 44% from the previous year, but accounting for nearly 58% of sales. “We couldn’t be more confident and excited about the future of the brand,” Mr. Dixon said on a recent earnings conference call.

Her positivity towards the brand is tinged with a pretty palette of floral hues. “We’re working with the best in console and mobile gaming, on a variety of other digital experiences that put Barbie on the map,” says Richard Dixon. Barbie entered the world of blockchain and was the first toy brand to become an NFT. “We accept cryptocurrency,” Dixon says. “Barbie is a canvas for artists, influencers, and collaborations.”

As she turns 65 next year, Barbara Millicent Roberts’ heart continues to beat with the same spirit that Ruth Handler instilled in her life six decades ago.

“Barbie is not just a toy,” Dixon says. “She is an inspiration.”

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Marisa Delato

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