Bloomberg Businessweek (July 17, 2023)
Год выпуска: July 17, 2023
Автор: Bloomberg Businessweek
Издательство: «Bloomberg Businessweek»
Формат: PDF (журнал на английском языке)
Количество страниц: 68
Mattel Goes to the Movies
The company’s plan to supercharge toy sales starts with an anti-corporate, feminist Barbie movie for adults
At a private party thrown by Warner Bros., the last rays of late April sun flooded the Mr Chow restaurant at the Caesars Palace hotel in Las Vegas. More than once, as if choreographed by studio publicists, they landed like a spotlight on the perpetually smiling Margot Robbie. Executives from film studios and the toy industry swarmed the blond actress, who plays the title role in Barbie, a film from director Greta Gerwig that will be released in the US on July 21. David Zaslav, chief executive officer of Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., zigzagged his way, Barbie baseball cap on his head, through the crowd to get to Robbie and snapped a selfie with her. An hour in, Robbie and Gerwig climbed up on the bar to rapturous applause. Robbie called Barbie a spectacle and a masterpiece, saying it was the kind of theatrical film that had first gotten her into show business.
It was also a moment of celebration for Mattel Inc. executives 250 miles away in El Segundo, California. Since 2018 they’ve been carrying out a strategy championed by their CEO and chairman, an amalgam of tanned biceps and phosphorescent teeth named Ynon Kreiz, to reverse a precipitous sales decline by licensing the company’s intellectual property to most every studio in Hollywood. Gerwig’s film, a comedic, feminist, PG-13 take on Barbie, will be the first release for Kreiz’s “IP strategy,” and its most consequential-the dolls are Mattel’s crown jewel, driving about a third of its $5 billion in annual sales.
Although the IP-to-movie playbook is by now well established, Barbie still comes with plenty of risks. It could be popular with nostalgic adults but fail to register with toy-hungry 5-year-olds. Box-office returns could be poor, hurting Warner Bros., which mostly covered Barbie's $100 million budget, and spooking the studios that are collectively funding or considering funding 14 other Mattel movies. Or the film could backfire completely. In Barbie’s 64-year history she’s been the face of dozens of TV shows, small-screen movies, video games and books, but she’s never starred in a theatrical release. That’s not because Mattel didn’t recognize the potential upside; it’s because the potential downside was financial ruin.
Barbie was created and marketed as a toy of special personal importance to young girls-as a prototype for adulthood, a projection of a future life. Introduced at a moment in history when girls lacked real-world examples of high-powered women, Barbie, with her bombshell looks and high-flying jobs, filled a cultural vacuum. She quickly became an icon and lightning rod: Mattel’s research has shown that her fame rivals that of the British monarch or US president, and she’s about as heavily debated. Past executives feared a major Barbie motion picture could provoke such a negative reaction that it would destroy the appeal of the company’s biggest brand. Moreover, few big-budget movies with women as the target audience are ever even made-Shawn Robbins of industry tracker Boxoffice Pro puts the figure at about 6% of films costing at least the $100 million Barbie did.
But sometime over the past few decades, the calculus changed. With Mattel long reluctant to modify its most successful product, Barbie’s high heels had fallen out of step with society. By the 2000s the doll was being viewed as a relic. Seven years ago, Mattel finally began making Barbies with more realistic body types, new careers and a wider range of skin tones. Sales rose, but it wasn’t enough to reverse Mattel’s decline-that same year it lost its spot as the world’s largest toy company by market cap to Hasbro Inc. It then burned through two CEOs, endured an accounting scandal and recalled the Rock ’n Play Sleepers sold by its Fisher-Price subsidiary, which have been linked to about 100 infant deaths. Mattel rebounded during the pandemic, but that boom is over, and its stock price is about 40% lower than it was when the new Barbies came out.
Reviving the leading 20th century US toymaker will be a tall order for a single film. But already there are signs Kreiz’s gamble could work: Viral paparazzi pictures of the Barbie stars filming on Venice Beach last year sparked a Barbiecore pink fashion craze, and the movie’s trailers have been parsed on social media with the intensity of a postfeminist graduate course. “It’ll be very hard to be on planet Earth,” Kreiz says, “and not know this movie’s coming out.”
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