March 23rd, 2011

The Ken Doll Turns 50, and Wins a New Face

The New York Times

THE toy maker Mattel is revamping its best-selling Barbie franchise by emphasizing her longtime beau, Ken.

The company is bolstering awareness of Barbie’s companion — who celebrated his 50th birthday on March 11 — using social networks like Facebook and Twitter and a series of just-completed webisodes in which wholesome-looking young male contestants vied to be the new face, literally, of the soon-to-be redesigned boyfriend.

The eight-part series, called “Genuine Ken: The Search for the Great American Boyfriend,” was Mattel’s first foray into digital reality events and an effort that “is on the beginning edge of a new marketing trend,” said Dean DeBiase, chairman of Reboot Partners, which advises companies on growth strategies.

Spotlighting Ken comes after the toy maker’s recent update of Barbie, who turns 52 this year, as a fashion plate with high-style outfits. The eight contestants in the “Genuine Ken” series competed in an array of “Bachelorette”-style challenges to determine who had the ideal qualities to fill Ken’s customary role as the “ultimate boyfriend for every occasion.”

The redesigned Ken doll will resemble the contest winner, Kurtis Taylor, a 25-year-old former defensive lineman for Iowa State, who won over the judges in the romantic gesture category.

“Major brands like Mattel are trying to shift their media mix to where the customers are,” Mr. DeBiase said. “Television viewership is shifting — kids are not watching on Saturday morning — and cable is slipping, so brands are looking to social, local, mobile and video to get their message out.

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