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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

MGA's new fashion dolls to take on Barbie

By Abigail Goldman
Los Angeles Times

Isaac Larian, chief executive officer of MGA Entertainment, poses with fashion dolls from the Bratz collection in the North Hills section of Los Angeles. The Bratz dolls along with other popular holidays toys are already scarce on retailers' shelves.

Advertiser library photo • Dec. 9, 2002

LOS ANGELES — The maker of Bratz dolls — the most successful girls fashion toy since Barbie was born more than 40 years ago — is launching a younger girls' line to challenge Mattel Inc.'s legendary bombshell.

MGA Entertainment Inc. said last week that 4Ever Best Friends, a pair of pre-adolescent fashion dolls who hold hands and come in more than 250 variations, will be available in limited quantities at Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart stores before Christmas. A full roll-out is expected by next spring.

"It is directly going after Barbie," said Isaac Larian, chief executive of privately held MGA. "Bratz frankly never went after Barbie," he added, while Bratz dolls, with their hip and edgy fashions, are for girls who don't "want to buy Barbie anymore."

Even without taking direct aim, Bratz dolls' enormous success prompted a full-scale counter-assault by Mattel. The El Segundo, Calif.-based toy maker recently introduced two doll lines, the trendy-dressing My Scene Barbies and the urban-themed Flavas, in hopes of gaining market share.

Since their debut two years ago, Bratz dolls have made just about every list of best-selling and most-wanted toys for girls 7 and older. They are expected to make up 80 percent to 90 percent of MGA's annual revenue of $750 million this year.

At the same time, Barbie has continued sliding down the age range, becoming most popular with girls younger than 6.

Analysts cautioned that although Bratz are hot enough to guarantee MGA's new dolls a spot on retail shelves, 4Ever Best Friends is far from a guaranteed hit. Barbie, with worldwide sales last year of $1.7 billion, has been one of the longest-lived toys in history and seems to have found a place as the top doll for the little-girl masses.

"The tough part is that Bratz filled a void where there was no real doll," said Jim Silver, publisher of toy magazines for the trade and consumer markets. "Here you're competing against something that's very strong; Barbie for girls 3 to 6 is still a dominant force."

What's more, Silver added, other lines have tried to take on Barbie and lost, including a Miss America doll, a fashion doll line introduced by No. 2 toy maker Hasbro Inc. and a line of fashion-model-themed dolls.

Mattel executives could not be reached for comment.

The 4Ever Best Friends dolls initially will be sold with two themes, "Beach Party" and "Pajama Party." Each package of two dolls — expected to be priced at $25 — will include more than 20 accessories, such as a hair dryer and fuzzy telephone for the Pajama Party dolls.

Larian said he expects 4Ever Best Friends to garner sales of about $300 million in their first year.