Greed, Mattel $tyle
By Bethany M. Sefchick
Lush pink silk fabric. 14 karat gold thread. Cascades of paper thin,
shimmering crystals. A dress big enough to cover a dining room table. An
upswept hairdo. Subtle, yet stunning makeup. The palest vinyl to give an
air of translucence. And blue eyes with just a hint of shyness and a coy
To many collectors in the mid-1990s, this sounded like the ultimate Barbie
doll, something that many people had supposedly been clamoring for for
years. One that would capture all of the things that Barbie was supposed
to be in a pink fantasy creation. She was to be ultra-limited in edition
and of the finest craftsmanship ever. Collectors and dealers alike waited
impatiently to see this wonderful, stunning doll created by one of Mattel's
most talented designers, Cynthia Young.
Pink Splendor, as the doll had been named, was unveiled at Toy Fair to a
large audience of the biggest names in the Barbie world. At first glance,
she was everything that had been promised. The dress, spread out, was
enormous, covering a mid-sized table completely. The silk dress was sewn
with 14 karat gold thread and her shoes were coated in 14 karat gold. The
necklace, earrings and bracelet that adorned the doll sparkled under the
lights, made of what seemed to be impossibly thin crystal sheets and
She used the Mackie head mold, long favored by collectors and her vinyl
was porcelain-like in color. Even her packaging was fabulous.
This doll seemed, at first glance anyway, to be all the things Mattel had
promised and more. She was as beautiful and stunning as the promotional
material had suggested. The first ever truly ultimate collector Barbie.
Then, the inevitable question arose. How much did this pink confection
cost? they wanted to know, as all alike imagined adding
her to their doll rooms back home. Unblinking, the price was quoted at a
never before heard dollar amount in the modern Barbie world. This doll,
the ultimate in Barbie, would retail for the "reasonable" sum of $999. Or,
rounding up, one thousand dollars. No discounts, no sale, as announced to
the now stunned and speechless audience. One thousand American
It was in that moment that Mattel's quest for profit and growing greed
became as crystal clear as the necklace that the Pink Splendor wore.
The doll, beautiful as she was, was still clearly over priced at $1,000.
Even a $700 or $500 price tag would have been better. Collectors were
shocked or outraged or both. How could something, especially something
new and made of vinyl cost that much?
Dealers paid $500 just to get one to sell. So how much profit was Mattel
making on this doll? Was this a test by the company, to see how much
collectors would spend, even on something that was being touted as
extremely limited? Or was it simply another step in Mattel's growing
desire for profit in a company that already owned half of the brand name
toys on the market?
Sadly, it seemed to have been a little of everything. In that one doll,
everything wrong with Mattel, their Barbie brand name and their attitude
towards collectors was summed up in a beautiful pink package. Simply
put, that doll was the epitome of corporate greed.
The sheer number of collector Barbies was growing at an incredible rate.
There were simply too many different lines to keep up with. And even if
you could, the prices kept creeping skyward while quality fell. High
priced dolls arrived missing shoes, or lacking the numerous accessories
shown in the photos. Some had messy hair and unfinished seams or were
clothed in cheap material that fell apart quickly. Some, could not even
exist outside of their plastic prisons, falling apart when removed from
their boxes, if you could even get them out of the box at all.
Upon removal from the box, most of the doll had clearly not been designed
to rest in a free standing display case or be handled. Hats fell off and
fabrics frayed under the slightest touch. Once "deboxed" the lack of
quality in such a high priced piece of plastic was evident. Corners had
been cut at every possible turn, driving production costs lower while
retail prices and Mattel's profits still soared.
Mattel was now corporate America at its worst.
The company cranked out doll after doll, varying little save for the outfit,
made it of the cheapest fabrics possible, eliminated the "extras" that
lured people into buying, and slapped a high price tag on the box.
Confident, of course, that it would sell, simply because of the Barbie
name. Mattel and the stockholders were getting rich off collectors who
had been brainwashed not to take their dolls out to look at them for fear
of "damaging" or "degrading" the value of their high priced, highly
valuable, highly prized collectable.
