Mattel Inc.,(the maker of my favorite childhood toy--Barbie) announced on Monday that their fourth-quarter profits are down as a result of her slumping sales. Barbies sales are down about 11 percent but their American Girls brand had sales that climbed up 12 percent. This is not a new story. Mattel announced the same problem during the first quarter--but its been a long time coming. Back in 1997 Mattel announced that Barbie would have a "makeover" to make her measurements more "realistic" (yeah, right--although her chest is decidedly less pronounced, Mattels reality is apparently much skinnier than mine) and her grin became less "toothy" and more subdued. I argued then that it looked Prozac-induced. Since the time that the plastic surgeons of politcal-correctness got ahold of her we have also seen Barbie in all kinds of "non-traditional" professions and in all kinds of ethnic permutations. There were still variations on the old theme--Barbie as a princess, Barbie as a bride, etc.. Id venture a guess based on my own field research (as a mother of a six-year-old girl) that those products continued to do well. But weve seen, more recently, Barbie trying to compete with the new kid on the block--Bratz.
For the uninitiated, Bratz are a kind of slut/gangster version of the fashion doll. Their exaggerated head and lip size combined with their fitting, but unflattering, name made them an unpopular item in my household before I even had the chance to ban them. But there is a segment of the population that seems to think these dolls are appropriate for their daughters (the same segment that delights in dressing their pre-pubescent girls like American Idol contestants). Mattels "My Scene" dolls and the accompanying slut attire--seemingly launched to keep up with Bratz--has done them no favors in my view. People who like what Bratz has to "offer" will buy Bratz. People who like the more wholesome and attractive things that Barbie has always offered have given in to purchasing Disney Princess dolls from the Disney Store--even though the quality of the hair and other features is quite inferior. Mattel should ask themselves why American Girls had a surge in sales and Barbie did not. American Girl dolls sell well--despite their $100 price tag--because they are wholesome. They are appropriate for little girls. They do not encourage them to become sassy, disobedient, and vamped-up teenagers. I used to look forward to the day that my daughter and I could enjoy playing Barbie dolls together. We do still enjoy Barbies--but its hard to find suitable attire for them. Between finding clothes for my daughter and finding them for Barbie, Im getting awful tired of sewing. Mattel should get a clue.