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Barbie makeover boosts tired brand

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

When Mattel hired Richard Dickson as general manager of its Barbie brand in 2008, the famous doll was in a lull. After hitting a high of $1.52 billion in ­Barbie sales in 2002, Mattel had struggled through a six-year decline.

Dickson hit the ground running. He took immediate steps to simplify the brand after learning that Barbie products used six logos and came in 17 different shades of pink.

Going back to basics, he returned Barbie to her original look and eliminated what he derisively called the “brand goulash” that had dissipated the once-iconic doll’s identity.

Dickson also shifted the Barbie team’s mentality. He felt his staff was taking the brand too seriously and trying too hard to police its image.

Instead, he encouraged the team to loosen up and take fun risks. For example, he hired a top designer, Jonathan Adler, to build Barbie a new beach pad in Malibu. He involved other famous designers, such as Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, to create stylish new versions of Barbie.

Furthermore, he agreed to let the makers of the hit movie “Toy Story 3” feature Barbie and Ken in big roles. He even approved the filmmakers’ request to poke fun at Ken in the movie, which renewed interest in his image as Barbie’s companion.

Rather than rely on traditional advertising, Dickson turned to social media, product placement and special events that generated widespread publicity. Barbie thus reached a whole new group of kids who tended to ignore old-fashioned media.

— Adapted from Brand Turnaround, Karen Post, McGraw-Hill.

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