Under the leadership of Ynon Kreiz as chairman and CEO, Mattel has reported quarter after quarter of strong financial gains. As Kreiz told attendees of the TV Kids Summer Festival, Mattel is in growth mode, led by its transformation into an “IP-driven, high-performing” toy company that is extending its storied brands into numerous consumer touchpoints. In that keynote, excerpted here, Kreiz weighed in on the fruits of the strategy, trends in retail, the endurance of brands like Barbie and Thomas and more.
TV KIDS: You’ve led Mattel to transform itself from a toy company to an IP company. Tell us about that vision.
KREIZ: Mattel today is a very different company than it was just a few short years ago. We had a very clear vision and put together a strategy—the biggest change was to transition from being a toy manufacturing company to becoming an IP-driven, high-performing toy company. Our transformation strategy is paying off, and we are starting to unlock the true value of Mattel.
We finished the heavy lifting of restructuring and are now entering growth mode. This is all driven by the Mattel playbook, which is a portfolio-wide framework and methodology that sets us apart from the competition. We’re seeing our product resonating with consumers at levels we have not seen in years, all fueled by innovation and cultural relevance.
TV KIDS: Even last year, despite the pandemic, you had a very good year. Barbie deserves a shout-out—she has been performing really well, hasn’t she?
KREIZ: Barbie strengthened its position as the number one global doll property and continued to gain market share. We are extending characters like Chelsea. We are launching new fashion segments like Barbie Extra. We are celebrating Ken’s 60th anniversary. Barbie today is much more than a toy; it’s much more than a doll; it is about a very clear brand purpose to inspire the limitless potential in every girl. It has been a multiyear journey about diversity, inclusivity, equality and purposeful play. Barbie today is the most diverse doll line on the market, with multiple body types, skin tones, hairstyles, hair colors. Over half of the Barbie dolls today are diverse. Barbie represents the world as we see it today and continues to resonate with consumers and families at levels we have not seen in many years.
TV KIDS: How does reaching out to children and families through movies and television strengthen Mattel’s brands and their connection with consumers?
KREIZ: This is an important way for us to connect with consumers and engage with fans through multiple touchpoints. In today’s world, it’s not just about one representation of a franchise or a brand. It’s a holistic experience. Owning the underlying rights for these brands gives us the ability to engage consumers and entertain them in multiple ways. We always stay true to the DNA of our brands and franchises. We maintain the ethos of these brands in a way that is threaded throughout the experience, so it is a consistent representation but gives us a much broader base to reach consumers at many levels.
TV KIDS: How are your teams managing and refreshing franchises for new audiences while remaining true to what those properties are?
KREIZ: This is about finding the balance between reviving legacy heritage brands that have many years, decades in some cases, of representation and a built-in fan base and creating them to be more relevant to today’s world, more culturally relevant and still maintaining their brand purpose and what made them successful in the first place. It is about integrity and authenticity. This is one of our core strengths as a creative company—finding that right balance and continuing to innovate, reimagine and stay relevant to today’s world.
TV KIDS: You have also grown your e-commerce business. How has it been performing during the pandemic when a lot of families are experiencing financial difficulties?
KREIZ: Our retail and e-commerce [businesses] are very important parts of our transformation strategy. Covid has brought about a big shift in how consumers shop with the acceleration of online retail and e-commerce—anywhere between two, three, maybe even five years, depending on the market. We pivoted the company and were able to respond to that change in consumer shopping habits. Mattel is engaging with consumers in ways that strengthen and broaden what we do in brick-and-mortar stores. This is driven by two strategies. One is through our relationships with retail partners, who have pivoted and expanded their online retail and e-commerce. Second is what we do as a company in terms of building our own direct-to-consumer sales capabilities. American Girl is leading the way for us, with end-to-end capabilities, expertise and a robust business that is growing and performing very well. Mattel Creations is our own collective focus website that is highly curated and is getting great response and market feedback. Expect to see more from Mattel in online retail and e-commerce, and specifically in our direct-to-consumer business.
TV KIDS: How do you see consumer behavior as we move out of the pandemic?
KREIZ: One thing is becoming very clear: physical play is here to stay and is projected to grow. We believe in the long-term growth prospects of the toy industry. In 2020, the industry saw extraordinary growth and proved its resilience yet again, partly backed by the shift to
e-commerce, but generally, it’s an important part of our daily lives. The pandemic emphasized how parents prioritize physical play, especially when it comes to quality products and trusted brands. Consumers want to buy brands that align with their values and beliefs. Parents are increasingly drawn to toys that promote positive values and reflect how they would like to raise their kids. We know that parents will always prioritize spending money on their children. This is where we step in and do our share in creating products that resonate, that stand true to our mission and purpose as a company. We are aiming to create innovative products and experiences that inspire, entertain and develop children through play. A big part of our success over at least the last three quarters has been driven by our ability to manifest that mission in the products that we make and how we engage consumers on multiple levels. Also, screen time is on the rise, further accelerated by Covid, but it is not taking away from play and especially from physical play and toys. In fact, the toy industry will continue to thrive, even with the rise of screen time or the growth of tablets and video games in parallel. Given the fact that we own the underlying rights, we can participate in these areas. This is a complement to what we do, and we see exciting opportunities for Mattel as part of our mid- to long-term strategy in those areas as well.
TV KIDS: You worked for some of the most important media companies before joining Mattel. How do your previous experiences help you navigate the challenges and the opportunities that you see ahead?
KREIZ: The companies that I managed before were all creative organizations with core content libraries, intellectual property assets or access to creative talent. We looked to leverage market developments and new technologies to reposition those companies, create a new economic model, or find new commercial opportunities. At FOX KIDS, for example, we capitalized on new digital technology to transition from being a distributor of children’s programming to free-to-air broadcasters—which was a mature industry at the time—to become one of the fastest-growing pay-TV channels in Europe. At Endemol, we expanded the business from being a producer of reality and game shows, also a mature industry, to becoming a global distributor of TV programming and a key player in scripted content as demand for localized scripted shows was growing. At Maker Studios, a pioneer in a brand-new industry, we leveraged our relationship with leading YouTube talent and aggregated UGC content through our technology platform to create a global multichannel network and become one of YouTube’s largest partners. And of course, working as part of The Walt Disney Company, one of the world’s preeminent entertainment companies, after they acquired Maker Studios was a great experience in and of itself. So taking all of that, coming into Mattel, I saw the incredible asset catalog, a treasure trove of intellectual properties, heritage brands and incredible franchises with so much appeal and built-in fan bases. I was attracted by the opportunity to extend what we do into new areas, new activities, as part of becoming a high-performing toy company. So the strategy is two parts. First, become a high-performing toy company. There are many opportunities for us to grow and continue to perform well in the mid- to long-term as we extend the brands that we own to all these highly accretive business verticals and capture the full value from these assets. I’m very excited about the opportunity, and we’re seeing it unfold right in front of us as we are executing our strategy.