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 are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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