SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Colleges

Mattel’s University Barbie goes back to school, sporting SEC team colors

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Sixteen years after University Barbie made her ill-fated debut in collegiate cheerleading outfits, she’s back with a new look in the colors of Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn and LSU.

Barbie’s maker, Mattel, is working exclusively with Wal-Mart to sell the dolls in the markets of those four schools beginning this week for a program that will run through football season. Depending on how sales go, Mattel could expand the program to include more schools.

Wal-Mart’s stores, website and Barbie-Collector.com will carry the new Barbies.
The dolls retail for $24.95 and sell on Wal-Mart’s website and BarbieCollector.com, in addition to at Wal-Mart stores.

“We’re hopeful there will be a bigger line in 2013 and beyond,” said Dave Kirkpatrick, vice president of non-apparel management for Collegiate Licensing Co., the licensing agent for the schools.

University Barbie first came on the scene dressed as a cheerleader in 1996. Wearing the colors of about 20 schools, mostly representing SEC and ACC teams, Barbie sold well and orders for more schools came in.

But Barbie dolls were not typically distributed regionally back then, and pretty soon Barbies wearing University of Georgia outfits wound up in Minnesota stores, killing sales. In the past, Mattel had done cheerleading outfits for the Dallas Cowboys or Coca-Cola, but those dolls were distributed nationally.

Once the distribution of the collegiate dolls got upside down, Mattel ended the program in 1997, and University Barbie found herself on the shelves of discount toy stores until they were gone. A handful of the old University Barbies still can be found for sale on eBay.

Since 1997, CLC and Mattel have worked together on a handful of projects, including John Elway action figures in his Stanford football uniform, but only in the last year did the two sides resurrect discussions about University Barbie.

“We’ve kept in touch with Mattel through the years, talking about different projects, and this is something we’ve been thinking about for some time,” Kirkpatrick said. “It’s exciting to have more products that appeal to the young female demographic. This has the potential to reach a wide audience where there is significant potential for growth for collegiate licensees.”

Marketing for the college Barbies will be done mostly at the grassroots level. Each school has its cheerleading or spirit teams raising awareness through Facebook sites and other social media.
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