Barbie Gets Life

No, I’m not talking about Martha Stewart.

One of the most difficult marketing challenges is keeping a long standing product relevant with its target audience, especially when the target is children whose attention span at best can be all of 30 seconds, just long enough to watch the commercials.

Well, with Barbie’s sales sagging, down 25% in the critical fourth quarter of 2003, the folks at Mattel have decided that the best way to give Barbie a face lift is to give her a life, so to speak.

Taking a page from Mattel’s hugely successful American Girl brand where the dolls have historically-rooted and educational life stories, books you are proud to read your daughters, Mattel will introduce at next week’s Toy Fair five new lines of Barbie fashions and accessories, each with their own story. “Cali Girl,” “Fairytopia,” and the “Princess and the Pauper” are among the themes. The new Mattel marketing team hopes the storytelling aspect will explain “why she exists.” Rumor has it that she may even dump Ken.

Is this a big bang idea, or a case where it worked for one brand so let’s try it with Barbie?. Maybe it’s an attempt to capitalize on the reality craze, although with Barbies still extremely unrealistic figure, (yes, I know they gave her a belly button) is that really possible? Barbie definitely needs a big bang idea to capture the hearts and attention of young girls where she once reigned supreme. But by giving Barbie a life story is Mattel sentencing the mother of all dolls to death?