Watch out, Barbie
Watch out, Barbie
Anonim

Only those whose products combine 21st century technologies, bold marketing and imagination can compete with world famous brands.

All this was needed by the Canadian toy manufacturer Spin Master to win a place in the hearts of girls for their Liv dolls. And to win not from anyone, but from Barbie herself - the dolls of the Californian company Mattel, which owns half of the world market for the sale of dolls.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

Spin Master has already turned Bakugan into a popular multiplayer online game, and in 2011 fantastic warriors will come to life on the screens of cinemas in a Universal film. But by not offering anything to a girly audience, Spin Master was losing a good half of its business opportunities. Ben Varadi knew that his company needed to win the hearts of girls in order to enter the "big league" of North American toy manufacturers. The main players in it are Hasbro and Mattel - companies larger than Spin Master. Ben Varadi calculates that dolls for girls could help their company carve out a $ 400 million niche in the market. “Today, toy manufacturers must be able to take risks to survive,” said George Van Horn, senior analyst at IbisWorld. And there is no greater risk than trying to reinvent … a doll. Half a century ago, Mattel began producing Barbie, the modern idol of the toy business, and thanks to this successful toy, it still dominates the doll market today. And two years ago, Mattel further strengthened its position: the company won a $ 100 million lawsuit against MGA, the manufacturer of Bratz dolls, which effectively crushed a competitor. In the Canadian Spin Master, the defeat of the MGA was regarded as an opportunity for their own offensive - and entered the market with a series of their dolls. Four girlfriends dolls were united under the Liv brand. The name is derived from the English live, "alive" and, according to the authors' intention, should emphasize the plasticity, closeness to life and accessibility of these dolls for children - in comparison with the unmentioned, but obvious competitor doll. To compete with her, Spin Master had to use the most advanced technological and marketing gimmicks that can be imagined to date - and the Canadians almost managed to put Barbie on her shoulder blades. But it wasn't that easy. Spin Master's first foray into the girls' toy market was a failure.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

In 2006, the company paid a large sum for a prototype doll with a high-tech internal mechanism that allowed the toy's arms and legs to bend freely. “Our toy's competitors are not just other dolls. Our competitors are computers, game consoles, TVs, mobile phones - everything that modern girls can play. To keep their attention, we must unite the world of real dolls and digital technologies,”explained Ben Varadi. As a result, the design team, which consisted mainly of men, offered the girls from specially recruited focus groups not a doll, but a “doll robot”. The project has failed. Perhaps, to the tacit embarrassment of the company, experiments in the segment of "girly toys" would have ended there, if not for the enthusiasm of Ben Varadi himself. “It was only his passion that drove us to the end of designing our own dolls,” says Anthon Raby, president and co-director of Spin Master. Instead of giving up, Spin Master redoubled their zeal. In 2007, the company opened a design studio in Los Angeles - a colorful aquarium with padded ottomans, boxes of energy drink cans, and piles of pig dolls. Varadi recruited Nicole Perez, a guru from Mattel, who “worked on everything except Barbie,” to Spin Master, and then left for the video games department of the large multimedia concern Vivendi. As a senior marketing director at Spin Master, Nicole invited her friend and former Mattel colleague Tracy Tharman to the "puppet" project.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

There were no other employees in the doll department. “At first, our colleagues were just Ben and a cast of the doll's head,” recalls Tracy Tharman. Ben Varadi gave them two years to launch a line of dolls. Gradually, the department staff expanded to 11 people, and the team began to invent a "doll" past and present of their toys. “Boys, as soon as they open the box, want to know how the toy works and what it can do,” says Perez. “The girls want to start a relationship with the toy, to play out the fairytale story of her life.” The biography of Liv dolls is an imaginary story of four female classmates. If the toy life of Barbie is a glitter-strewn dream ("Astronaut Barbie! Movie Star Barbie!"), Then the story of Spin Master dolls is clearly close to the ordinary life of American teenage girls. For example, the doll Katie wants to become an athlete, because she loves to ride a skateboard, but in ordinary life she lacks dexterity. Her friend Sophie, when she becomes an adult, is going to work as a hairdresser in the hairdressing salon, while practicing doing hairstyles on her friends. “Dolls have to be cute in the first place, because that's what girls want,” says Nicole Perez. “But we also wanted to make our dolls convincing,“ours”for those who will play in them." To experience the life of their young audience in detail, Spin Master's designers examined youth and sportswear stores, shopping malls and even stalls with low-calorie frozen yogurt, a dessert popular with American girls. The dolls Katie and Sophie have two other friends - Latin American Daniela and African American Alexis. Unlike the world of Barbie, where her “colored” friends play a secondary role, in the world of Liv, Daniela and Alexis are full participants in the main storyline. Daniela plays the guitar, is serious about music, and Alexis is a passionate fashionista.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

