Barbie Suffering Same Fate as 12-inch G.I. Joes: Will Future Children No Longer Play w/ Toys?

Are we looking at a future without Barbie? A world where children no longer have the interest, desire or attention span required to keep the iconic toy line afloat? Plummeting sales at Mattel appear to bear an ill harbinger of things to come. (Photo: clayzmama)

A future without Barbie? In a world where children appear to be losing the interest and attention spans required to creatively play with dolls, how will Mattel keep its iconic toy line “alive?” (Photo: clayzmama)

The memories of playing with his GIjOE and his

The 1970s were a busy time for children fortunate enough to have grown up playing and creating adventures with GIjOEs and other imagination-dependant toys. Above, Scott McCullar (now an adult) plays with his GijOE’s “Troubleshooter” play set. (Photo: Scott McCullar)

The Future of Some Toy Lines Certainly Growing—UNcertain

If you’re an adult over say, 45, you may be a member of a dying breed. We’re not talking about your health or lifespan, we’re talking about the fact that you’re a human (man or woman) who can still remember when “childhood playtime” meant interacting with dolls, action figures and other toys. You may not realize it, but you could be a member of one of the last generations who’ll remember those youthful pursuits as the carefree activities they were and how they required one of life’s most precious gifts—imagination.

This conclusion is easily understood by simply observing the children of today’s societies and how their evolving behavior patterns have begun to affect the “bottom line” of an already struggling toy industry. Yes, it’s a different world (today) than the one you grew up in, and that reality is forcing toy giants (i.e. Hasbro and Mattel) to push for changes that will usher in a new era, one that may be largely devoid of the past’s traditional or “imagination-dependent” toys.

We're sorry, but today's largely PC-approved, non-gender specific,

We’re sorry kids, but today’s largely politically correct, non gender-specific, “discovery” type toys are, in our opinion, a poor substitute for the more creative toys of the past; specifically those from the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Today’s bland, generic toy fodder, such as this “MentalBlox” game will do little to instill the sort of life-long toy memories once so common among children and adults. Today’s children are moving on to hand-held electronic devices at earlier and earlier ages which quickly stunt their desire to play with traditional, imagination-dependent toys. (Photo: discovery toys)

Robert's sons Gus (l) and Ben (r) hold up their 1st-place winning custom figure of

An exception to the rule— It’s becoming a rare sight to see children who are actively interested in 12″ GIjOEs. In this case, longtime collector Robert Browning and his two sons Gus (l) and Ben (r) keep their love of toys alive by attending conventions (such as Joelanta) together as a family. Here, the boys hold up their 1st-place winning custom figure of “The Shadow” and their prize, a Sideshow “Cobra Ninja” action figure. Such activity encourages camaraderie and the creation of life-long toy-related memories. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

Children are ChangingBuying Behavior is Changing—The Toy Industry is Changing

In the past, toy manufacturers used to be able to count on keeping a child’s interest and faithful patronage until about the age of 13 or so. Once the teenaged years kicked in, it was understood that kids began to switch over to more “grown up” interests such as sports, dating and music. While it was a shame to lose them as customers, toy companies knew there would always be more children coming along and more profits could be made from them. But now…that predictable mode of forever selling toys appears to be changing. Dramatically.

At earlier and earlier ages, children are visibly turning away from traditional toys. Once their first computer, video game system or <shudder> “smart” phone enters their lives, there’s really no looking back. In fact, the very idea of playing with traditional, non-electronic toys is becoming positively quaint to children of today (of both sexes). Even casual observations at toy shows and toy stores have confirmed they already perceive GIjOEs and Barbies as stiff, almost unrelatable artifacts of bygone age; something that their Mommy or Daddy “used to play with” very long ago, but is now—boring.

So what does all this mean? It means that now, in 2015, toy companies can no longer afford to do business as usual. New solutions to newly emerging problems must be found, before sales and stock values plummet any further. It means that once impervious toy lines of the past are now at risk of being ignored (read Derryl DePriest’s commentary on the fate of GIjOE HERE) or canceled altogether. As children continue to grow up faster and switch to non-toy pursuits at younger ages, they’re truncating a once lengthy consumer-provider relationship. Profits from toys therefore, are now harder to predict, forcing changes in marketing strategies that, while helping boost the bottom line, may actually increase the growing gap between children and traditional toys—even further.

