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In pursuit of Barbie, Ken may change
Mattel says he may get a makeover to win Barbie back, but is the fashion diva really worth chasing?
October 21, 2005: 1:45 PM EDT
By Grace Wong, CNN/Money staff writer
Mattel's stock is trading near its 52-week low.
Mattel's stock is trading near its 52-week low.
Ken through the ages
Ken through the ages

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Mattel may be giving its Ken doll a turn in the spotlight with hints of a makeover on the horizon, but the toymaker's move to revamp Ken could end up bringing the focus back to Barbie.

Mattel said Friday its Ken doll is determined to win Barbie back. (For those who missed the news, the couple split after 43 years together when an Australian surfer named Blaine worked his charms on Barbie last year.)

Ken's fans might see "some big changes in Spring 2006," Mattel said in a statement. The company did not offer specific details about the makeover, but personal stylists offered some suggestions. Among the changes they'd like to see are a better tan, an eyelid surgery that allows him to wink at his favorite lady and a more lean and defined physique.

However, by the looks of Mattel's latest earnings results, it might be Barbie, not Ken, who needs the makeover.

Mattel reported a lower third-quarter profit Monday on disappointing Barbie sales, and shares of Mattel Inc. (down $0.10 to $15.06, Research) are trading near their 52-week low of $14.80.

Mattel spokeswoman Lauren Bruksch offered little specifics when asked whether Ken's revamp was an attempt to reinvigorate the Barbie brand, saying, "A makeover for Ken was inevitable. A new changeover was in the cards."

Video games and other electronic media are posing a challenge to many players in the traditional toy market, but Mattel's third-quarter results were especially disappointing.

The company said U.S. sales of the Barbie brand sank 30 percent last quarter while worldwide sales fell 18 percent. By comparison, global sales of its Other Girls Brands category, which includes Polly Pocket! and some of the company's newer brand introductions, racked up double-digit growth. Mattel said sales also rose in its Wheels category, which includes the Hot Wheels and Matchbox brands.

"Third quarter results are disappointing as sales increases in much of our portfolio were offset by declines in the Barbie brand," Mattel CEO Robert Eckert said in a statement accompanying the earnings release.

Barbie has lost market share to MGA Entertainment's Bratz dolls over the last several years, and growth in the overall traditional toy market for 5 to 9-year-olds has been very stagnant, A.G. Edwards & Sons analyst Tim Conder said.

The introduction of a new and improved Ken doll may be part of Mattel's ongoing efforts to redevelop the core Barbie brand. "But at the end of the day, the broader issues are the issues," Conder said, referring to increased competition and slow growth facing the company.


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