Last Updated 20 Jun 2022

Evaluation of Mattel’s Business Strategies

Essay type Evaluation
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Executive Summary:

Assessment of this case study truly rests in evaluating Tim Kilpin’s, Senior VP of Girls Marketing for Mattel, bottom line statement that: "People consider Barbie not just as a doll but a character who has real personality. That means a lot.”. As a representative of the marketing team for Mattel, Kilpin’s statement appears to be all encompassing of the population.

His statement fails to account for the global population and lies only in emphasizing that within the United States Barbie has become representative of American girlhood. Attempting to develop the Barbie Brand within the global market, Mattel has been forced to reevaluate such statements in the face of cultural resistance to the Barbie name and image.

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The marketing strategies clearly state that it is imperative for firms to assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of venturing into new marketplaces. This review of various factors include political, economic, social, and technological, and should be evaluated each time a firm seeks to penetrate a new market. Mattel’s approach with Barbie was a Pan American and European approach, but failed to account for other cultural differences.

Using the marketing strategies discussed during the course of this period, I shall be indicating how Barbie unsuccessfully attempted to penetrate Japan, and how overall its brand was ill-considered in the Middle East. My appraisal shall include how they could rectify the situation, and what they did incorrectly.

Barbie Brand and SWOT analysis:

The Barbie brand was developed with an American mentality, marketed with an American image, and publicized with American tactics. Over the decades, Barbie has been idolized by millions of American little girls growing up. Initially, mothers have emphasized that Barbie represents the essence of American society with its blond hair, blue eyes, and adorable accessories. Dressed immaculately in various sophisticated attire, the Barbie brand is reflective of American women who seek to obtain the best wardrobe and best material objects.

Barbie’s Creator, Ruth Handler, created Barbie with the conceptual understanding that children in the United States would see Barbie as their personal grown up image. Barbie’s ensemble and gentle appearance created an aura of innocence which Mattel’s brand also desired to uphold. Children’s dress up games, tea or biscuit parties, and pretend proms all occurred with Barbie as the center of attention. Creator, Ruth Handler, also ensured that a stunning wardrobe was created so that each child would have the opportunity to select an outfit to create her own personality for Barbie.

These brand fashions were designed and developed to better coordinate with society's expectations, modernizations, and aspirations. Psychologically, children see adults as role models but often are unable to make sense of the adult world. Using Barbie, children have modeled their activities to be ‘adult-like’.

Children over the decades have been imitating adult-like conversations using Barbie and her friends as un-judgmental sound boards. The Barbie Brand concentrates on providing an avenue for that fantasy. From a SWOT analysis perspective, this is a true strength of Barbie. Their best consumers are young children profoundly affected by Barbie, and this affect will have emotional leverage for future generations of children to come even with general changes to the physical appearance of Barbie.

The doll’s general facial characteristics and outfits have evolved and been adapted over time to remain in synch with modernization. This adaptation enabled Barbie over the last 50 years to stay a brand as a marketing strategy. Mattel has seen the opportunity to continue its marketing to more cultural influences in the United States, Mattel has created an African American as well as Hipic Barbie to capture both markets within Northern and Southern America.  As a brand name, Barbie is a trademark or representation of children seeking initial role models in the adult world. A form of reputational asset, Barbie’s true value lies in the fact that it has instilled confidence in its product in consumers.

This confidence has been played up as both a strength and opportunity for continued development of the product via its marketing strategies. The confidence was obtained by creating various ensembles which ranged from tennis dresses to ballerina gowns which were indicative of the values and beliefs found within society. Later outfits included casual weekend attire and wedding dresses which represented innocent dreams for the futures of these young girls. This holistic look at society’s expectations for young women enabled the Barbie reputation to become an integral part of society. This strength and success should have been key to later marketing strategies.

While Barbie marketing strategies focused on the doll coming in many styles or physical adaptations, its name has stayed consistent with the every day consumer household. Mothers purchasing Barbie for their little girls, recall the Barbie of their childhood and place value in the object for its psychological attributes. Barbie’s reputation as an intangible assets whose value is defined by its ability to adapt through the decades to changes in American society.

