Commentary

Mattel Is On A Serious Roll

When Barbie whips out her iPad and gazes into her Barbie Digital Makeover Mirror, she apparently likes what she sees -– which is not only a much-needed brushing up of her own image but also a brighter future for her sister and brother Mattel brands from Hot Wheels to American Girl to Thomas the Tank Engine to Fisher Price to Matchbox cars, as Tiffany Hsu informs us in the Los Angeles Times this morning. 

The new Makeover Mirror allows girls (or male VPs for digital play) to apply makeup on the iPad screen using facial tracking technology. “Think of it as dress-up goes digital: If you make a mistake, simply start over. What's more, there's no mess to clean up after,” as Mashable’s Andrea Smith wrote after seeing the product at the 10th American International Toy Fair in New York in February.

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Mattel itself has been cleaning up tidily after the mess that was the recession and even a “choppy” holiday season in 2012. Its stock is up 22% this year and it closed Friday at a 15-year high.

“At age 68, the company is incorporating more digital elements into its toys, embracing more Hollywood partnerships, pushing into foreign markets -- whatever it takes to keep its status as the world's largest toy maker,” Tsu writes, including a new boys action line revolving around Max Steel -– a “modern day tech superhero.”

Abram Brown’s story in the May 6 issue of Forbes singles out Mattel’s chairman and CEO since 2012, Bryan Stockton, who has been with the toy maker since 2000 after a 24-year career at Oscar Mayer and Kraft Foods. 

During his “first full year at the helm, Mattel’s sales climbed 2% to $6.4 billion and profit increased 12% to $864 million, excluding a one-time litigation charge,” Brown writes. “Even if you think the sales growth is lackluster, Mattel is doing better relative to the industry, and their brands are in demand,” Gerrick Johnson of BMO Capital Markets tells him.

Building on Brown’s report, Forbes.com contributor Chuck Carnevale writes, that there’s “good reason” for Mattel’s success. “Examine the toy chest of most children around the world and you are likely to find several popular Mattel brands in it.” And each is a franchise unto itself.

ESPN’s Jon Robison, meanwhile, informs us that “Mattel’s line of miniature WWE wrestlers is the No. 1 action figure property in the U.S., beating out heavy hitters such as G.I. Joe, Star Wars and Marvel,” according to NPD data. “And debuting in August will be a figure collectors have been clamoring for: The new Cody Rhodes, complete with an inked-on mustache (and packaged in a special two-pack with Sin Cara).”

The good press includes an interview with Mattel’s VP of marketing, Matt Petersen, by Parade’s editor-in-chief, Erin Hill, last week: “Mattel Exec Speaks Out: How Games Made My Family Even Closer.”

Petersen believes that games provide “campfire moments” and “we’ve all lost the habit of playing together as a family, which was once so embedded in the family structure.” His immediate family of four is particularly passionate about Uno, including highly competitive monthly tournaments.

It will not surprise you to learn, I’m sure, that although Uno was developed in 1971 by Merle Robbins, an Ohio barber from Hungary who was looking to resolve an argument with his social-studies-teaching son about the rules of Crazy Eights, it has been a Mattel product since 1992. Robbins’s family invested $8,000 in the first 50 decks; more than 151 million copies of the game have been sold worldwide since then, according to Wikipedia.

And it turns out that this past weekend was dubbed "Take a Game Break" -- a “new initiative to connect family and friends through the joy of gameplay,” as Extra tells us. Who dubbed it so? Mattel, of course. Playing along, Extra sponsored a contest in which it gave away “the Ultimate Mattel Games Closet to 5 lucky friends.”

Back to those action figures, the forthcoming Max Steel line is based on an animated series and direct-to-video films that debuted in 2000 and have recently been revived on Disney XD. The six-inch figures won’t be available at retail until August.

“Due to the massive increase in Turbo Energy output, we have been forced to create an entire new line of toys,” the Max Steel website puts it, with details TK. But in the meantime, there are games to play. “Join now,” as the voiceover for a homepage video implores, “the world just may depend on it.” 

Well, if not the world, at least Mattel’s coming holiday results.

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