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Mattel’s intellectual property-focused strategy is blasting off this summer.
On Thursday, the 77-year-old toy company announced a multiyear licensing deal with SpaceX that will result in a new line of space-inspired toys. Specifically, Matchbox plans to create miniatures modeled on SpaceX’s launch vehicles, while “astro-inspired collectibles” will be released on Mattel Creations, the company’s direct-to-consumer platform.
With the effort, Mattel is seeking to inspire the “space explorer in every kid."
“We take pride in our ability to create products and experiences that honor cultural moments and inspire humankind,” said Nick Karamanos, SVP Entertainment Partnerships at Mattel, in a statement.
It’s one of a number of partnerships Mattel has launched recently.
Timed for Earth Day, Matchbox announced another collaboration with a Musk company, as Tesla served as the model for the first carbon-neutral toys. Previously, Mattel also released a cybertruck that had to be assembled in 3,283 pieces, complete with the cracked windows from 2019's infamous shattered reveal.
Barbie, another toy from the Mattel collection, has meanwhile been transformed by collaborations with icons like the late David Bowie (another Mars explorer) and Dr. Jane Goodall that resulted in dolls in their likeness. Fittingly, the latter is made of eco-friendly plastic, and includes a replica chimpanzee.
After 63 years, Barbie continues to have cultural relevance. That's why she's at the center of one of the highest-profile projects currently in Mattel’s portfolio, and one that points at the company's wider strategy related to partnerships and intellectual property more broadly. Directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, a coming live-action film is set to add dimension to the doll.
Showing that Barbie hasn’t she hasn’t lost her touch as a fashion icon, teaser images from the film touched off the fashion trend of the summer, even as the film isn’t set to be released until 2023. Barbiecore is making that certain shade of pink the must-have color for red carpet designers and home goods (Think dream house.). At this point, it has transcended the movie, and even the doll itself. From Hunker:
"A much-welcomed mood-booster after the last few years, 'Barbiecore' is all about embracing vibrant hues — particularly the doll's signature hot pink — in everyday life," Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson said. "And with many nostalgic for simpler, sunnier, and more carefree times, it only makes sense that this '80s-inspired, unapologetically pink aesthetic is taking center stage as the 'it' style of the summer."
Added Mattel SVP and global head of design Barbie & fashion dolls to the New York Post, "We are here for it."
The snowball effect that produced this craze started with a 2019 licensing deal between Mattel and Warner Brothers that allowed the IP behind Barbie to be used in a movie. It was the first agreement of its kind to be signed under a then-new division called Mattel Films.
Now, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz says that intellectual property is key to Mattel’s identity, and its growth. When he took the top position four years ago, the company was in crisis. As part of a turnaround strategy, the former CEO of Fox Kids Europe and production company Endemol mapped out a strategy to activate fandom and cultural appeal around the company’s portfolio of toys. Boosted by increased demand in toys during the pandemic, the company reported that sales were up by the end of 2021. It has only continued in 2022, with second quarter sales rising 20% at the company even amid 40-year high inflation and more of a return to pre-pandemic habits.
In the first quarter of 2021, Kreiz declared that, “The turnaround is now complete.” On the same earnings call, he laid out a vision for future growth by adding that Mattel will be rebranded as an "IP-driven high performing toy company."
(Image via Mattel)
Centering intellectual property as an asset rather than the physical toys themselves, the company is focused on the content first, and its goods second. From CNBC:
The other piece of the process is making quality content, not just films and TV shows tied to toy lines.
“Don’t try to sell toys,” he said. “We know that in success, if people watch the movie, and there’s high engagement, good things will happen. We know how to sell toys, where the opportunity is really about quality entertainment, based on our IP.”
Barbie is just one of many content activations. It is also planning movies for Hot Wheels and even the Magic Eight Ball. And earlier this week, it announced that it is reintroducing the decades-old toys Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar. The goal, VP of Global Marketing PJ Lewis told the New York Times: “maintain the validity of our IP and decide what’s next.”
In an established media model of past merchandising strategies, characters seen in culture and entertainment content became toys.
Mattel's strategy flipped that on its head in a convergence of the kind of cultural moments that Musk and Barbie can inspire, along with content and commerce. In the process, it's bringing the company's toys into a new era.
Talk about opening new frontiers.
Trending in Operations
On the Move has the latest from Amazon, Lovesac and more.
This week, leadership is changing at GameStop, Sorel and Beautycounter. Meanwhile, key executives are departing at Amazon, Wayfair and Lovesac.
