Barbie loses top spot, but don’t count her out yet

It hasn’t been a good year for Barbie. First, the iconic queen of little-girl fashion dreams was the subject of a scandalous book in which she revealed her inability to do math, having to rely on the boys to solve basic engineering problems. (The book’s release led to an uproar, prompting Barbie maker Mattel to pull the book from Amazon and beat a hasty retreat.) Now, she’s suffered the indignity of losing her perennial first-place on the wish lists of girls to that icy upstart Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen.

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Barbie (whose real name was revealed in a 1960s book to be Barbara Millicent Roberts, of the fictional Willows, Wisconsin) has been under attack steadily in recent decades. She’s been accused of being intellectually shallow, giving girls unrealistic body-image ideals, not being diverse enough, and even being made of toxic materials. Despite all that, she has held her ground in the hearts and minds of many a dream-filled young lady, and can still start fights among mothers jostling for limited editions among early Black-Friday sales. (This actually happened this week at a Wal-Mart in Norfolk, Va.)

But now, enter Ice-Queen Elsa and her little sis Anna from Disney’s Frozen. Last year, these fairy-tale sisters grabbed the hearts of moviegoers with their tale of how love can conquer anything – even a deadly tendency to freeze everything you touch. Frozen vaulted to the top of the movie blockbuster charts, earning $1.2 billion worldwide so far and making it the 5th top grossing movie of all time. The movie’s theme songs — the Oscar-winning Let it Go and the catchy Love is an Open Door are well-known to the youngest generation (and no doubt as well to their weary parents).

A slew of tie-in merchandise flooded toy store shelves following the film’s meteoric rise, making it hard to go anywhere without seeing or hearing about Frozen. So, it’s no wonder that young lasses everywhere are asking for Elsa and Anna merchandise this Christmas.

“Barbie has been the top girls’ toy for over a decade, but it is no surprise that Disney’s Frozen has taken the top seat as children have had it on the mind as far back as Halloween,” said Consumer Insights Director Pam Goodfellow of survey group Prosper Insights and Analytics.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) last week released a survey of parents, revealing that one in five (20 percent) parents plan to buy Frozen merchandise for their little girls, while only 16.8 percent are planning to buy Barbie stuff. This is the first time in 11 years that Barbie has not been Number One. It’s worth noting that – not surprisingly – this phenomenon hasn’t affected boys’ Christmas lists; LEGO has kept its No. 1 position for parents of boys.

Retailers are responding to the demand.  “Parents will not have to go far to find good deals on the toys their children have put at the top of their lists,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “Retailers have spent weeks preparing for the holiday rush to make sure that the season’s hottest toys are both easy to find in stores and online, and competitively priced.”

Other choices topping the lists: Monster High dolls; generic dolls; American Girl; LEGO (yes, for girls; LEGO has recently introduced girls’ product lines); tablets/iPads, My Little Pony and Disney Doc McStuffins, and clothing.

For boys, LEGO is followed by cars and trucks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, video games, Hot Wheels, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Transformers, remote-controlled vehicles, Marvel action figures and tablets/iPads.

Although Barbie has been officially dethroned for now, it would be premature to assume her demise. Barbie – who doesn’t look a day over 18 — has steadily held her crown for 55 years. Mattel has engaged in a decades-long sales campaign, and claims to have sold more than a billion Barbies worldwide. There is just something special about this toy that has enraptured generations of little girls, and although she often bucks the waves of cultural change, she remains one of the most successful toys of all time. So, although Frozen has distracted the attention of Barbie’s target demographic, it’s likely to be a temporary distraction; Barbie has beaten the competition for five decades, and will likely reign again.


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