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To get modern kids engaged with a toy, it likely requires more than conventional products have offered. A simple doll is no longer enough to grab the attention of young consumers who are constantly bombarded with entertainment options through their mobile devices. For Mattel, this trend suggests the need to reinvent itself as a technology, rather than consumer product, company, even as it continues to expand and differentiate its product lines.

With regard to its status, the new CEO of Mattel, who came from a tech background, has proposed that her goal is to define the firm as a “future-proofed kid-experience company” that will focus on digital content, learning activities, and smart toys as its primary value offerings. Mattel will still sell Hot Wheels and Barbie dolls, but the focus will be on how consumers can interact with those products across multiple platforms, not just on the physical items themselves.

This relatively radical shift comes on the heels of some turmoil in Mattel’s performance. It fired its previous CEO several years ago and had been functioning under temporary leadership before hiring the current CEO away from Google. Despite a couple of good sales quarters, overall its revenues were falling, and even the conventionally beneficial holiday shopping seasons have been weak in recent years. An excess of inventory after the most recent holidays forced Mattel to offer deep discounts to move the items.

But that does not mean it is going to stop producing inventory, of course. Instead, together with its technology orientation, Mattel is seeking to update the image of its dolls, most notably in its introduction of a wider variety of Ken dolls. The 15 new dolls feature three general body types, as well as far greater diversity in apparent ethnicities, skin tones, clothing, and hairstyles. The goal is to appeal better to diverse modern consumers, such as those who might believe that wearing a “man bun” is exactly the kind of style that Barbie’s boyfriend needs to sport.

Discussion Question:

  1. What kind of innovations is Mattel undertaking? That is, how would you characterize its shift toward becoming an experience-oriented, technology company versus its introduction of new models of Ken dolls?

Source: Will Jarvis, “Can Ken (with a Man Bun) Help Mattel Bounce Back?” Advertising Age, June 20, 2017; “Beyond Barbie: Mattel Plans Digital Transformation,” Advertising Age, June 14, 2017 

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