Here’s a look at the latest shuffles:
GameStop CEO fired
GameStop announced the termination of Matthew Furlong as CEO on Wednesday. A brief statement did not provide a reason for the firing.
With the move, Chewy founder and activist investor Ryan Cohen was named executive chairman of the video game retailer. Cohen will be responsible for capital allocation and overseeing management.
It came as the company reported a 10% year-over-year decline in net sales for the first quarter. Meanwhile, the company’s net loss improved by 62%.
In an SEC filing, GameStop further added this “We believe the combination of these efforts to stabilize and optimize our core business and achieve sustained profitability while also focusing on capital allocation under Mr. Cohen’s leadership will further unlock long-term value creation for our stockholders.”
Cohen was revealed as GameStop's largest shareholder when he disclosed a 10% stake in the retailer in 2020. GameStop went on to become a leading name in the meme stock rise of 2021.
Sorel president steps down
Mark Nenow is stepping down as president of the Sorel brand in order to focus on his health.
After rising to the role in 2015, Nenow spearheaded a transformation of Columbia Sportswear-owned Sorel from a men’s workwear brand to a fashion-focused brand that led with a women’s offering of boots, sandals and sneakers.
“Mark led the brand to sales of $347 million in net sales in 2022,” said Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, in a statement. “His leadership has been invaluable to this company, and we wish him the very best.”
Columbia will conduct a search for Nenow’s replacement. Craig Zanon, the company’s SVP of emerging brands, will lead Sorel in the interim.
Beautycounter appoints interim CEO
Beautycounter appointed board member Mindy Mackenzie as interim CEO, succeeding Marc Rey. According to the brand, Rey and the board “mutually decided to transition to a new phase of leadership for Beautycounter.”
McKenzie, a former executive at Carlyle, McKinsey and Jim Beam, will lead the company as it conducts a search for a permanent CEO. Additionally, former Natura & Co CEO Roberto Marques will join Beautycounter’s board as chair.
As part of the transition, Nicole Malozi is also joining the company as chief financial officer. She brings experience from Tatcha, Nike, and DFS Group Limited.
Amazon’s North America fulfillment chief departs
Melissa Nick, a VP of customer fulfillment for North America at Amazon, will leave the company, effective June 16, CNBC reported. Nick joined the company in 2014, and oversaw a region that included nearly 300 fulfillment centers. After doubling its supply chain footprint during the pandemic, Amazon recently reorganized its fulfillment operations to take a regional approach, as opposed to a national model that often resulted in items shipping across the country.
Wayfair’s chief commercial officer to retire
Jon Blotner (Courtesy photo)
Steve Oblak will retire from the role of chief commercial officer at home goods marketplace Wayfair. With the move, Jon Blotner will be promoted to chief commercial officer.
"Steve has served as a critical part of our leadership team and played a pivotal role in Wayfair's growth, helping us grow from a $250 million business when he joined to $12 billion in net revenue today,” said Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah, in a statement. “He oversaw countless milestones, from helping to launch the Wayfair brand as we brought together hundreds of sites into a single platform, to launching new categories, business lines, and geographies while overseeing our North American and European businesses, to leading our debut into physical retail.”
Blotner previously oversaw exclusive and specialty retail brands, as well as digital media at Wayfair. Before joining the company, he served as president of Gemvara.com prior to its 2016 acquisition by Berkshire Hathaway.
Lovesac announces CFO transition
Furniture retailer Lovesac said Donna Dellomo will retire as EVP and CFO, and move to an advisory role, effective June 30. Dellomo was with Lovesac for six years.
Keith Siegner was appointed as the next EVP and CFO. He brings experience as CFO of esports company Vindex, as well as executive roles at Yum! Brands, UBS Securities and Credit Suisse.
Additionally, Jack Krause will retire from the role of chief strategy officer, effective June 30. His responsibilities will be divided between CEO Shawn Nelson and president Mary Fox.
“Since joining Lovesac, Jack has played an instrumental role in transforming the Company into a true omni channel retailer by helping expand our physical touchpoints and digital platform as we continue to disrupt the industry,” said Nelson, in a statement.
NRF adds board members
The National Retail Federation announced the addition of five new board members. They include:
- Marguerite Adzick, founder and CEO, Addison Bay
- Harley Finkelstein, president, Shopify
- Ian Kahn, partner, PwC
- Sharon Leite, CEO, Ideal Image
- Carrie Tharp, VP, strategic industries, Google Cloud