Barbie Loses Her Sales Figures

Purchases of the signature doll fell 12 percent in the last quarter. Nick Casey of the Wall Street Journal says Barbie's got some tough new competition.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALISON STEWART, host:

Now, sadly, it can happen to a woman of a certain age. Everybody wanted you once, then, some new hussy came to town and your fourth quarter sales dove by 12 percent.

BILL WOLFF, host:

Happens.

STEWART: That's what happened to Barbie. She's in peril, and even Ken can't save her. But then again he never really did have the - you know, never mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: On one business blog, someone wrote, Barbie has lost her groove and others picked it up.

Here at THE BPP, we're so hard news that when we want to talk about Barbie, we called the Wall Street Journal. Nicholas Casey covers Barbie maker's Mattel for the Journal.

Hi, Nicholas.

Mr. NICHOLAS CASEY (Correspondent, Wall Street Journal): Hi. How are you?

STEWART: Doing great. So Barbie sales were down in the fourth quarter. Tell us why that timing is particularly alarming for the company.

Mr. CASEY: Well, the fourth quarter results are also when you get things from the year-end. And it wasn't just in the U.S. that, you know, that the results weren't looking so good. Abroad, results were actually doing, you know, a little bit better. But what you see is that Americans - American girls weren't looking for Barbie dolls as much as you know, other things that you know, were on the plate for Christmas time.

STEWART: So if you can't sell a Barbie at Christmas, when can you sell one?

Mr. CASEY: It's tough. It's not necessarily, you know, the end of Barbie here that we're seeing. But what we're looking at is that dolls, right now, just aren't as popular among kids as they have been you know, for years and years. Barbie turns 50 like you were saying, next year. So girls are trying to look to you know, different things that are out there. And Barbie dolls just - they're not seeing as much action there as much.

STEWART: were there any warning signs at the marketplace that Barbie was in for tough times?

Mr. CASEY: Well, it's been a few years. Now, it's not that Barbie is overall doing badly. In fact, internationally, sales were up by about 13 percent. So overall, Barbie grew up a bit by about 4 percent. But it was down by 12 percent in the U.S. this quarter and for the year, it was down by 15 percent. It's been a few years that it's been having some trouble.

STEWART: Was she at all affected by any of the recalls?

Mr. CASEY: Well, Barbie was involved in some of the recalls, but what you didn't see here was mass backlash for the recalls. Really, across for toys, you saw that people still kept buying items. The trouble was that people were really interested in getting Nintendo Wii's and you know, different sort of video games and iPods. And that's what actually gives dolls a run for their money.

STEWART: So I think if we're looking at the bigger picture, you know, Barbie is thought of as a classic. But is there room in the current toy marketplace for classic toys? I mean, should Raggedy Ann be worried? Should Etch A Sketch considering you have - everything that plugs in in the world?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CASEY: It's true that you know, there's a lot of girls to things that plug-in more than you know, traditional toys. But it's also true that they're playing with traditional toys too.

One of the troubles that Barbie has had is another doll called the Bratz doll by MGA Entertainment.

STEWART: Oh, she's that hutchie I was talking about coming to town.

Mr. CASEY: Exactly. It's - you know, when it came 2001, it's style was a bit more edgier, spoke to girls' more, you know, fashion forward tastes. And it's been doing quite well. So it's also sort of competition from within the category of dolls that Barbie is facing as well.

STEWART: Yeah. I read in my research that the Bratz Dolls has sold about $700 million last year. They grew this enormous percent worldwide. But I also wonder, if there's a cultural backlash against Barbie, and this is just completely anecdotal information. I have friends who won't let their daughters near them. Like, women of - sort of in my generation, like, I don't want my daughter playing with a Barbie with the big breasts and the tiny waist and who can actually look like that, and my daughter might be a little girl of color shouldn't be playing with a Barbie. I mean, is it antiquated to think about Barbie as a toy?

Mr. CASEY: Hmm. Yeah, well, you know, there's definitely some establishment feelings, you know, for and against Barbie here. But when you're looking at, you know, one of its competitors like Bratz, it's got sort of everything going against it in terms of moms saying, hey, I don't want my girl playing with this. And it's actually doing really well.

STEWART: Hmm.

Mr. CASEY: So I'm not sure.

STEWART: The toy fair is next month, is there a save Barbie strategy planned?

Mr. CASEY: Well, I'm still learning about that and it hasn't been fully been revealed yet. But, you know, for the U.S., I think what Mattel is looking to do, and what you can expect from of at toy fairs, more things involving Barbie as a brand, you know, it's the name the girls know unless it's just the dolls. So more things on the Internet, more things that could involve music.

STEWART: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CASEY: These are the things that look forward for Barbie…

STEWART: Yeah.

Mr. CASEY: …as opposed to just a bunch of more Barbie dolls.

STEWART: Interactive Barbie.

Mr. CASEY: …(unintelligible). Yeah.

STEWART: Barbie chat rooms coming to you.

Hey, Nicholas Casey from the Wall Street Journal, thanks for helping us out with all things Barbie.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASEY: Great. Thanks so much.

STEWART: This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart. Bill Wolff, thanks for helping us out.

WOLFF: You know it's my pleasure.

STEWART: Great weekend to our entire hardworking staff. We'll talk to you all in Monday.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.