Crafting the future of Barbie: maximising intellectual property’s potential

Manfred Abraham

Barbara Millicent Roberts is one of the richest women in the world, boasting a staggering net worth of approximately $700 million and holding six world records. She’s ventured into diverse realms from presidential campaigns, space exploration, journalism, fashion entrepreneurship, and even Hollywood stardom. You might better recognise her as the icon herself: Barbie.

Thanks to the monumental success of Greta Gerwig’s cinematic sensation, the Barbie phenomenon has soared to unprecedented heights. Everywhere you turn, you’re met with the influence of Barbie collaborations. Mattel, the powerhouse behind Barbie, has officially partnered with over 100 brands. From elegant rugs to canine couture and dreamy vacation rentals, the Barbie touch knows no bounds.

This whirlwind extends beyond official collaborations—think Burger King’s whimsical pink burger sauce or the myriad of small enterprises embracing the #barbie frenzy. While the exact impact on Mattel’s bottom line remains to be seen, it’s a safe bet that a sequel will have Hollywood A-listers Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling once again donning their hot pink paraphernalia.

Unlocking intellectual property’s role as a business asset

The pages of Mattel’s playbook have been rewritten by its innovative CEO Ynon Kreiz, who has boldly redefined the corporate trajectory. This transformation is not unique; it echoes a theme embraced by leading corporations. Take McDonald’s for example. Its former CFO Harry J. Sonneborn astutely remarked, “we are not in the food business. We are in the real estate business. The only reason we sell fifteen-cent hamburgers is because they are the greatest producer of revenue, from which our tenants can pay us our rent.”

Along a parallel vein, Mattel has transcended the conventional toy business and entered the realm of intellectual property (IP). Under this banner, the company is gearing up to release a remarkable 45 movies grounded in its diverse IP portfolio. But, and it’s a pivotal “but,” the ability to do so should be approached with caution. While Barbie’s allure promises financial gains, the fragility of IP means a single misstep can lead to substantial repercussions.

From courtroom clashes…

Throughout its history, Mattel has stood guard over Barbie (and its other brands) with a zealous fervour, gaining a reputation for its tenacity in IP litigation. An iconic instance involved a legal tussle with MCA Records over the Danish band Aqua’s catchy pop track “Barbie Girl,” alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, and trademark dilution. In recent times, Mattel even squared off against snack purveyor Rap Snacks due to its ‘Barbie-que’ crisps, contending they violated trademark rights. Countless other examples abound, illustrating the lengths to which individuals and entities have been reprimanded for seemingly overstepping bounds with Barbie and her ilk.

According to the Law Society, intellectual property encapsulates trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets—a constellation that safeguards a company’s innovative creations and distinctive offerings. Traditionally, businesses primarily focused on protecting their IP to prevent infringement and maintain a competitive edge in the market. However, as consumer behaviour and business models evolve, IP is transforming into a valuable business asset that can drive revenue and expand awareness. For this to happen, court is no longer the battle ground; the hearts and mind of the consumers are what count.

To brand

When examining IP’s role as a business asset, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels it shares with another mostly intangible yet highly impactful asset: brand. Just like a brand, when IP evolves into an independent business model, it must be carefully nurtured or risk irrevocably damaging the foundations of the organisation.

In this vein, IP should be woven seamlessly into the fabric of brand strategy. Treating IP as an integral component of the brand construct empowers businesses to build an emotional connection with their consumers and audiences, cultivating an unwavering community of devotees. By delivering consistent messaging, visual representations, and experiences across every interaction point, enterprises cement their brand’s resonance and value. If this piques your interest, you can learn more about three ways to reimagine your brand for customer driven success here.

Customer driven IP

To harness the full potential of IP, businesses must embrace a customer-driven approach that aligns harmoniously with their long-term vision. This strategy, (which is explained in depth here), becomes the linchpin to unlocking opportunities. This could mean venturing into new markets, forging lucrative partnerships, collaborating with like-minded brands, and crafting captivating content.

A customer-driven approach enables businesses to achieve things they never previously considered possible by turning customer centricity on its head. So, rather than seeing customers in terms of their relationship to the business, it enables organisations to see their businesses through the eyes of their customer. Putting your business at the heart of the customer, rather than your customer at the heart of your business unlocks proactive growth opportunities, rather than simply reactive strategies that simply maintain.

By taking a customer-driven approach, business can leverage opportunities that truly help their customers achieve their goals. Businesses who are attempting to meet the needs of their audiences are making a mistake. If Henry Ford would have done that, we’d have received a faster horse…

With IP as a business asset, this type of thinking is critical. Failure to embrace it makes it all too easy to lose control and end up with a multitude of dross that serves no purpose; ultimately disengaging the customer forever.

And if this is the case, suddenly IP goes from being worth millions to worth a big, fat zero in the blink of an eye.