Going into a foreign market can be difficult even for well established firms. Sometimes foreign government create barriers of entry for new firms to protect their local products. Some firms fail due to a lack of cultural integration of the new market. This was the case with Mattel as it failed when introducing the Barbie doll into the Chinese market.
One of the primary reasons that Mattel failed in the Chinese market was that it failed to plan appropriately for the global market. As stated by Graham et al. (2020, pg.354), “Planning allows for rapid growth of the international function, changing markets, increasing competition, and the turbulent challenges of different national markets.” Mattel failed to effectively execute a tactical plan. When advertising the Barbie doll to the Chinese market, the company failed to consider the differences in culture between the U.S. and China. As stated by Wang (2012. Pg.1),” Since Barbie is not a cultural icon in China as she is in America, Chinese consumers couldn’t care less about Barbie-branded products.” The Barbie is established as a fashion icon in America. However, when moving into a new market such as China, you are targeting a different audience, with a different culture, preferences, and norms. Mattel tried to advertise the Barbie as a fashion and lifestyle brand, but the traditional Chinese girl did not relate to this approach. Therefore, the product wasn’t accurately adapted to the new market. As stated by Graham et al. (2020, pg.388) “The adoption of some products by consumers can be affected as much by how the product concept conforms with their norms, values, and behavior patterns as by its physical or mechanical attributes.” In this case the way that the Barbie doll was presented to the Chinese market did not align with their values which caused for the product to fail.
One of the remedies that Mattel could have applied was to collaborate with locals to better understand the market. One additional problem that cause Mattel to fail in China was that the Barbie was too expensive for Chinese consumers since Mattel did not source in China. By collaborating with local distributors cost could had been driven down making prices more competitive with local competitors.
Cateora, Philip. International Marketing McGraw-Hill Higher Education. Kindle Edition.
Forbes, Helen H. Wang, “Why Barbie Stumbled in China and How She Could Re-invent Herself”, Oct. 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/helenwang/2012/10/24/why-barbie-stumbled-in-china-and-how-she-could-re-invent-herself/?sh=643f670517fe
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