It would soon come crashing to an end. In order to demand the higher
prices, Mattel began labeling just about every Barbie they produced as
"limited" or "collectable" or "special edition". The company also over
produced many of the supposedly limited dolls. The demand for new dolls
was no longer keeping up with Mattel's supply of them. Collectors became
overwhelmed with choices and tired of paying high prices for cheap and
The dolls sat on the shelves, collecting dust and wearing out the patience
of doll shop owners and chain store companies. Prices began to be slashed
and just about every collector doll ended up on sale at Wal-Mart or at an
on-line dealer. Collectors became more choosy about what they bought, no
longer feeling the need to "have it all". They had survived with out the
dolls when they were too high in price, they would survive with out them
now and buy something else that caught their eye.
Some doll prices never dropped, but even the much sought after, much
desired, much overpriced Pink Splendor eventually went on sale. And sold.
But by this time, Mattel had lost much of what it had hoped to gain by
flooding the market with dolls. They had lost consumer trust and
confidence as well as the trust of retailers in the ability of the Barbie
name to sell just about anything. They also lost much of their profit
margin. And that, finally, is what hurt Mattel the most.
By Bethany M. Sefchick
I guess the first question would be, do I own a Pink Splendor, the ultimate
symbol of Mattel's corporate greed? Yes, I do. I bought her very cheaply
when she finally did go on sale. Am I sorry about that? No. No matter
how you look at it, Pinky (as my father calls her) is still a beautiful,
well made and finely crafted doll that wears the finest in fabrics and
crystals. Though not worth the original price tag.
What I am sorry about is trying to keep up with it all for as long as I
did. I now have boxes and boxes full of dolls, that while lovely, are just
simply too much that I paid too much for.
While I never subscribed to the "keep it NRFB" mentality, I did fall into
the trap of wanting every doll that I saw
based only on the pictures in the magazines and on-line. More often than
not, I was disappointed somewhat by the doll that I received from my local
shop. The wonderful accessories that I had loved so much in the initial
picture were not included with the doll, even with the high price. Shoes
were missing or mismatched. Seams were frayed and the fabrics cheap.
But instead of complaining, I simply bought more.
Then, I couldn't do it anymore. Mattel was getting rich while I was
getting poor, paying top dollar for dolls that would soon end up in the
clearance aisle next to the cheap knockoffs for the same or similar price.
The more I looked at it and thought about it, the more it disgusted me. I,
the consumer, was being cheated and not doing anything to stop it.
There must have been many more like me, as Mattel's profits have fallen
sharply and the company now resorts to publicity stunts like the fake
Butterfly Art dolls recall or the nose ring and tattoo fervor over the
Generation Girls. In short, they are hurting financially by the work of
their own hand. Had they treated collectors and consumers in general a
little bit better and put out a better product, the company might be better
Vintage and mod collecting is pulling in many more collectors as time goes
on. New doll lines from other companies are taking dollie money that once
went only to Mattel. Some collectors are cutting back on the number
of dolls that they buy or waiting for the inevitable sale in an attempt to
simplify their lives just a little bit more in an ever increasingly
Sadly, I do not think that Mattel is hurt enough by the profit loss just
yet to really wake up and realize what is wrong. The company continues
to introduce many more new lines and once again relegating the doll
designers to obscurity.
I don't know how others felt, but I liked knowing what
Mattel designer worked on a particular Barbie that I admired, whether it
was Robert Best or Abbe Littleton.
The accessories are slowly reappearing, but it's still not enough. The war
is over and Mattel lost. Now all that is left is to pick up the pieces and
start again. Quite honestly, I don't know that Mattel's current President
and CEO, Jill Barad is the right person to do that. She seems to be intent
on ignoring the real issues that consumers have with Barbie and trying for
the quick fix and publicity stunt to make the profit margin rosy once again.
Will it work in the end? I'm not a corporate analyst and can't say that
for sure. What I can say is that I know how I have changed and will
continue to change my Barbie buying habits. Being a member of several
on-line doll collecting communities, I also get a very good sense of how
other collectors are changing theirs. Changing in ways that Mattel
probably won't like.
So for now, I'll take out Pinky every once in awhile and admire her for her
finer qualities. She may be the last truly expensive modern Barbie that I
ever buy. And that, I think, might be a pretty good thing.