Business

Barbie scrambling to stay relevant and boost flagging sales

After just a year on the market, Disney’s Elsa doll did something extraordinary this past Christmas. It outsold Barbie, something that hadn’t happened in over a decade.

Fierce competition, lagging interest crowding the popular doll out of its market share

Avi Yisrael, 3, looks at Barbie Dolls at a toy store in Palo Alto, Calif. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

The Danish-Norwegian band Aqua released its hit single “Barbie Girl” in 1997, with the infectious chorus “Come on Barbie, let’s go party!” But after almost 60 years, the party may be coming to an end for Mattel’s infamous doll.

After just a year on the market, Disney’s Elsa doll did something extraordinary this past Christmas. It outsold Barbie, something that hadn’t happened in over a decade. Barbie sales dropped by 21 per cent in third quarter 2014, which contributed to Mattel’s net income plunging 59 per cent in the fourth quarter, and led the company to fire its CEO in January. 

Of course, the decline of Barbie isn’t new. While she commanded more than 25 per cent of the U.S. doll market in 2009, that share had dropped below 20 per cent by 2013, thanks to competition from electronic toys and newer dolls.

But it’s not as if 
Barbie hasn’t been putting up a fight. Last year, Mattel got its iconic doll on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

The Sports Illustrated deal included four pages of ads, a cover wrap, video clips and a limited edition Sports Illustrated version of Barbie. All elements of the campaign featured the “Unapologetic” theme line, a response to decades of  criticism that Barbie is a bad role model for young girls.

Just a few days later, Barbie “unapologetically” moved from swimsuit model to Girl Scout.

At the same time Barbie was wearing a Girl Scout uniform in the U.S., she slipped into quite a different uniform in Canada.

Then in July, Mattel took yet another sharp turn.

Back in 2012, Barbie set her sights even higher.

Of course Barbie didn’t win, even though Mattel claimed that in 2012 90 per cent of U.S. girls age three to 10 still owned at least one Barbie. Despite her many career shifts and attempts at reinventing herself, Barbie’s just not finding as many openings in today’s toy cupboards.

Not only are girls more attracted to newer dolls and 
electronics, parents are less eager to introduce daughters to Barbie’s obsession with glamour, shopping and unhealthy body image. 


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

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