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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

smile.

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

 beads.

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

 dollars.

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

inferior products.

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.

 

 

My View

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

off today.

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

demanding world.

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.