For Barbie, It’s A Doll’s World

In response to a double-digit drop in domestic Barbie sales and intense competition from MGA’s Bratz, Mattel is shifting its ad emphasis away from the famous doll, focusing instead on the animated worlds in which she “lives.”

“The ad strategy will reinforce the idea of producing story content around this Barbie world,” said Tim Kilpin, svp of marketing and design at the El Segundo, Calif., toy maker, which, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, spent $50 million-plus on Barbie ads in 2003. For example, Kilpin said, instead of one ad showing the doll’s features, “one spot [will focus] on the ‘story world’ … and the other on the doll and helping girls play out the story.”

An effort debuting this spring for the new Cali Girl line, via WPP Group’s Ogilvy & Mather in Culver City, Calif., will use that strategy, with the first ad explaining the story and the second showing interaction with accessories. By fall, the accessories will include a Chevy SSR truck CD player with a CD of surfer-girl tunes.

The strategy initially tested last fall with the “Barbie in Swan Lake” Christmas push and computer- animated DVD. It was fully implemented with the My Scene line’s “Jammin’ in Jamaica” doll campaign last month: One spot set up the story in animation (Barbie, on vacation, follows a rock band), and one commercial was mostly live-action.

Mattel reported flat worldwide gross sales for the Barbie brand last year, with strong international sales offset by a steep domestic decline.