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‘We stopped looking into the future’: Mattel boss on how the toy maker reinvented Barbie

Richard Dickson

Dickson: “We created brand content money can’t buy”

Iconic US toy brand Mattel – manufacturer of the Barbie doll – went back to its roots as a creations company to re-engage children with short attention spans and their ambitious parents.

Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson told delegates at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas that the 70-year-old toy manufacturer was forced into action after a revolution in children’s play saw it competing with media and technology companies. Viewed through the prism of child development, the brand’s product suite became outdated.

He said: “At some point we stopped looking into the future. The toy had become global intellectual property. You have to have play with purpose.”

Declining sales took the company on a path of rapid reinvention with the most significant changes being made to the Barbie doll and the introduction of different skin tones, facial features and body shapes.

Dickson said: “For Barbie to succeed, girls had to love her again and mums needed to like her a bit more. These dolls reflect the complex world girls experience today. They’re more relevant than ever.”

The changes saw Barbie trending as a topic on social media and the introduction of a talking doll saw Time Magazine label it the most advanced in a new generation of artificial intelligence toys.

Dickson added: “We had created brand content through product innovation, content that money can’t buy. Creative, bold decisions sparked a conversation that’s changing the perception of the brand and Barbie is leading again.”

He said the company had taken inspiration from its founders, who didn’t think they were a toy company but a creations company that was design-led. “Our founders weren’t toy people, they were designers and inventors.”

Martin Lane

Martin Lane is a guest of Adobe at the Summit in Las Vegas

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