CASE 1 YouTube Video: Barbie ‘I’m a blonde bimbo girl, in a fantasy world…..Life in plastic. It’s fantastic.’ (Aqua) Barbie was born in 1959 but she ha

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‘I’m a blonde bimbo girl, in a fantasy world…..Life in plastic. It’s fantastic.’ (Aqua)

Barbie was born in 1959 but she has never aged because she is a doll. To date over 1 billion Barbies have been sold by the US Company that owns her – Mattel Corporation. Ruth Handler, who founded the company along with her husband, Elliot, modeled the doll on an 11½ inch plastic German toy called Lilli – sold to adult men. She named the adapted doll after her daughter, Barbara. It is estimated that the average girl aged between three and 11 in the US owns 10 Barbies, in Britain or Italy she owns seven and in France or Germany, she owns five. With annual sales of over $1.6 billion, it is little wonder that the Barbie brand is valued at some $2 billion – making it the most valuable toy brand in the world. But how has this plastic doll endured for so long in an industry notorious for its susceptibility to fickleness and fashion? Surely it must have come to the end of its life cycle? The answer lies in innovative marketing and product extension.

When originally introduced into the market Barbie was competing with dolls that were based on babies and designed to be cradled and cared for. By way of contrast, Barbie, with her adult looks, exaggerated female figure normally with blonde hair and pouting lips, was seen as an adult and independent – a child of ‘liberated’ times, one that could become anything or anyone the child wanted. But Mattel describes Barbie as a ‘lifestyle, not just a toy….a fashion statement, a way of life. Barbie was not only innovative, it was intended to be more than just a doll.

Every year Mattel devises some 150 different Barbie dolls and 120 new outfits. She has always been trendy and continues to reinvent herself. She was a ‘mod’ in the 1960s and a hippie in the 1970s. Her hairstyle has changed from ponytail, bubble-cut, page boy, swirl to side-part flip. She has a varied role in life – from holidaying in Malibu to being an astronaut, soldier, air force pilot, surgeon, vet, doctor, dentist, engineer, firefighter, diplomat, fashion model, Olympic athlete, skier, scuba diver, ballplayer, TV news reporter, aerobics instructor, rock star, rap musician to a presidential candidate. Each role has numerous accessories to go with it – from cars to horses and carriage, from a jewelry box to lunch box – and including a partner called Ken. You can even buy a ‘Make-me-pretty talking styling head’ playset. By 2006 the company had produced the sixth Barbie movie, The 12 Dancing Princesses, each accompanied by specials dolls. By wearing a motion-sensor bracelet and shoe clip, the latest Let’s Dance Barbie! Barbie allows the doll to follow a child’s dance steps. A previous video based on Barbie in the Nutcracker grossed $150 million in sales, including associated products. In addition, Mattel licenses the production of hundreds of different Barbie products: including make-up, pajamas, bedclothes, furniture, and wallpapers.

Dressing and undressing, grooming, and making-up are what Barbie is made for. And Mattel has worked hard to generate brand extension – more add-ons to the basic Barbie doll. 2002/03 Rapunzel Barbie comes with a handsome prince not to mention a computer-animated video and 14 product tie-ins.

Mattel also continues to segment the market – trying to find new markets to sell the doll and its accessories to. The product extensions attempt this. But selling beyond the basic market, for example to older girls, is problematic. The main problem is that ‘age compression’ – girls getting older sooner – means that it is increasingly hard hanging on to the basic market, let alone trying to extend it. One recent variation called My Scene attempts to sell three Barbie variants, with an older, more ‘hip’ look, together with perfume, cosmetics, and music to this older group. This doll has a movable face feature that allows girls to create expressions on the dolls’ faces like frowns, pouts, smirks, and smiles.

Over the years Barbie has become a cult. There are Barbie conventions, fan clubs, magazines, websites, and exhibitions. She is seen by many as the ideal vision of an American woman. In 1976 the USA included Barbie in the bicentennial time capsule. There are sociology courses in the USA based upon her, speculating on this image and what it implies. Mattel has cultivated these images. They have also worked hard defending Barbie’s image (or reputation). In 1997 they prosecuted (unsuccessfully) the pop group Aqua who produced the satirical song ‘Barbie Girl’, some of whose lyrics are reproduced at the head of this case. Nevertheless, Barbie seems now to have become something of a gay icon. Whether gay or not, collectors have been known to pay up to $10,000 for a vintage model. The question is whether young girls will continue to want the Barbie fantasy world.

However, the problem remains that Barbie is getting old and must be nearing the end of her product life cycle. Sales peaked at $1.8 million in 1997. Since then they have fallen continuously every year. Compared to 2004, sales fell 7% worldwide and a massive 21% in the USA in 2005. So the question is how long can innovations sustain Barbie? And how much longer can life stay fantastic?

