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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
Barbie's mid-life crisis
By Nicola Seare
BBC Money Programme

Barbie is not ready to hang up her fashion doll crown.
The world's Number One fashion doll is 44 years old this year.

But despite sales of over 1 billion Barbies worldwide, the American icon is facing some serious competition for her fashion doll crown.

In April, her makers Mattel saw their profits slump by 73% and this week announced that worldwide Barbie's gross sales are down 13%.

So who is stealing her thunder?

Real choice

Her main contender comes in the form of the Bratz dolls; Yasmin, Jade, Sasha, Cloe, Meygen, and Fianna are designed to be more streetwise and funky than Barbie.

Launched three years ago in the USA by Iranian immigrant Isaac Larian, over 80 million Bratz dolls have been sold worldwide.

In the UK, Bratz owns more than 30% of the fashion doll market and Bratz's UK distributor Nick Austin is confident that their share will grow.

"If you asked children a few years ago what they wanted it was always Barbie, Barbie, Barbie, but that was because there was no competition," he says.

"There was nothing else there and I think this is the first time that little girls have had a real choice on the doll shelves."

Just like me

But its not just Bratz who want a slice of the UK's 100m fashion doll market. Barbie's old rival Sindy is planning to re-launch.

Bratz: Streetwise, but are they buzinezz savvy?

Sindy originally came on the scene in the 1960s as a very British doll with a girl next door look. She triumphed amongst British girls in the 1980s but was trounced by Barbie in the 1990s.

Denise Deane, design and development director of Sindy points out that "it's a very competitive time to make a re-launch, but we're confident that we have something unique to offer and that Sindy will be a main player within the doll industry".

Twentyfirst Century Sindy looks very different from her 1980s incarnation. She is more flexible than ever before and her manufacturers plan to market her to girls as a doll who is "just like me".

Secure position

Mattel however is not taking any of this lying down. Barbie's target market is three years and upwards, while the Bratz dolls appeal to eight year old girls.

Barbie's target market is three years and upwards.

So Mattel have also brought out a much funkier range to appeal to this older age group; My Scene. Like traditional Barbie, this group of doll friends have a love of fashion but offer more accessories.

So far their strategy seems to be working; launched in 2002, their sales increased by 380% in 2003.

However, Barbie is still a bigger brand than My Scene and Barbie is clearly not ready to hang up her fashion doll crown just yet.

Despite the increased competition, Tim Kilpin, Mattel's senior vice president of girl's marketing, says her position is secure.

"We're very confident that we can continue to prevail and continue to be the number one girls brand in the world," he says.

Producer: Stephen McQuillan
Series Editor: Clive Edwards

Money Programme - Barbie's Midlife Crisis was broadcast on BBC Two on Wednesday 21 July at 1930.

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