New Ken Dolls for Barbie
Last year when El Segundo-based Mattel unveiled a bumper crop of new Barbies, including curvier, taller and more petite versions of its flagship fashion doll, one social media commenter quipped, “But what about #dadbod Ken?” referring to the perfectly chiseled abs and molded plastic hair of Ken Carson, Barbie’s longtime arm candy companion.
The other very tiny shoe drops today as Mattel starts selling a cornucopia of new Kens that includes two new body types dubbed “slim” and “broad” (the latter of which, with its slightly thicker middle, invites Dad-bod comparisons), six new molded hairstyles, including cornrows and an on-trend man bun, and seven skin tones.
It’s certainly not the first time the 56-year-old boyfriend of Barbie has switched up his look. (Who could forget 1993’s Magic Earring Ken?) However, it does mark the most diverse Ken squad to date. Mattel frames it as a natural progression, coming the year after the Barbie diversity push, but this is just as much, if not more so, a business decision for the toy company that’s been trying to turn around its core Barbie business.
Mattel doesn’t break out sales of Ken dolls but includes them in its overall Barbie sales.
Last year, after the new Barbies were added, the Barbie line’s sales rose 7% from the previous year, to $972 million. That accounted for 18% of Mattel’s total worldwide net sales of $5.46 billion.
But in this year’s first quarter — as Margo Georgiadis, a former Google executive, took over as Mattel’s chief executive — sales of Barbie and other Mattel merchandise suffered as retailers cleared out excess inventory left from the holiday season. The Barbie line’s sales alone dropped 13% from a year earlier to $123.4 million.
Having the new crop of Ken dolls is “definitely going to help,” said Jim Silver, chief executive and editor in chief of TTPM.com, a toy-review website. “I’m not going to say it’s a game changer, but is it a piece of the puzzle? Yes. The play pattern is that for every six to eight Barbies [a child] has, they generally have one Ken. So if you have a Ken kids aren’t interested in, that could affect sales. What’s happening needed to be done. They needed to do this. It’s the next step.”
But some Wall Street analysts said the Ken redesign was unlikely to have a significant effect on the doll’s popularity.
“Is it going to drive more sales? I doubt it,” said Keith Snyder, a stock analyst with the investment firm CFRA Research. “It’s not going to have a big impact on their financials.”
Linda Bolton Weiser, an analyst with the investment firm DA Davidson, likewise said the change mostly was “a regular marketing progression to modify your line.”
Mattel’s broader problems include competing with toys that have tie-ins with blockbuster movies, such as Hasbro Corp.’s “Star Wars” franchise, and youngsters shifting from conventional toys to mobile devices, video games and other electronics, Snyder said.