Is Barbie past her shelflife?
BBC - Wednesday, 21 April, 2004
First the passion was over for Barbie and Ken. Now it seems America's love affair with the plastic doll may also be coming to an end.
US sales of Barbie fell 15% in the first quarter, despite a February stunt which saw her "breaking up" with her suitor of 43 years, Ken.
That combined with other problems to see overall profits at the Barbie maker Mattel slump by 73%.
Barbie is feeling the heat from rival brands such as feisty "Bratz" dolls.
Her bad performance domestically in the first three months of the year followed even worse figures in the last quarter of 2003, when sales fell by 25%.
Global sales of the doll have also continued to fall off, dropping 6% in the first quarter following a 5% drop in the one before.
Barbie's career has spanned hundreds of jobs, and her makers have striven valiantly to keep up with the latest trends.
Barbie now uses computers and sends text messages on her mobile phone. A Barbie-branded range of designer clothes for girls, and a branded perfume, are also in the pipeline.
But Mattel's attempts to keep pace with modern life have not always gone down well with customers.
One letter to the New York Times following Barbie's split from long-time partner Ken complained that "the breakup... discourages - even insults - permanence and commitment".
The BBC's Duncan Bartlett says Barbie continues to attract interest among adult collectors but the problem is getting children interested in her adventures.
Meanwhile, Barbie has some hip new rivals on the scene.
MGA Entertainment's Bratz dolls come in a range of different ethnicities, and boast fashions described as "totally dangerous, totally ferocious and totally funkadelic".
They have won two Toy Industry Association Toy of the Year awards - and figures suggest rising sales are eating directly into sales of Barbie.
But analysts say with thought and investment Barbie could still have a future ahead.
"It's disappointing from a margin standpoint, but it's clear [Mattel's] priorities are to grow the top line and it's going to take some money to do that," Mark Foster, portfolio manager with Kirr Marbach Value Fund, told Reuters.
We have a great deal of confidence in the management team. They'll get it turned around, but it's not a quick fix."
But the manufacturers of Bratz are confident that, after nearly 50 years of dominance, Barbie's time is up.
"[Bratz] is not a fad," Isaac Larian, MGA's president and chief executive officer, told Los Angeles Daily News.
"This is the number 1 lifestyle brand for girls age seven to 14. If we keep innovating, this brand will be around for ever. Bratz is the truth, and Barbie isn't anymore."