Barbie gets fresh

Mattel Canada’s Réidín Goode leverages Barbie’s cultural cachet with fashionista BFFs and red-carpet dates, while Hot Wheels revs up for a revamp

 At 51 years old, Barbie is still turning heads and breaking hearts.
Last month, her ex-boyfriend Ken (personified by a herd of male models) mingled his way through Barbie-sponsored LG Fashion Week in Toronto, searching for his former love. (In case you missed it: the long-time lovers, who met on the set of Ken’s first commercial in 1961, parted ways in 2004, as announced by a PR campaign.) This month, Barbie began a new relationship with Joe Fresh, launching a limited-edition collection of sleepwear and intimates for women and girls called Barbie Loves Joe Fresh – the fashion retailer’s first licensing partnership. She’s even educating kids on the allure of classical music, as Barbie at the Symphony – a screening of princess-themed Barbie movie footage soundtracked by a live orchestra – makes its Canadian debut at the end of November.
The world’s most popular doll has a busy schedule, and so does the woman handling her affairs in Canada.
“Working on the Barbie brand is like managing a celebrity,” says Réidín Goode, director of marketing, Mattel Canada, who oversees Barbie, Fisher Price, Hot Wheels and the recently launched Monster High brand. “It’s so widely known, everyone has an opinion.”
While pop stars come and go, Barbie has shown remarkable staying power. Since her 1959 launch at the New York Toy Fair, she’s had 127 careers, been outfitted by Versace and become a household name around the world. A 2008 survey by Harris/Decima found that 95% of Canadian women aged 18 to 34 played with the doll when they were young.
The question is: how’s the old girl holding up? With kids maturing faster than ever, doll play is less popular than it used to be, and tends to end earlier in childhood. Throw in some increased category competition, like the introduction of Bratz dolls (launched by a former Mattel employee in 2001) and Spin Master’s Liv fashion dolls (2009), and it’s fair to say that the new millennium hasn’t been easy on Barbie.
“In the five-year period before [2009], Barbie doll sales had been challenged,” admits Goode. “We were dealing with competitive pressures, technology was advancing and suddenly girls had a whole barrage of other playthings to take them away from the Barbie brand.”
Although Barbie DVDs were still doing well (Universal sells about 350,000 annually in Canada), doll sales were flagging. With Barbie’s 50th anniversary approaching in 2009, it was an ideal time to re-evaluate the brand’s focus – a global project steered by the U.S. head office. What this process revealed, Goode says, is that the brand identity stands on three main pillars: Barbie is a fashion icon who should reflect what’s on trend; Barbie is about aspiration and inspiring girls to be whatever they want to be; Barbie is culturally relevant.
In other words, while Barbie started out as just a doll, she had become much more than that, and it was time to leverage her pop culture presence.
“We really sought to reinvigorate the brand by moving it above and beyond the toy aisle and positioning ourselves as a lifestyle brand,”
says Goode.
In Canada, Barbie’s 50th was celebrated with a number of adult-focused brand partnerships, including collaborations with bath and body line Cake Beauty, fashion designer David Dixon and jewellery line Foxy Originals. Barbie also signed on as a sponsor of LG Fashion Week that year, with Barbie-inspired fashions appearing on the runway and attendees lining up to pose for photos in a life-sized Barbie doll box.
Although Barbie’s core demo is girls aged three to six – not the typical Fashion Week audience – the secondary target is their moms, and these partnerships allowed Mattel to reconnect with them. 
“Mom is ultimately the gatekeeper,” Goode says. “She grew up with the brand and she has a lot of say about what her daughter can and can’t do.”
If moms saw the brand as on-trend, Mattel hoped, the positive regard would lead to more doll purchases. The strategy seems to have worked: in the Canadian market, Barbie dolls saw double-digit growth in both 2009 and 2010.
Over the past two years, Mattel has also instituted a SKU rationalization process, focusing on what Goode calls “bigger, better bets,” with 200 total SKUs in any portfolio at one time. Like in the fashion world, new dolls launch in spring and fall to coincide with seasonal trends. Meanwhile, a variety of licensing categories – from footwear to electronics, sporting goods to publishing – creates an “expanded footprint [that] enables us to tie together all four corners of a store,” Goode says.    