It’s predominate weakness lies in modernatization as well. Where the world has turned to electronic toys, like PSP or Nintendo, Barbie in essence is a real doll which needs to have electronic gadgets as well. Some advancements have included giving Barbie a cell phone, and having various Barbie Nintendo DS games.

Mattel’s productive adaptation of Barbie is key to marketing within Northern and Southern America. Mattel’s managers used the brand to make key decisions about marketing to the African American and Latin American families as well as on a global scale. Its main threats are electronic modernization and cultural market differences which are needed for Mattel to continue developing and impacting new marketplaces.

ABROAD: Barbie Brand Falters in Face of Cultural Differences:

 Prior to marketing in a global capacity, companies are required to pay attention to their organizational capabilities and resources. Organizational capabilities refer to a firm’s capacity for undertaking a particular productive activity within a foreign environment. This process dictates that Mattel needs to take a step back and determine what their core competencies are. This distinctive competence allows for Mattel to self- evaluate and recognize if what they produce is better than their competition.

By understanding the cost, quality, and cultural environment they are working in, Mattel can establish what advantages they have and identify how to produce a better model doll than their competitors. Mattel is already on the right track by continuously developing and upgrading the physical characteristics and accessories of Barbie. This strategic focus on capabilities rather than the Barbie product will allow the Barbie brand to integrate into new markets. When asked “How important is national culture in children’s toy preference?”, my response lies in the fundamentals of marketing. National culture is what drives marketing strategies, and failure to adhere to national culture leads to the downfall of marketed products.

Let me reiterate upon the concept of cultural differences between the western world and the Middle East. Whereas, the Middle East seeks to foster conservative tendencies, and modesty, the western society leans towards capitalism and liberalism. In order to rectify this situation, Mattel needs to find neutral ground. In both societies family values and an emphasis on family activities is apparent. Should Mattel create an aura or reputation as a family product which helps instill family values and morals with Barbie and her friends, it would gain some footing in an already tense environment. They might also their P.E.S.T. marketing theory to account for political, economic, social, and technological factors within countries like Iran or Egypt.

For instance, from a political stance they are faced with a conservative and religious environment. They will need to evaluate what regulations or laws are in place which would prohibit the production or selling of an ‘immodest’ Barbie, and how to recreate her to fit the acceptable political laws. In line with this they would be required to determine what economic factors such as economic growth or exchange rates might lead to Barbie being more expensive than competitor’s products.

This evaluation might lead to Mattel determining that their main potential consumers of the lower class families who are also less conservative might be unable to afford Barbie. Socially, the firm would need to be aware of which class of consumers would consider purchasing the doll and how to market it explicitly to that age generation or general consciousness about the morality of Barbie. Lastly, from a technological perspective Mattel might consider if the majority of Iranians or Egyptians are in tune with the rate of technological changes and if any modifications are done if they will be aware of them.

Mattel needs to acknowledge that some of the same strategies deployed in Northern or Southern America may be invalid or irrelevant in countries that do not practice the same lifestyle. For instance, in the Americas young girls see their mothers use lipstick, wear bikinis, and wear sandals to show off pedicures. In countries like Iran or Egypt, or other such conservative countries, this behavior is not idolized and is contained within the home.

Marketing a Barbie with those physical attributes creates animosity and secular anger against a firm attempting to ‘corrupt’ their youth. Mattel needs to carefully coax their products to reflect the lifestyle and religious mind frame of those potential consumers. It is imperative that Mattel consider marketing metrics in their attempts to alleviate any animosity created.

One such metric is the Waterfall theory. Within this theory, there needs to be a downfall of information about how to instill their brand within a new marketplace, what the marketplace considers acceptable, and how consumers view or become confident in new products. By knowing their audience, Mattel could attempt to overcome any cultural impasses. They will need to take the opportunity to contemplate what the cultural differences are, and how to achieve their end goal of producing the appropriate Barbie doll.

