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One of the United States’ most iconic images is the classic Barbie doll, though in the past 50 years, Barbie has evolved from a plain fashion doll into a reflection of girls’ dreams and aspirations, appearing in multiple careers, with multiracial friends, and with an eclectic and expansive collection of possessions.

Barbie has long ruled the toy empire and earned her peak sales of $1.9 billion in 2002. Since that high point however, Barbie has had to fight off challenges to her throne, including those from Bratz, Moxie Girls, and Liv dolls.

The most serious was issued in 2001 from the wildly popular Bratz dolls. Young girls loved the sassiness of these dolls, though their parents blanched at their sexual suggestiveness, so different from the seemingly safe sexuality of Barbie. Barbie’s manufacturer, Mattel, first tried to respond with the Flavas, but when those dolls failed within a year of their introduction, Mattel turned to the courts. In a lawsuit against Bratzs’ manufacturer MGA, Mattel claimed the dolls’ creator had been in its employ when he designed the dolls for the competitor. When Mattel won the battle, it took over ownership of Bratz and now plans a redesigned version to launch in spring 2010.

But the threats continue, and Barbie continues to lose market share. Mattel therefore plans to compete more vigorously by introducing Fashionista Barbie, a doll who wears runway fashions and has 12 moveable joints for posing. For its multimillion dollar promotion, it has created, with the help of a professional choreographer, a dance called “The Barbie” for a video that premiered on the Today Show and then moved onto YouTube. But the competitors just keep coming, and the manufacturer of a recent line, the Moxie Girls, has an added agenda: It is the company that lost its valuable Bratz dolls when Mattel brought suit.

Discussion Questions:

1. Can a 50-year-old product remain “cool” in a rapidly changing environment?

2. What environmental threats should Mattel consider, in addition to other doll companies?

Ann Zimmerman, “Mattel Hopes Barbie Facelift Will Show Up Younger Rivals,” Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2009.