Case study – Barbie

Tax hikes and reducing disposable incomes mean retailers are facing their toughest time in decades keeping customers loyal and spending. Staying ahead in the high street requires a major rethink of traditional strategies and systems. Learn more about the international doll icon, Barbie, in our Mattel case study below.

Related articles

  • To read the cover story relating to this ‘The future of retailing is here’ click here
  • To find out how The Co-operative Group plans to stay relevant in the retail sector click here
  • To check out how new high street bank Metro Bank hopes to outshine its rivals click here

International doll icon Barbie is the number one doll in the world and has 1,000 YouTube channels dedicated to her, according to parent company Mattel. Last year it decided to open the world’s only shop devoted to her, a six-floor pink palace in Shanghai, one of the best examples of rule three, feeling the future through experience. Mattel has created a full-on Barbie world that it feels is relevant to how people around the globe perceive the brand.

Mattel worked with The Brand Union in New York, creating the concept of the Shanghai shop. The store has been designed to reflect the different aspects of the doll and includes a spa, a clothing line, a make-up counter and café, driven by the then head of brand Richard Dickson.

Richard Bates, chief creative officer of The Brand Union, says: “Mattel is not a retailer, it makes products. It really had no experience in the retail world. However, Dickson saw the opportunity to start talking about Barbie very differently. At its core, Mattel is a toy maker but he saw that Barbie on its own and without any help was very much a fashion and lifestyle brand, but wasn’t being treated as such.”

Bates explains that the global icon is seen very differently around the world and the Shanghai store brings these different aspects to a market in which it is relatively new. “In Japan, for example, consumers are not that interested in the doll. They like the brand and there is a line of women’s clothing that has dresses costing $2,000 and $3,000. Barbie Shanghai is really six floors of playground-meets-luxury-boutique,” he says.

And although Chinese parents may not have grown up with Barbie, mothers are still keen to buy it for the novelty factor for themselves as well as their daughters. “Mothers and their daughters were looking for a quality experience where they could go and spend the best part of a day together,” Bates says.

The concept was carefully researched and the location was chosen for its economic value. “All the Mattel brands wanted the store in their region. But there are cost implications of putting a giant store like that on the Champs Elysees in Paris, for example,” he notes.

Shanghaiwas also chosen because of the way the people from that country interact with the Barbie brand. Bates says you have to consider what story you want to tell in the store because the Barbie brand has matured to different levels in different countries.

The brand is now using the store almost as an experiment so that it can learn how to sell more product and then pass this knowledge on to retailers. “I think at the Barbie store, people make purchases almost like they are at an event and want to take a memento home with them. It is not wall-to-wall product; there are activities in the store.”

In future, Bates imagines the store concept may be segmented to work in different markets. “It’s building blocks. It might be a Barbie spa in Paris or restaurant and bar somewhere else, or a design-your-own-doll studio in another country. That, coupled with the shopping and maybe the café. There are lots of ways to do a segmented version of the store to cater for the particular demands of a country.”

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here