NEW YORK — As far as catfights go, this is a doozy.
Barbie, long the reigning queen in the doll world, has suddenly been thrust into the battle of her life.
But Barbie’s competitors look nothing like the blue-eyed, blond-haired, long-legged fashion icon. And they don’t have the same old standards of beauty as the aging diva either.
Monster High dolls, vampy teens that are patterned after the offspring of monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein, have neon pink and green streaks in their hair. They wear platform heels and miniskirts with skulls on them. And the dolls that go by names like Draculaura and Ick Abbey Bominable are gaining on Barbie.
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In the Maddux household in Portage, Wis., for instance, Olivia, 10, has been playing with Barbie for six or seven years. But she added Monster High dolls to the mix a year ago.
“I look at Olivia and some of her friends and see they’re growing out of Barbies,” says Olivia’s mom, Lisa Maddux, 42, a freelance writer.
That Barbie is losing her edge is no surprise. Since debuting in 1959 as the world’s first fashion doll, Barbie has long been a lightning rod for controversy and competitors.
To be sure, Barbie is still No. 1 in the doll market, and the Mattel franchise has an estimated $1.3 billion in annual sales. But Barbie’s sales have slipped four straight quarters, even while the overall doll category is up 6 percent year-to-date, according to the researcher NPD Group.
Meanwhile, Monster High, which is also made by Mattel, has become the No. 2 doll brand in just three years, with more than $500 million in annual sales, says BMO Capital Markets Gerrick Johnson.
Monster High dolls have a punk-rock look intended to send the message that being different is OK. And they’re aimed at slightly older children — adding to their appeal — while Barbie’s increasingly young audience is hurting sales. After all, no child wants to play with anything seen as a baby toy.
Barbie marketed to children that are between age 3 and 9, but over the past 15 years or so, the range has shrunk to around 3 to 6, toy analyst Jim Silver said. This has happened because older children are likely gravitating toward electronic devices or dolls like Monster High.
It’s a trickle-down effect: The same reason why 5-year-olds who belted out “The Wheels on the Bus,” 25 years ago would today be more interested in One Direction boy-band pop songs, he said.
“Kids are growing up much faster younger,” Silver said. “A 6-year-old is looking for something a little edgier. That’s the reason why Monster High has had so much success.”
The last time Barbie wasn’t feeling the love was about 12 years ago when, after years of little competition, pouty-lipped Bratz dolls became wildly successful. They sent squeaky clean Barbie into a sales spiral.
Bratz dolls were edgy. They wore low-rise jeans, had heavy makeup and exposed navels. And they were sultrier than Barbies. But the Bratz fad faded in 2005, and Barbie slowly regained sales ground.
The same may happen with Monster High dolls. Industry experts say it will take a lot to dethrone the Barbie. “It’s still one of the strongest brands in industry,” says Needham & Co. toy analyst Sean McGowan.