More Dads are Moms: How Mattel Adapted

By Shlomo  Maital

 Barbie Engineer

   More and more dads are moms, these days, in America. According to Stephanie Clifford, NYT (“Barbie goes into construction”, Dec. 5),  of all American men with working wives and preschool children, one in five is the primary caretaker (the ‘mom’).  And in 2011, three women in every eight who work earned more than their spouses do.  This is up substantially from a decade ago.  (This is according to US Census 2010 data.)

   What does this mean for businesses?  For  Mattel, which makes Barbie dolls.  Mattel has shown remarkable agility in reinventing its amazing Barbie brand again and again, over the years. And it’s done it again.  Its international sales rose 12 per cent last year, comprising half its revenue. 

    Mattel saw early that men are increasingly making the buying decisions for families.  Result:  Mega Bloks, and Barbie set, a joint effort between Mattel and Mega Bloks, to create a construction set for Barbie dolls.  “The construction category is something Dad grew up with and has strong feelings and emotions about, says the chief innovation officer (!) of Mega Brands, Mega Bloks’ parent firm.  Mega Bloks building pieces are Barbie pink (Pantone 219), and with them you can build a fashion boutique, a mansion and an ice cream cart. Each set has a small Barbie figure than can be snapped into each scene.  Here is the Mega Bloks ‘pitch’:  “Design a dream-house-come-true with the Mega Bloks Barbie Build ‘n Style Luxury Mansion. Decorate eight interchangeable rooms that can be built any way you want! Barbie can build a bedroom with a beautiful canopy bed, a fun living room where Barbie and friends can relax or a bathroom with a “bubbly” tub! – It’s totally up to you! Take the working elevator all the way to the top floor for a super fun party with Mini-Fashion Figures Barbie, Teresa and all their friends!”

   Barbie has also introduced a computer-engineer Barbie, supported by the Society of women Engineers.  

   “More than ever,” says Stephanie Cota, VP marketing for Barbie, “more than ever, girls are looking at what’s fun, what they like,” rather than at what they are supposed to like, as girls. 

   Mattel is not the only toy company that spotted the dads-are-moms trend. So did Lego. They introduced Friends, a construction set for girls.  Of course, they drew fire for being sexist. But Lego sold twice as many kits as they had expected.  And they have become among the hot Christmas shopping toys, according to Amazon.