The First Tentative StepsBy Kim S. Nash Print
Mattel's world-class competitive intelligence system crunches sales reports, children's play-pattern studies, and even findings on where kids go online. The system picked up signals that young girls, heavily influenced by the gyrations of pop star Britney
Mattel did take tentative steps in 1999 and 2000 to address tweens' changing tastes with dolls such as Diva Starz, but the moves didn't click. Diva Starz' bright facial features and hipper clothing, for instance, stopped short of the new provocative styles being blasted on TV and in magazines.
Mattel, says Jim Silver, an advisor to the Toy Industry Association, a trade group, didn't act swiftly and forcefully enough to insulate its cash cow. The company, he says, "thought [Bratz] would come and go," just another challenger without endurance. In 1991, for example, Mattel beat Hasbro's blonde, busty Miss America doll by introducing its own American Beauty Queen Barbie. Likewise, Tyco Toys' Little Mermaid doll initially skyrocketed but eventually drowned under a wave of mermaid Barbies from Mattel.
Now, Mattel finds itself fully engaged in a no-holds-barred attempt to outmarket Bratz, incite new doll merchandising trends and keep Barbie on her throne. Mattel says it won't let up.
Last year, Barbie, a perennial top seller, accounted for 30% of Mattel's $5.1 billion in sales and an estimated 40% of its $573 million profit. In the past 30 years, the Barbie product line has produced approximately $24 billion in sales.
When Barbie is at risk, Mattel is at risk.
"This is what happens when you get blindsided," Day says.
The Mattel-MGA battle holds lessons for any company trying to create an effective market intelligence system. Any company can develop accurate research and sophisticated technology to manipulate it, Stein points out: "The key is in how data is interpreted and, secondly, management's willingness to respond to it."
How Barbie Lost Her Groove Great product; historical franchise; huge market share; unbelievable customer affinity. And rapidly dropping popularity
Operational Details on the Barbie Situation:
Barbie's Heroes: Mattel's intelligence agents, their bosses, and who played what role in the problematic reinvention of Barbie.
Roadblock: CEOs can be the Greatest Obstacle to Success. Mattel's intelligence told it kids wanted hipper Barbies; CEO Robert Eckert and Mattel reacted slowly, and paid the price.
World Class Tool Box: Mattel uses a sophisticated set of data and intelligence tools to steer the Barbie franchise.
Near-Sighted Corporate Intelligence Can Be as Deadly as the Competition. Rival companies with successful toys put Barbie in a tough spot. Politics, social pressures and fashion changes can sink you oras Japanese car-makers demonstratedmake you a winner.
ACNielsen: Retail Riches. Every day, ACNielsen gathers data associated with millions of retail purchases, from apples in Arizona and Barbies in Boston. It charges a bundle for the results. Is it worth it?
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