“After age 6, girls start to try on different personalities, so they really love the bright storylines,” says Raine Rice, a trend specialist for the American Toy Industry Association. "The heroines of the Liv world have not stood still, they are developing, but just the way a girl can develop in life." The Liv development team had to take care not only of the detailed history of their dolls, but also of their technical performance. Spin Master's doll folds in 14 places, while most dolls only bend in eight. This is the trend of the times: now girls in America are obsessed with the "poses of broken dolls", which are full of covers of fashion magazines and in which young participants of the popular American TV show America's Next Top Model are filmed. “It's incredibly difficult to achieve with the design of a doll,” says Tracy Tharman. “You don't just need to make the knee joint of the doll - you need to make sure that it doesn't look ugly. After all, little girls want their dolls to have beautiful miniature knees that also bend."

The Liv development team also proposed a new concept of hairstyles for dolls: thanks to interchangeable wigs, the doll's hair can be styled, changed colors of hairstyles and even cut. “I can't count how many Barbies I ruined when I cut their hair as a child,” recalls Nicole Perez. Trying the innovation in focus groups, Perez and Tharmen gave the girls a pair of scissors and several doll wigs at once - some were dyed in a defiant blue or pink. Many girls were afraid to ruin the doll with a haircut. I had to convince that it would be okay if the girls cut the dolls hair the way they want. Initially, Spin Master planned to launch a new line of dolls at the end of 2010, but then Mattel won a lawsuit against the manufacturer of Bratz dolls MGA Entertainmanet. Mattel's lawyers have proven that MGA designer Crater Bryant designed the doll for a competitor while still an employee of Mattel. And in the contract he signed, there was a clause that all intellectual property created during his work at Mattel belongs to this company.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

Sales of Bratz dolls plummeted. The Spin Master management quickly found a vacant market niche and, in order not to miss the moment, moved the date of Liv's arrival in stores a full year earlier. Initially, the period given to women designers was reduced from two years to a year. “Usually it takes at least 18 months, if not a couple of years, to develop a line of toys,” says Nicole Perez. She and Tharmen traveled to Spin Master's headquarters in January 2009 to see if the sale date could be pushed back at least to the end of the year. “We said to the management:“You are out of your mind. We won't have enough time. " But they answered us categorically: "The work must be done on time!" To withstand the stress, I had to pull myself together and pull myself together. " “We designed dolls on the go,” says Tracy Tharman, sitting at a tiny table in the Liv Dolls showroom in Los Angeles. - Sketches literally on the fly turned into a technical assignment for production workers at the factory. The feverish haste inevitably led to hesitation. “Last year, I flew eight times to a factory in Hong Kong to supervise the production of dolls. And still, the first dolls to come off the assembly line had slanting eyes,”Tarmen recalls, crossing his fingers. - I called Nicole in despair: "God, we can't handle …" ". Several times the factory misunderstood the technical specifications and made accessories for dolls in human height. The textile ornament intended for doll clothes was enlarged so that one flower from the pattern occupied the entire dress. And glasses for dolls were once made so large that an adult woman could wear them. Nicole Perez recalls: "Now we are laughing at all this, but then we were sitting on pins and needles." In the meantime, the company launched livworld.com.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

