COVID-19

Mattel banks on keeping kids busy during the pandemic

Erika Beras Jul 23, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Hot Wheels cars, a Mattel product, weren't flying off the shelves during the pandemic like other games. So Mattel has pivoted. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
COVID-19

Mattel banks on keeping kids busy during the pandemic

Erika Beras Jul 23, 2020
Hot Wheels cars, a Mattel product, weren't flying off the shelves during the pandemic like other games. So Mattel has pivoted. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Early on during stay-at-home orders, people were looking for ways to stay busy. Toy industry analyst Chris Byrne said they reprioritized spending.

“Money that went into vacations or other types of entertainment for families is now really going into toys,” Byrne said.

Even people who are out of work are still shelling out cash for toys, said San Jose State University sociologist Elizabeth Sweet. “Parents were trying to buffer their children from the immediacy of the crisis,” Sweet said.

That worked out for some toy companies. People were buying puzzles and games families could play together. But toy analyst Richard Gottlieb said it didn’t work out for Mattel.

“The products they sold were not the products that were in demand,” Gottlieb said. That includes Barbie, American Girl dolls, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price — they were not flying off the shelves in the same way

Mattel pivoted during the pandemic, said Khaled Samirah, an analyst with Euromonitor, playing to the moment at hand with marketing that uses the phrase “play is never canceled.” The company filled its blog with do-it-yourself activities built around their brands that parents can use to educate their kids while they play.

“They are becoming more important now to parents, as they are now getting into the habit of teaching their kids at home,” Samirah said.

As the lockdown drags on, parents may be looking for toys that feel familiar like Mattel’s, Sweet said.

“What I see that toy industry doing is continuing to go back to old tried-and-true things instead of exploring new avenues,” she said.

But to fully regain the ground it lost early in the pandemic, Mattel needs movie theaters to reopen and Hollywood to get going again, said Kevin Sandler, a film and media studies professor at Arizona State University.

That’s because “movie franchises are essentially toy franchises,” Sandler said.

And without splashy opening days, like the one Universal Pictures postponed for its “Minions” movie this spring, those toys don’t have the big “gimme! gimme! I want!” push behind them.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s going on with extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s been weeks since President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that was supposed to get the federal government back into the business of topping up unemployment benefits, to $400 a week. Few states, however, are currently paying even part of the benefit that the president promised. And, it looks like, in most states, the maximum additional benefit unemployment recipients will be able to get is $300.

What’s the latest on evictions?

For millions of Americans, things are looking grim. Unemployment is high, and pandemic eviction moratoriums have expired in states across the country. And as many people already know, eviction is something that can haunt a person’s life for years. For instance, getting evicted can make it hard to rent again. And that can lead to spiraling poverty.

Which retailers are requiring that people wear masks when shopping? And how are they enforcing those rules?

Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, CVS, Home Depot, Costco — they all have policies that say shoppers are required to wear a mask. When an employee confronts a customer who refuses, the interaction can spin out of control, so many of these retailers are telling their workers to not enforce these mandates. But, just having them will actually get more people to wear masks.

You can find answers to more questions on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 here.

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