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One from the flops file - Mattel’s all but forgotten “Flavas”

As part of my work on understanding how companies compete in dynamic markets, I run across a fair number of flops. Some are well intentioned, and others are just poorly thought through. I was reminded of this not long ago when reading a Wall Street Journal article on Mattel's attempts to give its venerable "Barbie" franchise a face-lift. The company is introducing a new "fashionista" Barbie, but we can expect heated competition from two other companies introducing respectively the "Liv" doll and the "Moxie Girl" doll. The battle for market share is not childs' play – Mattel won a lawsuit against the company that introduced the popular "Bratz" dolls and emotions run high in the rivalry.
So where do the flops come in? I wonder whether Mattel has put much energy into understanding why their previous attempts to compete with Bratz using the Barbie franchise and their considerable marketing muscle were so disappointing. The particular flop that comes to mind is a remarkably Bratz-like doll called the Flavas. Mattel came under wild criticism for being tone-deaf to cultural and social objections to the dolls' supposedly hip vibe. Instead, observers felt they were insulting. And for staid old Mattel, introducing a doll with a jingle that asked people to "tell me what's your flavor" seemed rather…um…risque, particularly considering the target age of the intended market. In a sign, perhaps of how it has come to grips with more modern expectations, Mattel is even issuing commercials for the "fashionista" Barbie with a sound track that utilizes the "Barbie Girl" song penned a decade ago that Mattel initially tried to annihilate with a lawsuit. Curious as to how it works? You can judge for yourself by checking out the video. "Life in plastic, it's fantastic" we are told. So, will the fashionista Barbie manage to win the hearts and minds of ever-so-sophisticated girls before they grow out of dolls altogether? Let the holiday shopping season begin!

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