- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

NEW YORK — Forget pink ball gowns and feather boas. This Barbie's got attitude. A new kind of Barbie doll has hit the stores, one with platform shoes, low-rise jeans, heavier makeup and an exposed navel. Called My Scene Barbie, the doll is Mattel Inc.'s attempt to stop girls from growing out of Barbie too fast and too soon and from defecting to Bratz, a line of funky dolls with sultry eyes and oversized heads that have become must-haves for the 8-to-12 age group since their introduction more than a year ago.
"I'm not into Barbies," said Alex Stallings, 7, of Baltimore, who has five Bratz dolls. "Bratz are cool. I am into fashion."
Payton Anderson, 8, of Atlanta, said she has been over wanting Barbies since she was 6, and now wants Bratz dolls. "Barbies are too babyish," said Payton, who has given her Barbies to her 5-year-old sister.
Mattel denies it is trying to emulate the formula for Bratz, whose five-character multiethnic assortment has supplanted Barbie as the nation's No. 1 best-selling fashion doll for six months in a row, according to NPD Inc., whose most recent data is from September.
The company says it is capitalizing on the lucrative business for the age group known as "tweens," who represent 20 percent of the $25 billion traditional toy industry.
Over the past decade, girls have been playing with Barbie at a younger age her core fans are now 3 to 6, down from 7 to 10 years ago and outgrowing her sooner. Bratz dolls appeal to older girls who like a teenage look rather than Barbie's princess fashions.
"The signs were out there for some time" that Barbie would need a change, said Jamie Cygielman, vice president of worldwide marketing for the Barbie brand. She added that Mattel, facing sluggish growth of Barbie in the United States, started working on the My Scene concept, which also features ethnically diverse dolls, about a year ago.
Isaac Larian, president and chief executive of Bratz' maker, MGA Entertainment, bluntly refers to My Scene Barbie as "a cheap knockoff" of Bratz. "I'm flattered and disappointed," he said.
While both Bratz and My Scene are edgy and sell for $15 each, there are distinct differences.
The Bratz dolls have more pronounced features with poutier lips, sultrier eyes and a more curvaceous body. My Scene dolls have kept Barbie's slim shape, although the heads are bigger than traditional Barbies.
Said Tom Williams, spokesman at Wal-Mart: "There are almost two different approaches. Bratz has an edgier look, but clearly, there is an interest in the softer side with My Scene."
Target spokesman Douglas Kline said, "We added My Scene frankly because Bratz has become so well-embraced. The fashion doll category for tweens is definitely growing."
Still, Mattel which posted $2.3 billion in revenue last year from Barbie dolls alone, has some work to do to topple Bratz's position.
Bratz dolls, with 100 licensed products, from comforters to shoes, are expected to reach a total of $1 billion worldwide in retail sales since they went on the market in June 2001, according to Mr. Larian. He says Bratz could be a $3 billion-a-year business in the next several years.
Over the years, Mattel has successfully defeated other Barbie clones, while quickly responding to hot trends by incorporating the features that made rival dolls briefly hot, said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison.
Mattel has continuously retooled Barbie throughout the years.
Its most recent dramatic makeover was in 2000, when Barbie's face paint became lighter, her hair straighter and her hips wider.
But Mr. McGowan said he is not sure whether My Scene will be enough to attract tweens.
"Maybe part of the appeal with Bratz is that it is not Barbie. It is the anti-Barbie," he said.

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