Mattel needs Adidas, but does Adidas need Mattel?

A new licensing partnership between Mattel and Adidas will see a range of co-branded dolls and clothes launched in the first deal of its kind for the sportswear brand (MW last week). But not everyone is convinced the tie-up will be a marriage made in heaven.

Licensing deals are common in the children’s market, with partnerships between toy manufacturers and films or cartoons a tried-and-tested method of driving sales. However, with traditional toy brands facing a greater threat than ever before from the video games and electronic goods sectors, they are being forced to look for new ways of attracting and engaging young consumers.

The likes of Walt Disney and Warner Bros are increasingly looking to get their characters into computer games, and Warner Bros has even bought a 10.3% stake in video games publisher Sci Entertainment. But analysts say all is not lost in the more traditional toy arena.

In rude health According to British Toy and Hobby Association marketing director Roland Earle, the traditional toys and games sector in the UK was worth £2.21bn in 2005 (figures for 2006 are not released until the end of the month). The UK accounts for 24% of the European market and is in rude health, says Earle. “It is not a market in decline. Toys have grown in line with GDP,” he adds.

Earle refuses to be drawn on the specifics of the Mattel/Adidas deal, which covers three Mattel brands – My Scene, Hot Wheels and pre-school brand Fisher-Price – but says such a move is understandable.

“There has often been co-operation with other sectors such as films and cartoons, so deals of this kind appear to be a natural progression. To attract new consumers you need to invent new toys and products, and licensing is a natural route to do that,” he adds Strange bedfellows However, Tony Norton, a consultant in the toy industry and a former Waddington’s marketing director, is not convinced Mattel and Adidas are good bedfellows.

Norton believes that Adidas sponsoring Robbie Williams is understandable for a brand that is looking to position itself as a fashionable sportswear brand, but is not so sure about the German brand’s latest deal with Mattel.

He says: “I assume Adidas chose Mattel for its global reach, but a tie-up with MGA Entertainment’s Bratz brand would have made more sense. In every market, Bratz beats Mattel’s My Scene hands down. Bratz would have been a better association because it is more fashionable.” The motivation for Mattel, however, is clear, according to Norton: “My Scene has been caught on the hop by Bratz and is finding it hard to make up ground. Mattel needs this deal to help build the My Scene brand.”

Yet he is most circumspect about the inclusion of pre-school brand Fisher-Price in the deal. “I’m not sure that Fisher-Price is right at all,” he adds. “I think Adidas is pushing it too far to take it into the pre-school arena. It seems like licensing for the sake of it and certainly doesn’t sit well alongside sponsoring Robbie Williams in concert.”

Norton thinks Mattel has the most to gain from the tie-up and adds: “Adidas doesn’t need Mattel, but Mattel needs all the help it can get.”

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