Is there anything sadder or less interesting to young girls nowadays than a pile of pulled-apart Barbie bodies? Probably not. (Photo: buzzfeed)

Playing with Barbies— Is there anything sadder than a pile of pulled-apart Barbies or GIjOEs? Unfortunately, young boys and girls (nowadays) could probably care less. (Photo: buzzfeed)

Logo-MattelIn a stunning admission, Mattel recently disclosed that Barbie’s sales figures have fallen for the last SEVEN CONSECUTIVE QUARTERS. It’s hard to imagine how much longer the toy giant will want to support such a steadily declining “loser,” but it’s harder still to imagine a world where Barbie no longer exists—at ALL. In a recent article in the The Wall Street Journal, business analyst Cassandra Jaramillo reported:


“Mattel Inc.’s sales of the doll fell 19% in the second quarter, as the toy maker swung to a quarterly loss and posted a 7% drop in overall net sales. The stronger U.S. dollar drove a large chunk of the decline, but Barbie’s sales would still have fallen 11% when stripping out currency swings.”

Bad news Barbie fans, but hardly a surprise to the bean counters at Mattel. The article continues:


“Sales of the doll have dropped by DOUBLE DIGITS for seven straight quarters—underscoring the deep challenges facing new Mattel Chief Executive Christopher Sinclair as he looks to right the world’s largest toy maker by sales. Barbie is Mattel’s largest brand and a big driver of profits, but its long slump has cost it shelf space at retailers that Mattel will have to work hard to earn back.”

How long has it been since you've seen BOTH sides of the aisle in a toy store devoted solely to Barbies? The famed

Valuable Shelf Space LOST— How long has it been since you’ve seen BOTH sides of a toy store aisle devoted solely to Barbie? Those famed “Pink Aisles” are unlikely to return, and in the future, may only reside in your memory. (Photo: artisancomplete)

Currently, the profit pendulum is clearly swinging backwards in a negative arc for Mattel. Its stock value went down by 3 points and the WSJ article ended with THIS sobering total:


“The company posted a LOSS of $11.4 million in the most recent quarter, compared with a profit of $28.3 million a year earlier.”

Toy Companies—Media Companies—Will There Be a Difference in the Future?

hasbrologonewMattel’s not the only toy giant to see one of its oldest toy lines struggle to remain relevant and profitable in this modern age. Hasbro too, now considers its once industry-leading brand, 12″ GIjOEs, to be practically null and void. Without the “little Joes” (3.75″ sized), the world’s most famous toy brand would have vanished from stores by now.

But Hasbro has demonstrated amazing vision. Anticipating the evolving market realities and changing interests of children, they’ve diligently built-up their business from its basic toy origins into a full-blown media and entertainment powerhouse; producing blockbuster brand-offshoot motion pictures such as The Legos Movie, Transformers, etc., while simultaneously working alongside other film industry giants (see HERE) to coordinate massive merchandising efforts. Despite all the vitriol many fans continue to spew in its direction, Hasbro has clearly shown them (and Mattel) that there IS a future for toy production. And while that future may not include GIjOEs or Barbies, it will certainly include profits made from toy sales—LOTS of them.

Playing with toys in the near future may look something like this. With virtual reality, the need for (and use of) real objects that you actually touch and hold would be lost, but the interaction with similar “virtual” objects would remain the same. The question is…Would you WANT to play this way? (Photo: TIME)

Move Over Traditional Toys—Virtual Reality is Here NOW

On top of everything else we’ve discussed, we’d be remiss not to mention the impending arrival of virtual reality (VR) systems. Recent breakthroughs have solved the majority of nagging technological and biological hurdles (4K resolution refresh rates, dizziness, headaches, etc.), and promises of very near future “life-like” immersion will make playing with traditional toys seem as obsolete as newsprint is to the internet. The latest TIME magazine goes into this subject in great detail (see cover above) and VR’s impact on the future of entertainment and toys promises to be profound.

You think today’s video games are addictive? With the arrival of virtual reality systems, it’s hard to imagine a future wherein children would be satisfied playing with traditional, “imagination-dependent” toys. Question: Is a “virtual” GIjOE still a GIjOE? (Photo: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

Bottom Line: We’ve discussed the topics of shifting consumer buying habits and evolving toy preferences many times over the years. The days of children playing with imagination-dependent toys may largely be behind us as a society; or at the very least, are becoming seriously endangered. The future of 12-inch Hasbro GIjOEs is already known. The future of Mattel’s 12-inch Barbies now falls into question. Fans have to wonder, what exactly will children of the future be playing with? And what effects will those toys (both traditional and virtual) have on their shrinking attention spans, imaginations and overall cognitive abilities? Will kids be jumping for joy like the dude in the TIME cover photo? Or will they be drooling over in a corner without an original thought inside their impressionable little heads? Let us know what YOU think. Please leave a comment today. Thanks!