In addition, whereas Mattel has a good reputation among Americans it has none among other countries. Mattel needs to take miniature steps in creating the right selling market in which to leverage a new reputation. Because mothers in more secular countries were not influenced by the Barbie fad, they will not be leveraged by their children to purchase the items.

Initially, Mattel would need to relate to the new markets that the organizations’ values, traditions, and social norms are not at odds with the new markets. In general by following the Waterfall theory, Mattel will essential reintroduce the Barbie model. This reintroduce will enable the firm to determine dominant factors which pushed away prospective buyers via ‘testing’, ‘surveying’, and ‘gathering information’ about the complexity of the new marketplaces. This gathering of information and details will be a means of rectifying the awkward situation already created.

Using a pocket price Waterfall model, Mattel will also need to correlate the spending habits of its consumers and validate all components of pricing in these new marketplaces. Under this theory, it is vital to determine cost of usage, competitors pricing, discount options, and consumer perspective on the value of the product. So in Mattel’s case, they will be required to determine if the competition is undercutting Barbie selling price and how to lure more customers using discounts or referrals.  Prospectively, Mattel will be able to show these countries that it is not ignoring their cultures or attempting to force their ideology on another. Hence, respect and confidence can be created.

 Japan Resists Barbie: WHY? WHAT Could Mattel have Done Differently?

Japan has a rich culture which is well-versed in creating successful dolls representative of Japanese identify. Initially, Mattel had mistakenly thought that the blond hair, blue eyed, large breasted, and hour-glassed shaped Barbie would become an instant hit in Japan. Instead, Japanese girls felt no connection to the Barbie being marketed. Mattel clearly failed to consider that their brand is supposed to appeal to the mindset of young children in the marketplace. These young children would be unable to fantasize growing up to be like their ‘doll’ because the characteristics of the Barbie model were unrelated to their image.

Mattel’s initial failure also tarnished their reputation as a company interested in family values and culture. By ignoring that Japanese children have their image and family cultures, Mattel significantly ostracized themselves from mainstream consumers. As Japan is big on reputation and history, this bad first impression was difficult for Mattel to overcome. It is important to bear in mind that the initial marketing of Barbie was geared towards what mothers in mid-class society in America expected their little girls to develop into. Barbie was created as a ‘lady’, and was a doll which young girls would want to imitate.

Critically evaluating Mattel’s venture into the Japanese market, I see that Mattel seemingly forgot how to approach a new marketplace. The case study emphasizes that international companies entering Japan must make arrangements with complex distribution systems and overcome a huge competition from Japanese brands. Furthermore, the case study states that “dolls have a strong tradition in the Japanese culture with a heritage of over 800 years and ceremonial importance.” which would make Mattel’s Barbie a ‘baby’ in the face of this history.

Before making this foray into the Japanese marketplace, Mattel should have take the adaptability that they had in their products already and completed a product development process. This process includes idea generation, screening of the idea, product development, scale up, and commercialization. This process would also have included consumer input to help identify the Japanese expectancies and current product features in dolls. There should have also been a testing for performance and consumer acceptance which enabled Mattel to determine if their product meet the expectations of the Japanese.

Some reasons why Barbie failed in Japan were: 1) Mattel relied on their gut feeling or best guess that Barbie would sell in Japan as well as in other countries, 2) the Barbie product lacked distinctiveness, and 3) there were difficulties with the complex distribution systems. Mattel attempted to have a joint ventures with Japanese toy specialists like Takara, but it appeared that licensing disagreements lead to the downfall of that relationship. It appears that communication lapses are a redundant problem in Mattels venture into the Japanese marketplace.

 Concluding Remarks:

Part of marketing is knowing your audience, recognizing the various factors behind why a consumer purchases an item, and evaluating the selling tactics required to sell your product to a particular individual. Mattel failed to adhere to these basic principles in Japan and the Middle East. They must take a step back and acknowledge that the cultural differences are important to grasp, and they must assess what changes need to take place in their own Barbie image in order to have a good reputation and build the necessary trust among a different culture and society.


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