She's almost 50 and desperately in need of a makeover.
Mattel's sweetheart has been seeing red in 17 of the past 20 quarters. In fact, the past five years have been the weakest years of her almost 50-year life span — a major fall from her glamorous past.
During her heyday in the '90s, analysts estimated the busty blonde would add $2 billion to Mattel's bottom line. But Barbie may have bottomed out.
“Barbie's always been about playing and fashion,” said Sean McGowan, a toy industry analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “And I think in the last couple of years there's been a little too much emphasis on just having it look trendy and appealing to the fashion aspect of what kids want.”
Though Barbie is still a $1 billion brand, Mattel's competitors, like MGA Entertainment and its Bratz dolls, have been creeping into Barbie's territory.
“Mattel's biggest problem was they forgot to put the fun in some of the Barbie toys, and they forgot some of the basic elements,” said Jim Silver, editor in chief of Toy Wishes magazine. “Toys need to be magical. A child needs to open a toy and immediately want to play, whether creatively on their own (or) through electronics. Mattel was not doing that.”
Today, a radical idea is being proposed: Kill her. Dead. End of brand. Los Angeles Times columnist Pat Morrison is writing Barbie's obit.
"So let's all have a go at Barbie,” Morrison wrote. “Give up on the re-re-reinvention. Take out Barbie at the top of her game. With a big, dramatic exit, Mattel could actually make a killing out of killing Barbie.”
Not everyone is ready to bury her. Mattel, now under the control of industry veteran Neil Friedman, may be headed in the right direction.
“Kids aren't just playing with toys, they are watching movies, they are going to shows, they are wearing clothes,” said Chris Byrne, an independent toy industry analyst. “So the Barbie brand — it's not just dolls anymore. It's $3 billion worth of merchandise and entertainment around the world every year.”
But as Mattel's biggest seller, slumping sales could mean it's time for a Farewell Barbie.