Mattel Faced in China

In 2009 Mattel opened a six-story House of Barbie in Shanghai, expecting it to be an enormous hub for an emerging market in China. However, just two years later Mattel was forced to close the doors on the $30 million facility. This paper will explain why Mattel failed to make an impact with its House of Barbie in Shanghai. It will show the problems that the company faced going in, which it failed to sufficiently consider, and how those problems might have been overcome.

The main points that this paper will examine are the specific market problems that Mattel faced by opening its store in China as well as the cause of the failure in terms of values and attitudes, gender differences, polite behavior expectations, forms of communication, importance of emotion, and education. The last points will focus on recommendations. In short, the American company expected the Asian culture to embrace a Western icon that had no legitimate roots in Chinese culture. Though the doll was popular, it had not the same significance for young Chinese girls as it did for young American girls (Wang, 2012). The first thing Mattel should have done before opening the store was establish a deeper cultural foundation for Barbie within the Chinese consumer.

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Problems Mattel Faced

Mattel faced a number of problems going in. First off, it was essentially “competing” with itself, as Barbie dolls were already sold in China and knock-offs could easily be purchased at a much cheaper price for children (who did not care whether or not their doll was authentic). In other words, Mattel faced competition from generic producers and had not established brand loyalty in the market place among adult consumers purchasing for their children. It completely misunderstood its target market base in China, thinking it was as Westernized as Americans simply because it liked Barbie dolls. China was not the West: it liked the dolls but easily interchanged them with generic models because it had not brand loyalty in terms of purchasing authentic products.

Another problem that Mattel faced was that it did not have a sound justification for its flagship store in Shanghai. The fanfare for the opening was more impressive than the actual business that it drummed up. The entire idea of a flagship store was misguided from the start as it was not something that could culturally appeal to the average Chinese consumer. Mainly, Mattel faced a serious culture-clash by jumping the gun and anticipating a market for its products that simply did not exist on any level that justified a $30 million facility (Voigt, 2012).

Finally, Mattel failed to understand the dynamic of the Chinese market. It was not a market in which Western iconic goods could be embraced as though they represented China’s own past. In America, Barbie had been glorified and glamorized effectively in the media to the point that it had become firmly embedded in the American consciousness — the image of American modern woman — the expression of feminism and confidence. In China, however, Barbie did not and had not represented Chinese womanhood. By leaping in with both feet, Mattel failed to adequately gauge the divide between China’s market and Mattel’s ambitions.

Six Cultural Issues and Mattel Performance

The values and attitudes that America had associated with Barbie were different from those possessed by the Chinese. American girls valued…


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