Toy giant Mattel has been dominating the high streets and children’s bedrooms for decades, but one firm rule of business is that you can never stand still. What attracts children to toys in 2016 is very different to what worked in 1956, so Mattel is wisely looking at new ways to market its products, including creating a brand new content division last year, and appointing a first-ever Chief Content Officer earlier this year. How will this affect the way it advertises and sell its toys? We’re placing our Spotlight on Mattel this month so read on to find out more…
How Mattel Got Started
Mattel didn’t start out making Barbie dolls or Hot Wheels cars, the company actually began in California in 1945 by manufacturing picture frames, known as Mattel Creations. The name came from combining the first names of founders Matt Matson and Elliot Handler, although Matson’s involvement was brief due to ill health. Dollhouse furniture and ukuleles were amongst the first successful products created by Mattel, but everything changed in 1959 with the arrival of Barbie.
A year later, she was followed by Chatty Cathy, a hugely popular and innovative doll, and Mattel has gone from strength to strength since then, with brands like Fisher Price and Hot Wheels proving enduring successful for the brand along with zeitgeisty toys like the Masters Of The Universe in the 1980s and Monster High more recently. Today Mattel sells in more than 150 countries and is the largest toy producer in the world in terms of revenue.
How Has Mattel Advertised In The Past?
Historically, the biggest market for advertising toys has been on TV during commercial breaks in kids programming. We’ve all been sat there watching our favourite cartoons, seen a great ad for a new toy and rushed over to demand that our parents immediately go out and buy it for us, and Mattel has been leveraging this to its advantage since the 1950s. In 1955 it became the first year-round sponsor for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show, a hugely lucrative market with a captive audience of American children with few other viewing options.
But kids in 2016 have almost unlimited choices when it comes to what they watch. There are hundreds of day-long channels catering to their whims, not to mention smartphones and tablets and YouTube’s millions of videos. They’re as likely to see a toy they want being reviewed by a vlogger’s children as they are to see it during an ad break on Milkshake (one of the few traditional commercial kids’ TV slots still on a mainstream TV channel), so how to reach them has changed immeasurably.
How Can Mattel Use Content To Sell Toys?
Catherine Balsam-Schwaber has been hired as the company’s first Chief Content Officer and has spoken out about the way Mattel is planning to change from its previous tv-first approach to marketing: “It was recognising the consumer demand for a content-first approach, where children really expect to see their toys come to life,” she told Campaign. “Or learn about the things they might want to buy through content.”
Her department is called Mattel Creations (a callback to the company’s original name) and was founded in March 2016 to bring together various separate departments of content creation that Mattel owned, including HiT Entertainment (responsible for the likes of Thomas & Friends and Fireman Sam) and the American Girl production team.
An example of the kind of content marketing Mattel Creations will be launching can be seen already in the various CGI Barbie films and TV shows, which have been crucial in keeping the nearly 50-year-old doll at the top of wishlists for children across the world. But in a world of amateur ‘unboxing’ videos where vloggers are earning millions of views for simply opening up toys, Mattel is looking to gain ownership and maximise the potential of digital channels, including VR and AR.
Tying these approaches in with the latest toy technology, like the AI-driven Hello Barbie doll is where Mattel sees the immediate future of its content marketing, with Balsam-Schwaber saying: “You begin to think about all of these components coming together. I’d put VR, AR and all of that in [the same category as] delivering content wherever consumers are right now. As they are ready for more AI or VR or any tech-based product, we want to be there to connect with them in the right way.”
Mattel’s move into content marketing is still in the early stages, but with so many big brands available for it to utilise, we can expect to see a lot more of them on our screens (of all shapes and sizes).