In other words, Barbie’s come out of her slump swinging. “The 50th anniversary was a moment in time that allowed us to unite all the work we’d been doing and move forward with what we like to think is an epic marketing platform,” Goode says.With Ken’s 50th on the horizon in 2011, his appearance at this season’s LG Fashion Week is just the start of a new Ken-themed campaign. He first stepped into the spotlight this summer, joining Barbie in the Disney/Pixar flick Toy Story 3. Vintage Ken dolls are being reproduced as part of the collectors’ line and a new doll called “Sweet Talking Ken” will start shipping in December, with a major PR push planned for the launch. The new doll contains a voice recorder that allows girls to record their own messages and lower the pitch for playback.
“The joke is that, for the first time ever, Ken will say whatever Barbie wants him to say,” Goode says, adding that she can see it becoming a gag gift for adults.
Although Goode is a Barbie expert now, she hasn’t a single childhood memory of tearing open that bright pink box – a fact she readily admitted when she applied for the job of Barbie brand manager in 2006. 
“During the interview, I sat there and said, ‘You know, I’ve never owned a Barbie doll.’ They thought that was very unusual – and even more unusual that I would admit it in an interview,” she says, laughing. Although Goode loved dolls, she grew up in Ireland at a time before Barbie’s world domination took hold.
But she didn’t need nostalgia to help Barbie connect with new generations of girls, and with assistance from Mattel Canada’s agency partners – Ogilvy for advertising, Carat for media and GCI Group for PR (all in Toronto) – Goode is working to ensure that the recent sales turnaround continues.
The new Barbie Loves Joe Fresh line launched Nov. 1 with an integrated online banner ad campaign on mom-and-kid co-viewing websites driving consumers to
Joe.ca, where they could enter to win a Barbie sleepover party. Barbie events are also being held at Loblaws stores across the country, with PC Cooking Schools offering cupcake and t-shirt decorating.
This fall also saw the Canadian launch of Monster High, a franchise targeting girls aged eight to 12. It centres on the hip teenage descendants of famous monsters (think: Draculaura and Frankie Stein), anchored by a line of dolls, apparel, accessories and books, with plans for a live-action theatrical release in 2012.
“For the first time, we are rolling out a new intellectual property across a number of diverse consumer-product categories simultaneously,” Goode says.
A multimedia campaign kicked off the launch, including partnerships with YTV and Teletoon, a series of animated webisodes on YouTube and an interactive online presence at Monsterhigh.ca.
 Although Goode says TV is “still the biggest driver of mass awareness” for Mattel, digital has become a key campaign element. She points to Fisher Price’s “Best Little Laugh” contest, which launched in August and runs through December, as another example of how Mattel Canada is engaging consumers online.
“We did some research and asked moms what was the best sound that they could hear from their child and they said laughter,” explains Goode. The contest invites parents to record a video of their child laughing, upload it to Bestlittlelaugh.ca and share the link via Facebook and Twitter. The laugh that garners the most votes will win $2,500 worth of toys, a digital video camera and one-year supply of diapers.
Under Goode’s leadership, Mattel Canada has also been expanding the experiential aspect of its marketing programs. In March, an event by Spider Marketing in Toronto, called I Can Be…Academy (connected to a global, career-focused “I Can Be…” campaign), invited Canadian girls to try out different careers that Barbie has had – from rockstar to dentist – and receive a souvenir diploma.

Mattel has also linked its nationwide “Doll for a Day” contest with the Barbie at the Symphony event happening at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts this month. One contest winner will join the conductor onstage for a song, to help conduct the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
Experiential is playing a large role for Mattel Canada’s other brands as well, as seen in this summer’s promotion of Hot Wheels Colour Shifters, which change colour when wet. With the help of activation agency TrojanOne in Toronto, Mattel created a life-sized version of the toy car, coating a Ford Mustang in specially designed paint and taking it on a 50-stop tour across the country.
Hot Wheels was also a sponsor of the 2010 Honda Indy this summer, partnering with the FAZZT Race Team to design driver Alex Tagliani’s racecar, his suit and the uniforms for his pit crew. It was a brand-appropriate move that reached out to young dads the same way the LG Fashion Week sponsorship appeals to young moms – playing on their childhood nostalgia and, with any luck, triggering renewed interest.
Hot Wheels’ busy summer hinted at a broadening of the brand’s appeal, from the target of boys aged three to six to a wider demographic.    
“Our vision moving forward is that Hot Wheels will provide boys of all ages with thrilling vehicle experiences,” Goode says. “The notion is that Hot Wheels will move from a toy brand to a boy brand.”
If this strategy sounds familiar, it’s no coincidence. “We’ll look at a lot of elements of the formula that worked on Barbie, in terms of strategic brand collaboration, sponsorship of various events and doing impactful stunts in market to create cultural noise and ultimately drive demand for the product,” Goode says. 
Even within the Mattel family, Barbie is still a trendsetter.

BIO

Born: Cork, Ireland. May 27, 1974
Education: Bachelor of commerce, University College Cork; master’s degree in marketing, University of Ulster
Career: Goode started her career working with Irish crafts retailer Blarney Woollen Mills Group, before becoming a brand manager for Waterford Wedgewood’s Canadian business in 2000. She returned to Ireland in 2003, running a family business for a year and then becoming a brand manager in the grocery retail sector for
Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland. In 2006, she received permanent residency status for Canada and moved back, joining Mattel Canada as brand manager for Barbie. In 2008, she was promoted to senior marketing manager for the girls’ division, and in July 2010, she was promoted again to director of marketing, responsible for all girls’ and boys’ brands
Size of marketing team: 12

3 QUESTIONS

If you were a Barbie doll, which would you be?
Day to Night Barbie – I’d love to have the ability to seamlessly go from office to cocktail party, while all the time looking fabulously glamorous.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I would spend hours combing through and styling my dolls’ hair, so at one point I desperately wanted to be a hairdresser. I changed my mind somewhere along the way, but still get to comb Barbie’s hair aimlessly whenever the mood grabs me.

What do you do to unwind?
Shoe shopping always manages to be extremely therapeutic.