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Interview with Mattel's Licensing Head

 

Amy Johannes

Promo

July 1, 2008
 

How's this for a cushy job? Richard Dickson became Mattel's head of global licensing when he signed on as the company's senior vice president for marketing, media and entertainment worldwide in 2000. To date he's helped turn some of the company's best-known toy brands, including Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price, into lifestyle properties.

Dickson, who's worked for Bloomingdale's, Gloss.com and Estée Lauder, also serves as vice president of the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. He spoke to Promo about changes in the licensing field and some of the company's strategic initiatives.

PROMO: How has licensing evolved?

DICKSON: In the past, licensing was associated with a revenue play. But now it's about generating an emotional connection to the brand itself, as well as revenue. Over the last five years it's become more important for brands to extend themselves into relevant places where they can find consumers.

P: How are you doing that?

D: One way is by tapping into consumer insights and cultural trends. We ask: ‘How should our brand react to this trend?’ Barbie B Cause (an accessory line that repurposes excess Barbie fabric and trimmings) is a good example of the green trend and sustainability.

P: What other trends are you acting on?

D: There's the cultural trend of kids having healthier lifestyles and being active. In two years we've expanded the category into sporting goods and outdoor play. With Barbie we have a successful business with bikes. We also extended the brand into golf. We introduced golf in authentic ways and teamed up with the LPGA to [spread the word about] the equipment we have.

P: How do you market Mattel's licensed products?

D: The licensing business is incorporated into the overall brand marketing. We do a tremendous amount of omnibus advertising where we take 20 different categories and fit them into one message. We do inserts in doll boxes. We have television advertising. We have hangtags on sleepwear that bounce people back to discounts in particular categories. We've gotten much better at cross-marketing — at talking to consumers about all Mattel products.

P: Partnerships seem important too.

D: Licensing is all about partnerships. We have a lot of them. We came up with a concept called Barbie and Me, where real-girl apparel and toys match a Barbie doll's. The program will be rolling out for three weeks across all Wal-Mart stores at the end of October. It's limited in quantity — we're creating demand much like a fashion brand.

P: How will you support that effort?

D: A lot of in-store marketing will coincide with merchandising displays. There'll be some print advertising and lots of retailer marketing concentrated around Wal-Mart vehicles and advertising on Barbie.com.

P: How are solid partnerships formed?

D: Successful partnerships allow for co-creation. You recognize that you can't do it alone. We've partnered with the best-known brands: Adidas, Mac Cosmetics and Patricia Field. It's not about label slapping — that's a misstep. We've had our missteps, but we've had more hits than misses. In any business model, if you can say you have more hits than misses, you're on the right path.

P: This fall Mattel will target women with Hot Wheels T-shirts by Fortune Fashions. What's the reason?

D: Relationships continue long after people have had their toy experience. When we introduce a brand to an older audience, the relationship and connection are undeniable if we execute it right. That translates to moms as well. It's about having fun with the brand.

P: Barbie remains popular, yet international sales are outpacing those in the United States. Why is that happening?

D: The United States hasn't been as growth-oriented as the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. We have mature markets in Europe, like the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Italy, that continue to grow by double digits. We also have developing markets like Brazil growing by leaps and bounds. China and India are fast-growing markets, and Russia is a new market for us. We've had an easier time navigating challenges in international markets.

 

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