Home ~ About Us ~ In the News ~ Campaigns ~ Facts ~ Events ~ Press Releases ~ Articles ~ Links ~ Search ~ Donate
Online Barbie's Smart Play
While rivals such as the Bratz line are hurting sales, the plastic princess still reigns supreme at her very own Web site


By Christopher Palmeri

Business Week Online

December 22, 2005

Thanks to Hurricane Wilma, Joel Greene got an unexpected lesson in how much time girls spend online. When the category-four storm blew through South Florida in mid-October, Greene's twin daughters, 7-year-old Haley and Lindsay, couldn't go to school for two weeks. Greene, the founder of online real estate site CondoHotelCenter.com, soon found himself battling for control of his laptop. "Every time I left to the room, they were online playing at Barbie.com," Greene recalls. "They'd say, 'We got here first.'"

For toy giant Mattel (MAT ), Barbie.com and sister sites such as AmericanGirl.com and PollyPocket.com -- all launched in the late 1990s -- have become critical tools for connecting with preteen customers. Like all toy makers, Mattel is fighting fiercely for kids' attention against children's TV programming, video games, and cool electronic gadgets such as digital-music players (see BW Online, 12/12/05, "Hasbro Plays Nice with Tweens"). Last year, doll sales were down 9% industrywide, to $2.5 billion, according to market-researcher NPD Group. This year, sales have been down 5%.

Barbie sales in particular have seen a steep decline, due not only to kids' sliding interest in traditional toys but also from heightened competition from other dolls, including MGA Entertainment's Bratz, Walt Disney's (DIS ) Princesses line, and from other Mattel brands such as Polly Pocket and American Girl. Worldwide sales of the Barbie brand fell 18% in Mattel's most recent quarter (see BW Online, 10/12/05, "Not Much Fun and Games at Mattel"). Meanwhile, American Girl and Polly Pocket sales saw double-digit increases.

INTERNET EDGE. But despite Barbie's declining sales, Mattel continues to post traffic gains on its Web sites. According to online research firm comScore Networks, Mattel's sites generated 8.7 million unique visitors in November, a 4% increase over the same period last year. Mattel's sites reach the second-largest audience of girls between 2 and 11, according to comScore. That puts them behind the various Disney-related sites, but ahead of Viacom's (VIA ) Nick.com and Time Warner's (TWX ) CartoonNetwork.com, which are linked to cable-TV networks.

The world's largest dollmaker has an edge over those children's TV networks, which largely target boys. New data collected by Mediamark Research found that girls between the ages of 6 and 11 are more likely to go online than boys. Some 62% of girls have been online in the past 30 days, vs. 56% of boys.

"Girls are much more interested in the social aspect of being online," says Reyne Rice, a trend specialist for the Toy Industry Assn. "They want to instant message their friends and learn about the latest trends."

PERSONAL TOUCH. Mattel doesn't sell toys on Barbie.com, although shoppers can download a coupon good for $10 off purchases of $50 or more on Barbie merchandise. The sales aspect of the site has been ginned up for the holidays, however. "Hi it's Barbie, let's find the perfect present," is the first thing visitors hear. Guests can then click through to create a wish list of Barbie products. It's printable, of course, sort of an elementary school version of a wedding registry.

For Jeffrey Goodwin, a video-game industry refugee who supervises Mattel's Web offerings, the sites are less about generating immediate sales than extending Barbie playtime into an online environment. He's designed Barbie.com to look like the doll's Play House. Girls can personalize the pages that pop up, choosing Barbie's outfit, the color of the walls, her pet, and the overall decor.

FINE-TUNING. Navigating the various partitions, visitors are invited to watch video clips of teen stars Hillary Duff and Raven Symone in Barbie's TV studio or give Ken a "hot new look" in the game room.

Goodwin says Barbie.com has even become something of a refuge for girls older than eight who may be somewhat embarrassed to be still playing with dolls (see BW, 10/12/05, "Marketing and Tweens"). "They send apologetic e-mails to Barbie saying it's not always the coolest thing to be doing in front of their friends, but they're still thinking about her," he says.

To capture more 8-to-10-year-olds, Goodwin redesigned the site last summer to emphasize dolls such as My Scene Barbie, which appeal to older girls. Fairytopia Barbie, aimed at younger ones, is out in a section of the site called The Garden.

DOLL MAIL. Like almost every place on the Web, Mattel's sites emphasize interactivity. Girls can enter contests and participate in polls. Due to security concerns, Mattel collects only girls' first names and their parents' e-mail addresses -- and it does so only after getting parental permission. Some 9 million girls are registered on the site under user names. They can only receive mass messages from Barbie through a feature that Mattel calls Bmail.

Goodwin is convinced his efforts are paying off. He says Mattel research shows that Barbie.com visitors recently purchased Barbie products, as well as those most likely to own a collection of the dolls. "We're keeping them in the world, keeping Barbie relevant for them," he says. He and Barbie are probably encouraging lots of girls to ask for computers this year, too.


This article is copyrighted material, the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner





Info Box

Stay informed.

Join our mailing list.


Subscribers receive no more than 1-2 emails per week.


Copyright 2004 Commercial Free Childhood. All rights reserved