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PLAYTIME: Mattel Narrows Review, May Shuffle Assignments at O&M and FCB By Kathy Tyre

Mattel Inc., whose rep as a hard-to-please client is as famous as the Barbie dolls it markets, may realign some of the ad assig

Mattel last week narrowed its search to nine agencies amidst reports that it may use the review to reevaluate the assignments currently at L.A. shops Ogilvy & Mather and Foote, Cone & Belding. After initial conversations with shops on both coasts, sources said Mattel selected BBDO Los Angeles, DDB Needham, DMB&B, Lord, Dentsu & Partners and McCann-Erickson, all L.A.; Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif., and Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, along with two other, unknown shops. These sources said that O&M, which handles the coveted $25-million Barbie account and Disney toys; and FCB, which handles about $30 million in billings from Hot Wheels, big dolls and games, were originally asked to participate and later cut from consideration.
Mattel declined to confirm those contenders, and the executives at the agencies reportedly pitching the business were either unavailable or declined comment.
When Mattel launched its search some four months ago, agencies contacted were told that the competition involved a new assignment distinct from the businesses currently handled by FCB and O&M.
Now Mattel’s backing off from that stance. ‘We have not said whether the assignment will be one, specific new piece of business or a category we’re already in,’ said Mattel spokesperson Donna Gibbs. ‘We haven’t said whether it will be existing business the other two agencies have.’
Mattel has grown rapidly in the last two years, thanks in part to a Barbie resurgence after turbulent times in the late ’80s, and several acquisitions. At the same time, Mattel has had a stormy relationship with both its agencies and often expresses dissatisfaction with their work. Some believed the review might be a ploy to keep those shops on their toes.
Throughout O&M and FCB’s relationship with Mattel, the client has bounced pieces of business back and forth between the shops. Back in February, for example, reports circulated that an assignment for Mattel’s newly acquired International Games business was originally awarded to O&M, and then moved to FCB.
Rumors have emerged in the past to the effect that Barbie, the company’s flagship toy, might be in play. To date, they have been ill-founded.
Gibbs said that the review would not affect the ‘bottom line’ brands the agencies have handled, which may be a reference to key businesses like Barbie and Hot Wheels. ‘It’s also not a reflection of the current work they’re doing for us,’ she said. ‘It’s just that Mattel has experienced such dramatic growth over the past year with entries into new categories and with growth in our core brands, that we feel the need for a third party to develop some creative ideas and help us expand these businesses.’
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