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12 thoughts on “Barbie Suffering Same Fate as 12-inch G.I. Joes: Will Future Children No Longer Play w/ Toys?

  1. Ken says:

    Have I got a rant about this??
    My own belief about this is that those kids that don’t play with action figures will be far less inclined to understand “cool”. Cool in the sense of what makes action-adventure thrilling.
    Sure, they can be exposed to that via video games and such, but those media DICTATE to a player, they are not a vehicle to generate imagination, like an action figure toy is. Such “deprived” kids will only parrot things they seen before, there will be no foundation to reinterpret action/adventure scenarios and come up with new ideas.

    The immense value in tactile play is, in part, role-play, but more so with imagining scenarios and day-dreaming, and then what I call “the aesthetics of action”, something that dynamically poseable action figures can achieve.
    This notion can serve a lot of things, primarily in entertainment, but it can also segue into other disciplines as well.
    Playtime is the wellspring for imagination, which can serve as the foundation for later inspired thinking and problem-solving as an adult.
    The richer the play experience in all respects, then the richer the imagination that results from it.
    I think that kids are being short-changed in potential future opportunities by not having the experience of playing with toys like action figures.

    There. I said it. Now I’m going back to sleep.

    • It’s hard to imagine Mattel’s corporate board meetings today where they’re discussing Barbie. Are they saying something like, “Let’s make a doll line that will LOSE us $11 million dollars in just one quarter?”

  2. Kyle Knox says:

    Being a teacher I’ve seen students with great imaginations, and ones with very weak imaginations. I currently teach Kindergarten, and for a couple of years have brought a couple 12″ Joes and Barbie’s for incentives and the kids loved them. Just this year, I set them up in a center so the kids could just pay with them open-ended. It was a huge success! I heard much more oral language going on, with positive interaction. This year I will introduce it a little earlier and maybe give them some wardrobe choices.

  3. Not sure if you know it, but Michael has been going to Joelanta since he was 4 years old. He is now 9. He has also won the diorama contest twice and placed every year. All of my 9 grandchildren are very involved in playing with toys, where they use their imaginations. Today, they used blocks to build a hotel with a penthouse in my dining room floor, they were at that for 3 hours.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The the next being on the evolutionary scale after man will be the “vidiot.” It will have extremely large bloodshot eyes on stalks for better viewing of small, lit screens. It will have massive butt cheeks to accommodate extended periods of prolonged sitting. And it will have short arms and tiny, deft hands for manipulating phone-size keypads. It will be depressed all of the time for want of an imagination, and hopelessly addicted to social media. It will eat through a tube so as not to have to get up and make the journey to the refrigerator. And it will be served for most of its life by robots. Welcome to the 21st Century.

  5. I’m always reassured to see my 7 year-old who adores his Nintendo making time to play with action figures and Lego and let his imagination fly. I’ve been observing the decline of Barbie sales and it’s definitely a challenge to all traditional toy companies to make their play things even more appealing and dynamic in a world dominated by tech.

    My childhood years during the early 1970s to mid 80s (and I agree that cut-off figure of 13 years old seems to be true) had the best toys in the world and we drooled over the toy adverts that were pitched from comics, catalogues and TV containing less channels than what’s available today (please see my blog for some great retro toy ads!).

    Sometimes I think it’s all just a natural evolution, but there is so much evidence out there that kids still seek creative tactile play. Broadly and loosely speaking, toys have been on quite a journey since the ceramic Yo-Yo (oldest toy) to wooden and lead figures to puppets to tin to die-cast to moulded plastics to electronic and now virtual reality. That’s quite a trip so far.

  6. Joe Essid says:

    The best we can hope for is that games like Minecraft, so focused on building and healthy competition, will lead to story-telling. That was my GI Joe and Matt Mason experience as a kid. I doubt we’ll see a return to traditional toys.

    Lego has changed a lot from the boxes of parts toward building kits (alas for plastic scale models, a continuing pastime of mine). Lego, like Minecraft, provides the chance to customize things.

  7. I’m curious how much Barbie’s sales decline is on lack of sales, versus say, Monster High taking a chunk of the profit. That wouldn’t account for overall lower sales for Mattel (since they own Monster High) but one has to wonder if Mattel isn’t competing with itself. Barbie is less the “cool” item it used to be. Replaced by other dolls with a bit more edge.

  8. Bob says:

    I’m 18 not 45…so does that mean I’m not part of the dying breed group? Or this extensive to all ages??

  9. Garrison says:

    Games like Minecraft, Lego Worlds, Spore, SimCity, Roller Coaster Tycoon, and The Sims (The Sims is probably best for teens and young adults not kids but still a good game) are the closest games we have these days to toys.

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