By Kim S. Nash Print this article 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

Fights Back">

Mattel is fighting back against Bratz not only cheek-to-jowl on store shelves, but in court.

Several Mattel veterans now work at MGA and are involved in legal battles. Mattel is suing product designer Carter Bryant, a former Mattel doll designer, for allegedly spilling confidential information and taking Mattel ideas with him to MGA.

Also included in the suit are 10 unnamed MGA employees accused of helping Bryant breach fiduciary, loyalty and confidentiality duties to Mattel.

Bryant has denied all charges and is countersuing Mattel for allegedly forcing him to sign an overly broad employment agreement when he started work there. Bryant says, for example, that the contract prohibited him from revealing routine information such as the identities of Mattel employees and their skills and knowledge.

In April, MGA sued Mattel, accusing it of acts of unfair competition and intellectual property infringement related to the resemblance between My Scene and Bratz dolls. All cases are pending in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Mattel has swamped toy stores with new doll products—Barbies that look like the stars on American Idol and 19-year-old movie actress Lindsay Lohan (Herbie: Fully Loaded), as well as Fashion Fever Barbie dolls endorsed by Hilary Duff, who stars in Disney's popular Lizzie McGuire TV show about middle-school girls.

In June, Mattel announced Barbie would hit the road, with an actress touring next year in a live show based on Barbie's Fairytopia incarnation, which sells well among girls 3 to 5. The My Scene dolls have many new accessories, including a limousine with hot tub. This fall, My Scene Goes Hollywood, a direct-to-video animated movie, is due out.

Still, retailers typically give My Scene less shelf space than Bratz. At a Toys R Us in Calgary, Alberta, for example, My Scene claimed 36 feet to Bratz' 52 feet. The disparity was greater at a Wal-Mart in Peekskill, N.Y., where My Scene got 16 feet to Bratz' 60 feet.

Barbie had more real estate than either doll line at both locations, but Barbie sales still languish. Retailers measure sales and profits per square and linear foot, and generally give more space to products that generate higher margins.

Mattel's financial picture is better than when Eckert arrived in 2000, yet five years later he still struggles with Barbie. Last month, Mattel reported that Barbie sales dropped 4% worldwide for the second quarter. "We still have a lot of work to do on Barbie," he said last month. He noted that he has tried to make Mattel less reliant on any single brand, but that Barbie continues to be "an important, sizable business for us."

Meanwhile, in its latest annual report, Mattel vows its No. 1 goal is "invigoration of the Barbie brand."

Yasmin, Jade, Sasha and Cloe don't look worried.

  • Story Guide:
    How Barbie Lost Her Groove Great product; historical franchise; huge market share; unbelievable customer affinity. And rapidly dropping popularity
  • The First Tentative Steps: Mattel did see signs of trouble and started to react; but not strongly enough.
  • A Body at Rest Stays at Rest: Mattel isn't the only company that failed to react quickly, even to clear warning signs.
  • Barbie's Eye for the Competition: From the beginning, the Barbie franchise was protected by intelligence gathering and analysis, which helped Mattel reinvent her for every generation of girls.
  • Hard Analysis Gets Answers on Soft Subjects: "Are you ready for this doll?" "Whatever." "Hello, connect me with Design...."
  • Mattel Upgrades IT to Crunch Better Barbie Numbers: You're not going to predict the future with a white-box desktop and an Excel file.
  • Recovering From a Bad Relationship: Acquiring The Learning Co. turned out not to be the best move Mattel ever made. CIO: Mattel was in a desperate time when I came on."
  • Barbie Fights Back: Mattel floods store shelves with new product, sues MCA and makes reviving Barbie its No. 1 corporate goal. Bratz still dominate toy-store shelves.
  • Barbie by the Numbers: Who's who and what's what at Mattel. Business stats paint a portrait of Barbie's creators.

    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 or—as Japanese car-makers demonstrated—make 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?

    Next page: Barbie by the Numbers.

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    This article was originally published on 2005-08-04
    Senior Writer
    Kim has covered the business of technology for 14 years, doing investigative work and writing about legal issues in the industry, including Microsoft Corp.'s antitrust trial. She has won numerous awards and has a B.S. degree in journalism from Boston University.
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