with Mattel's Licensing Head
July 1, 2008
How's this for a
cushy job? Richard Dickson became Mattel's head of
global licensing when he signed on as the company's
senior vice president for marketing, media and
entertainment worldwide in 2000. To date he's helped
turn some of the company's best-known toy brands,
including Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price, into
Dickson, who's worked for Bloomingdale's, Gloss.com and
Estée Lauder, also serves as vice president of the
Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. He spoke
to Promo about changes in the licensing field and some
of the company's strategic initiatives.
PROMO: How has licensing evolved?
DICKSON: In the past, licensing was associated with a
revenue play. But now it's about generating an emotional
connection to the brand itself, as well as revenue. Over
the last five years it's become more important for
brands to extend themselves into relevant places where
they can find consumers.
P: How are you doing that?
D: One way is by tapping into consumer insights and
cultural trends. We ask: ‘How should our brand react to
this trend?’ Barbie B Cause (an accessory line that
repurposes excess Barbie fabric and trimmings) is a good
example of the green trend and sustainability.
P: What other trends are you acting on?
D: There's the cultural trend of kids having healthier
lifestyles and being active. In two years we've expanded
the category into sporting goods and outdoor play. With
Barbie we have a successful business with bikes. We also
extended the brand into golf. We introduced golf in
authentic ways and teamed up with the LPGA to [spread
the word about] the equipment we have.
P: How do you market Mattel's licensed products?
D: The licensing business is incorporated into the
overall brand marketing. We do a tremendous amount of
omnibus advertising where we take 20 different
categories and fit them into one message. We do inserts
in doll boxes. We have television advertising. We have
hangtags on sleepwear that bounce people back to
discounts in particular categories. We've gotten much
better at cross-marketing — at talking to consumers
about all Mattel products.
P: Partnerships seem important too.
D: Licensing is all about partnerships. We have a lot of
them. We came up with a concept called Barbie and Me,
where real-girl apparel and toys match a Barbie doll's.
The program will be rolling out for three weeks across
all Wal-Mart stores at the end of October. It's limited
in quantity — we're creating demand much like a fashion
P: How will you support that effort?
D: A lot of in-store marketing will coincide with
merchandising displays. There'll be some print
advertising and lots of retailer marketing concentrated
around Wal-Mart vehicles and advertising on Barbie.com.
P: How are solid partnerships formed?
D: Successful partnerships allow for co-creation. You
recognize that you can't do it alone. We've partnered
with the best-known brands: Adidas, Mac Cosmetics and
Patricia Field. It's not about label slapping — that's a
misstep. We've had our missteps, but we've had more hits
than misses. In any business model, if you can say you
have more hits than misses, you're on the right path.
P: This fall Mattel will target women with Hot Wheels
T-shirts by Fortune Fashions. What's the reason?
D: Relationships continue long after people have had
their toy experience. When we introduce a brand to an
older audience, the relationship and connection are
undeniable if we execute it right. That translates to
moms as well. It's about having fun with the brand.
P: Barbie remains popular, yet international sales are
outpacing those in the United States. Why is that
D: The United States hasn't been as growth-oriented as
the rest of the world for a variety of reasons. We have
mature markets in Europe, like the United Kingdom,
Spain, France and Italy, that continue to grow by double
digits. We also have developing markets like Brazil
growing by leaps and bounds. China and India are
fast-growing markets, and Russia is a new market for us.
We've had an easier time navigating challenges in
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