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Sat, Feb 11, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Mattel's Ken gets surfer makeover to woo back Barbie

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Mattel Inc, the world's largest toymaker, is giving Ken the surfer look to woo back Barbie and help revive sales of its biggest line.

The new Ken doll will go on sale March 1 sporting blue surf-board shorts and a t-shirt saying "Beach Fun," the El Segundo, California-based company said today in a statement. Ken will join the company's Cali Girl line two years after Barbie pushed him aside in favor of a new doll, the Australian Blaine.

Ken's makeover follows consultations with Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch, whose celebrity clients included Nicole Kidman and Faye Dunaway.

Chief executive officer Robert Eckert is trying to reverse nine straight quarters of declining sales for Barbie merchandise and bring back girls who are buying MGA Entertainment Co's Bratz dolls.

"Like any other celebrity, Ken needed to keep up with the times," Bloch said during a press conference in New York.

Mattel's fourth-quarter profit fell 1.8 percent as sales of Barbie and Hot Wheels cars tumbled. Eckert said the company would make small changes to the Barbie line this year and introduce "dramatic" shifts next year. Plans for Ken's makeover were first announced in October.

Ken was introduced in 1961, when he and Barbie were paired together in a television commercial to promote sales. Barbie, who debuted in 1959, broke up with Ken two years ago when Mattel introduced surfer Blaine for the Cali Girl collection. Mattel engineered the split by issuing a news release saying "the storybook romance" had ended.

"It's about having fun with the brand," said Chuck Scothon, senior vice president and general manager of Mattel's girls division. Ken and related merchandise represents a "small" percentage of Barbie sales, he said.

Mattel continued to sell the Ken doll after the addition of Blaine. Demand for Cali Girl hasn't been as strong as Mattel's Fairytopia fantasy-themed dolls aimed at younger girls, said Harris Nesbitt Corp analyst Sean McGowan, who is based in New York and rates the shares "neutral."

Barbie is sold in 150 countries and has portrayed more than 50 nationalities and ethnicities and more than 90 careers, Mattel said. The line represents more than 20 percent of the company's sales, according to Piper Jaffray & Co analyst Tony Gikas, who is based in Minneapolis and rates the shares "market perform."

The hip-hop Bratz dolls have drawn older girls away from Barbie with trendier clothes and names such as Jade and Yasmin.

In addition to the sandy-haired Ken doll that will be sold in stores, Bloch designed a hip, urban brunette doll with ripped jeans, a leather motocross jacket and embroidered shoulder bag that will be auctioned off.

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