Here, young doll owners can choose clothes from a virtual wardrobe for their favorites, play electronic games, read the diaries of their heroines and watch videos about their doll life. To get access to all the site's options, you need to register the purchased doll. Purpose: to present the Liv brand on various electronic platforms - from a personal computer to a mobile phone. The company needs to involve children not only in a physical, real game with dolls, but also in a computer game - this is Spin Master's strong point. With the help of its website, the company fuels the excitement of buyers. By registering their Livs, girls see more and more accessories for their favorites. And then you can buy all this in a real store. Spin Master releases new clothing lines for dolls every three months and just as quickly declares old ones unfashionable. “Our doll costume designers come from the fashion industry,” says Tracy Tharman. "Looking at their sketches, you cannot tell for whom the dress is drawn - for a doll or for a living girl." And as the story of the friendship of the doll friends develops, new outfits, accessories and even heroes are introduced into it - soon the fifth heroine should join the four girlfriends. Girls have been reading about this mysterious stranger in the diaries of their dolls - of course, on the Internet. Liv dolls hit America last summer and quickly became the top-selling Walmart and the second-largest on the shelves at Target. The brand's finest hour came last December, during the New Year's hype.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

This became clear when the director of the largest American toy retailer Toys "R" Us Gerald Storch called Anton Raby, shouting into the phone: "We need more of your dolls - immediately!" The shop where he worked that day ran out of Canadian dolls. Gerald Storch wasn't the only retailer to underestimate the Christmas demand for the Magnificent Four, and Liv dolls were in short supply in the last two weeks of December. Despite the hitch, the Liv brand captured 5% of the market in just six months - a clever trick that took Bratz dolls six times as long. Nevertheless, the battle with Barbie - the powerful queen of the toy world - continues. Every second doll sold in the world is a Barbie. The brand is valued at $ 1.3 billion. “Liv is arguably the only dolls that can compete with Barbie in the long term,” said Lat Mueller, an analyst at Klosters Trading. - Liv is extremely well done. Having taken root on the shelves, it will become the recognized standard for baby dolls. Even if Mattel comes up with a line that looks like Liv. " In fact, Mattel has already started working in this direction. The company launched the Fashionista Barbie line - "Fashionistas Barbie", jointed dolls with 12 degrees of freedom. This is evidence that the $ 5.4 billion company is looking back at innovations from its Canadian competitors. But the technical "trick" of Barbie alone will not help.

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

“We have to go back to Barbie's fashion roots,” admitted Richard Dixon, Mattel's senior vice president, tasked with taking Barbie as the epitome of high-end feminine style to the next level. Dixon staged a Barbie show on the catwalks of New York Fashion Week, built a life-size Barbie House in Malibu and opened a six-story Barbie flagship store in Shanghai. But despite his best efforts, worldwide sales of Barbie dropped 3% last year, and Dixon left Mattel. Analysts believe Barbie sales have passed their all-time high, peaking in 2002. Perhaps the problem is that Mattel is not that easy to navigate the Internet. In 2007, the company launched the barbiegirls.com portal, which drew applause and envy from the doll industry players: the site attracted more than 3 million users in just 60 days. But gradually the influx of users began to decline, and the financial source of the site's payback - the sale of mp3-players - dried up. Mattel has moved to a paid subscription model, but analysts question whether Barbie's online presence has spurred store sales in any way. Meanwhile, Spin Master brags about its online statistics: almost a third of all Livs are registered online, and their owners spend an average of 12 minutes on the site per visit. And while the arrival of new Fashionistas Barbie is a clear response to Liv's success, Spin Master's executives are too polite to talk out loud about the apparent rivalry with Mattel. “The doll category is heavily controlled by the Barbie brand. Everyone is closely watching the release of their new model of dolls "- these are all the words that Varadi limited himself to the new project Mattel. The Liv development team sees the problem not in other dolls, but in the absent-mindedness, rapid switching of attention from object to object, which is created by the Internet and multimedia available to children. “We view Liv dolls as a brand,” says Perez. - Its main component, of course, is a physical toy, a doll, but this is only one part of it. We want our dolls to be playable using all modern media."

Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons
Don't know how to change your life for the better? Concentrate not on the pros, but on the cons

Photo: saffy flickr.com/ saffy_suppi

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