Case questions:

1. Why has Barbie been so successful worldwide?

2. What the company did to respect other cultures?


A group of high-powered businessmen from New York City arrive in Mexico City to give a presentation. They have timed, detailed agendas, a long contract, and specific plans for a joint venture. They distribute the materials and say they are pressed for time and need to complete the meeting so they can catch their plane. The Mexicans sat very quietly during the presentation. After the presentation, the New Yorkers on their way home congratulated themselves on their success. The Mexicans, however, felt they would not be able to work with these New Yorkers. Why do the two sides view the meeting differently?


Accordingly, during the time Disney came into the picture as it never did a single misstep, never a mistake or not even have such failure as said by former Disney executive and the tendency that everything goes perfect until such time that certain problems hit Euro Disney in such aspects and that Disney may have certain indications that at some point there was something wrong in planning the Euro Disney since the management then, were not able to deliberately consider certain outcomes as well as the pros and cons that reflects Disney’s external factors that goes with careful planning and decision making of every intricate details. Thus, Eisner was obsessed with maintaining Disney’s reputation for its quality and was convinced by the designers that Euro Disney would have to brim in competing with great monuments and cathedrals of Europe. There were mistakes on the project plans as for instance, Disney has allowed companies built hotels to house visitors and that Disney merely collected royalties from the park and not having equity ownership stake.

The business performance was not that great and stable and it does not have ample assumption to the European market and there has been severe European recession as well as high interest rates and strong French currency value. The initial plan in  a way, was not comprehensive and accurate in providing solutions to the arising Disney problems, it does not go with the standards of changes ideals and concepts as the application was typical in details and methods were more of Disney fashion and that exhaustion was evident and somewhat the planning for location was not at the right value in considering the availability of potential tourists within Europe and there was different in dealing to the climate conditions that was not conducive for running and building such theme park. There were also shortcomings with Disney’s financial planning indicating that Euro Disney was just a cornerstone of a huge real estate development plan. Meanwhile, on the positive side, the key financial success was that Euro Disney would tightly control the design and build everything and then sell of the completed properties for a large profit. Aside, culture differences was visible and that Europeans in some stance don’t like the fact that there has fakeness implication of the Disney leading the process to a more serious Euro-Disney problems and management issues.

It is imperative to provide series of recommendations in order for Disney to deal with certain problems of Euro-Disney as discussed in the following points.

There is a need for Disney to take control of the management decisions and analyzing issues and problems based on their own practice and not to use some team to analyze the problem and have it presented that is way outside the management and business principles and context and to give more direction and substance to the designated management functions resulting to a more organized and systematic business environment and better workforce. Thus, there is also the imperative need to understand and execute appropriate plan of actions that will bridge the gap of culture difference such as knowing what are the characteristics and attitudes of the European people in terms of the nature of business considering what will work on both sides and achieve good marketing strategies that would have connection to promotion and advertising process.

The fact that marketing issues was present, it may be proper for Disney to consider programs that will cater to resolving such issues and probably focus on useful market tactics such as by having promo discounts for families on weekends and that there is a need to achieve good operations management by means of implementing strategies that fit in to the European culture and planning more ways on how to make business better despite of business conflicts thereunto. Thus, adjusting operations not just on summer months and maybe change the approach from seasonal to a whole year round basis. Furthermore, in lieu to the environment and location factors, Disney can choose such locations that have strong sales magnet, something that sales and profits are manageable and that possibly, Disney can opt for transfer of Euro-Disney location considering that all aspects of costs and expenses have to be minimal and does not overspend the resources and the need for a justifiable budget is important as high risks within the management and its process may be evident any time. Moreover, Disney can implement and apply flexible labor systems that will be adaptable to the situation, and is accepted by the French laborers and thus, the need also to cut down costs and manage risks and small changes properly to have balance of business.

The financial and initial business plan must undergo precise review and probably Disney can use procurement strategies such as changing the structure and context of the planning process into a modern channel of communication and have the avenue for updating resources and market approaches and have it linked to the trends of global market and be in control of situations such as having the right competition strategy and be able to act out several activities that will convinced customers to choose them over the other parks like for example, free rides for every purchase of a maximum of three tickets and others. (Source:


  • What lessons can we learn from Disney’s problems with Euro Disney?
  • Provide of 3 Cultural Operational Errors?
  • What recommendations would make to Disney to deal with the problems of Euro Disney from the cultural point of view?


Your organization is having a large party for its worldwide distributors in the United States. Because there will be people from all over the world, what would you serve for meals to avoid offending anyone? Explain.

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