Mattel thrives thanks to ‘Barbie’ as Hasbro cuts jobs

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Barbie was much more than the highest-grossing movie of the year, though raking in $1.4 billion worldwide was certainly impressive. For Mattel, the blockbuster sparked a boom in Barbie toy sales—and helped the toymaker avoid the kind of terrible year that Hasbro and other rivals are having.

This week, Hasbro announced it would cut nearly 20% of its staff, or about 1,100 jobs, with CEO Chris Cocks saying that “the market headwinds we anticipated have proven to be stronger and more persistent than planned.” 

Hasbro, like other toymakers, has been hit hard by a post-pandemic slowdown, which saw parents cut back on toys after loading up on them while staying home. The company’s shares have fallen nearly 20% this year, and analysts expect its sales to decline by 19% this quarter—a crucial one given holiday toy shopping. 

The tough industry conditions have been felt less acutely by Mattel, thanks to Barbie. The movie boosted sales of dolls, accessories, and Dreamhouses, helping the company beat Wall Street’s estimates with a 9% increase in third-quarter sales. 

As for this key quarter, “the success of the movie will be an important contributor” to holiday results, Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz told the Wall Street Journal in October. “The movie opened the aperture for Barbie. Barbie now appeals for more fans, a broader demographic.”

The company did endure the industry headwinds in other categories, however, with its games, actions figures, and building sets all seeing sales declines. 

Movies based on toys are nothing new, of course, but the slowdown and huge success of Barbie means many more such films will follow, even for ideas that have been stalled or in a state of partial development for years. Mattel, which sees Barbie as a template, announced earlier this year upcoming movies based on UNO, Hot Wheels, Magic 8 Ball, Polly Pocket, and Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots. Hasbro has plans for Monopoly and Play-Doh movies.

And this week, Mattel said it’s developing a live-action film based on the American Girl doll line. Lindsey Anderson Beer, who will write the script, said in a statement: “They are historically accurate toys and accessories that feature elaborate and immersive backstories uniquely suited to bring to screen. I am so excited to tell a story that tackles the issues of girlhood in a real and compelling way.”

If that sounds like a stretch, consider Barbie. It’s “a story about humanity—we elevated Barbie beyond a doll to an idea,” Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and chief brand officer of Mattel, told Fortune.

“It’s not about selling toys, it’s about telling the best stories,” added Robbie Brenner, president of Mattel Films. “If you’re not making something that feels out of the box and different and sticky, then you have no business making content.”

Time will tell if Mattel has hit upon a winning formula or if moviegoers will quickly tire of toy-centric flicks, however good the stories. 

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