Mattel continues to push the envelope to expand its core franchise into new territories and new categories focused on consistency, lifestyle and play.
While it's a long way from Willows, Wisc. (the fictional hometown of Barbie) to the catwalks of New York and London, the flashing cameras of the paparazzi and glamorous supermodels showing the latest designs, this iconic character has secured a permanent spot on the global fashion stage. And there's no stopping this 53-year-old franchise from staying hip, on trend, on runways and on retail shelves worldwide.
For the back-to-school season, Mattel is set to launch the most comprehensive and coordinated collection of Barbie apparel and accessories to date, which will hit 10,000 stores worldwide, according to Rosa Zeegers, senior vice president, global consumer products, Mattel.
Last month, more than 700 licensees attended Mattel's first Global Licensing Summit in Miami, Fla., and experienced not only a preview of Barbie's fashion plans, but also the brand franchise strategies for the future.
"The goal is to drive significant growth beyond the rates of the past few years," says Zeegers. "We want to showcase all our licensees' products and make one giant brand statement across the world and to get all of our partners working together and sharing ideas."
As the music blared and the audience cheered, some 40 models from toddlers to adults walked the runway during the Barbie fashion show that highlighted Mattel's gala dinner event, which began with a Hot Wheels-sponsored reception featuring racing guest stars Mario Andretti and Danica Patrick.
During the event, the message to all the Mattel licensees became evident–Barbie means business and is ready to play more aggressively and globally than ever.
Earlier this year, Mattel launched the See What Happens When You Play With Barbie campaign featuring Barbie's Dream Closet and BarbieWow.com, a global site where girls can explore and design their own Barbie fashion.
Zeegers says the current Barbie strategy and basis for direction for what will come in 2012 and beyond is based on research conducted 18 months ago that was comprised of 200 interviews with licensees and retailers.
"We wanted to better understand in this economy how can we help our partners grow the business and stay true to the Barbie brand," she says. "We are targeting 2- to 5-year-old girls in a fashionable and aspirational way with the same silhouettes and styles that were the most popular in every country based on our research. We asked retailers who are the key licensees they wanted to work with and matched them up."
According to Zeegers, Barbie's newest retail partnerships include chain-wide programs with Walmart and Kmart, the launch of a global deal with Benetton and the continuation and extension of programs with Uniqlo and Zara U.K.
The lines will feature signature prints, 3D elements, sparkle-and-shine finishes and interior back neck branding.
To support the apparel launch, Zeegers says the new Barbie collections will be supported with the biggest global integrated marketing campaign in Barbie's history. The campaign will feature TV ads as well as a replica closet that will be sent to all media and bloggers with a look book and sample of key items to create buzz and exemplify the magnitude of the apparel program.
The extensive 360-degree marketing push will also include in-store promotions, point-of-sale merchandising, social media, digital media and various other promotional events.
Zeegers says there are three factors that will drive the success of Barbie's new initiatives: "doing the same things consistently worldwide, making a cross-category brand statement rather than a product statement and the significant amount of investment and creative execution to insure that the product and marketing is the best possible."
Beyond Barbie, Zeegers is also excited about the complete repositioning of the Fisher-Price brand based on extensive research worldwide.
"Today's mom doesn't want to be told what to do," she says. "They talk to one another in online communities and make decisions based on advice from other moms."
Fisher-Price is focusing on "must have" baby categories including strollers, car seats and apparel, which will be coordinated with a consistent approach throughout the world.
For Hot Wheels, Zeegers says the company is focused on "turning it from a toy brand to a boy brand, developing content and online gaming, creating racing events worldwide and focusing on sportswear, outdoor, gaming and online categories."
"The worldwide brand equity and awareness for Hot Wheels is less than Barbie, outside of toys, so we have to be stronger in a lifestyle positioning in order to gain credibility, and we are focused on that," says Zeegers.
For Monster High, which established itself as one of the most popular brands in 2011, Zeegers says Mattel will continue to build on the success of the property.
Mattel continues to stay true to its corporate vision of "creating the future of play," says Zeegers. "....To look at brands as a franchise, and not be completely focused on toys, but on play."