By  on February 25, 2005

NEW YORK — Salon-style hair care isn’t only for grown-ups. In April, mass market retailers will introduce a premium line of hair care backed by one of only a few faces that could make a six-year-old stop in her tracks: Barbie.

“Barbie is synonymous with hair — it is one of her best features,” said Richard Dickson, senior vice president of Mattel Brands Consumer Products, Mattel Inc. “Barbie is the premier lifestyle brand for girls around the world. Hair care is a nice way to introduce girls to good grooming.”

Hair care is the second major beauty brand extension following last year’s debut of Barbie fragrances from Puig. It won’t be the last, promised Dickson, who envisions a total beauty line — especially since his background includes an executive role in cosmetics at Bloomingdale’s and the creation of Gloss.com. Barbie’s image also adorns sun care and bath products.

The introduction of Barbie hair care marks one of the first youth brands launched since the early 1990s when there was a spurt of offspring shampoos including L’Oréal Kids, Aussie Kids and Pert Plus for Kids. It is also one of the few brands — outside of Marykateandashley — targeting the kids’ market ages 5 to 9.

The demographic has become more fashion- and styling-savvy, dictating that the product line be more sophisticated. Mattel worked with MZB Personal Care to devise the four items, which include Barbie Watermelon Burst 2-in-1 shampoo, Barbie Grape Squirt shampoo, Barbie Blueberry Crush shampoo and Barbie Candy Swirl conditioner. The formulas are tear-free and contain conditioning agents to tame tangles. The Grape Squirt features extra conditioning while the Blueberry Crush adds body to fine hair. These are attributes usually associated with adult hair care, in comparison with kids’ products that usually focus just on scent and packaging. The 12-oz. bottles carry a suggested retail price of $4.

“Girls today are becoming more demanding consumers at a much younger age, with very strong opinions on the brand and products they like,” said Debbie Baker of MZB. Mattel’s Dickson added that consumer research revealed very little consumer loyalty among young girls in shampoos and conditioners — a situation he thinks Barbie is well positioned to challenge.Packaging features an updated Barbie image that Mattel currently promotes as a vehicle to extend the age of Barbie consumers. Mattel tapped Hilary Duff for a commercial featuring on-trend Barbie fashions as a way to get older girls to think Barbie styles. “We want Barbie to be their Calvin,” Dickson chuckled.

That same message has been carried into hair care. “On packages, Barbie was shot in motion with her hair blowing just like a fashion model,” Dickson said. The hair care products will be supported with print advertising and will be part of an integrated marketing effort with other Barbie merchandise in print and television spots. All items are also featured on the Barbie Web site.

Barbie will even be making public appearances at retail doors to hand out samples of products. “A Barbie PA really lifts sales,” said Dickson, who added that almost 600 girls lined up at Macy’s for a Barbie meet-and-greet when the fragrance bowed.

Mattel hopes retailers will merchandise hair care outside of the toy aisle. And eventually, Mattel officials envision an entire Barbie beauty area within cosmetics. Already, Dickson said, the fragrance is exceeding expectations. Surprisingly, he added, it is purchased not only by kids but also by young women who find it “kitschy.” As far as the shampoo and conditioner, he thinks kids will tug their parents for the first purchase, but that parents will be so pleased with the formulas that they’ll buy the products again.

To keep Barbie at the forefront of young shoppers, Mattel plans a new video this year called “The Magic of Pegasus.” And at last week’s Toy Fair, Mattel unwrapped plans for a Lindsay Lohan Barbie. Dickson doesn’t rule out using celebrity power for future Barbie beauty launches.

The $3 billion hair care business could use a boost from the muscle of Barbie. Shampoo and conditioner sales have been flat over the past year, according to Information Resources Inc. There is a market for kids’ brands, the information reveals, with more than $30 million being plunked down on L’Oréal’s kids’ shampoos alone.

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