New presidential Barbie has running mate, too
By Mike Snider
Barbie is not waiting for the political conventions to reveal her running mate.
This election cycle's presidential Barbie is paired for the first time with a vice presidential doll.
Available in a variety of skin tones, face shapes and hair colors, the Barbie ticket — sold in pairs — is available for $24.99 on Shop.Mattel.com and will arrive soon at retailers.
Mattel has run presidential and candidate Barbies since 1992, but this all-female ticket is a landmark for the campaign.
"The President and Vice President dolls continue our efforts to expose girls to inspiring careers that are underrepresented by women," said Lisa McKnight, the general manager and senior vice president of Barbie for Mattel, in a company statement. "We see this doll set as a timely and topical platform to further the conversation around female leadership."
President and vice president Barbie are among Mattel's Barbie Careers line of dolls, which includes Barbie in such jobs as a doctor, pilot, teacher, athlete, artist and game developer.
After decades of criticism about Barbie's unrealistic body proportions — tall, lean and busty — Mattel earlier this year began making dolls available in three new body types, including petite and curvy, as well as with different skin tones and hairstyles.
These new president and vice president Barbies, however, are based on the original body shape for the dolls.
Other new Barbies on the way include a limited-edition Comic-Con Wonder Woman Barbie and a Gabby Douglas doll honoring the 2016 Olympic gymnast and 2012 all-around gold medal winner. That's part of the Sheroes line, launched last year, which includes Selma director Ava DuVernay and ballerina Misty Copeland.
Also recently released: the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Barbies of Captain Kirk, Spock and Lieutenant Uhura.
The presidential luster comes at a good time for Barbie. The toy brand has struggled in recent years with increased competition. After falling 14% in 2014, global Barbie sales dropped another 10% to $905.5 million in 2015 — though only a 1% decrease when the strong dollar was taken into account. For the first quarter of 2016, Barbie sales were flat, accounting for the strong dollar, according to Mattel.
"In general, it’s been a bumpy road for Barbie over the last few years," said Stephanie Wissink, managing director and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. "The alternative choices the consumer has have improved. If you go back even 15 years ago, Barbie had very little competition."
The president and vice president dolls each are available with multiethnic skin tone, an example of how Barbie today "is trying to resist against that typecast of the perfect blonde-haired girl," she said. And this year's dolls are especially relevant, Wissink says, because of Hillary Clinton's presumed winning of the Democratic presidential nomination — and other women's consideration for vice president — as well as the ascendance of new U.K. prime minister Theresa May. "That's not a political statement, but a pop culture statement," she said. "There's actually an alignment at this point with gender."
For Mattel, this toy release alone won't likely cause all consumers to elect to buy Barbie, but it's one of several signs that the toymaker is serious about evolving the brand, said Wissink, whose firm has a Neutral/Hold recommendation on the stock. "We are encouraged by what we have seen in terms of the improvements in Barbie's brand equity (and) seeing how the consumers are responding to some of the changes," she said. "But we are also mindful that that enthusiasm is balanced by the risk that we see from further changes in the competitive dynamic."
Mattel (MAT) shares edged 0.8% lower Tuesday to close at $33.24 but are up more than 20% so far this year.