Anyone who has studied brand strategy and Barbie’s entry into China via its flagship store in Shanghai is still in slack-jawed awe over its complete failure.

However, if you listen to—and believe—Richard Dickson, former GM and SVP of Barbie, Mattel, Inc., it appears to have been a planned failure that is paying dividends.

On “Building Brands for Asia” (Bloomberg TV’s Singapore Sessions), Betty Liu asks about the difficulty of successfully introducing the Barbie brand into the market. Mr. Dickson answered with the following:

I don’t think it’s necessarily that the consumer didn’t take to the store or the Barbie brand. In fact, all signals suggest that the market opportunity for the Mattel brands in China is significant. Barbie is probably one of the most iconic toy brands in the world, if not real literally lifestyle pop culture icons in the world.

Past success is not an indicator of future performance. And yes, the consumer did not take to the store or the brand.

Research suggests, and certainly all indications are that brand will be enormous in China. The brand recognition is through the roof and the aspirational qualities of that brand suggest it could be a very big business.

Is brand recognition itself the correct metric to predict future success? How are you collecting your consumer insights?

The execution of the branded strategies had a varied degree of success and trial and error. We built a flagship store in Shanghai that personified the brand, gave it a true experience, included every aspect of the brand, and it really served as an incubation, a test. We understood at that time what was working and wasn’t working, and were able to take all of those insights and redevelop the strategic approach of how to continue the brand’s growth in China.

No way that store was meant to be an incubator, an experiment, especially when considering the cost of opening up a flagship store in Shanghai, and the brand equity that was at stake.

There’s an incredible amount of learnings that went into that project. It was the first time the Barbie brand was brought to life in a four-wall experience. That included not only product but also experience itself. All of the amazing imaginative things that Mattel had applied to the Barbe brand and were personified in that research tool that basically redefined even the visual language of the brand.

Failure certainly turned it into a good research tool. And I bet the lessons were meaningful.

So while, as a store it may not have been as successful as the company wanted, in terms of narrating the brand’s future, it was absolutely essential.

Job well done!

My last remark: Richard Dickson never says “we,” referring only to “the brand” and “Mattel” (as in “them”). I guess he was just an innocent bystander.

It’s true that in business you want to fail fast. You also want to analyze your successes and failures. However, you don’t plan to fail, you plan for failure.

Strategy requires “…a diagnosis of the situation, the choice of an overall guiding policy, and the design of coherent action.” (Richard P. Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, New York: Crown Business, 2011). It needs to be situationally and culturally appropriate—else it’s not a strategy. Market research falls within that guideline. For example, the Chinese do not like anatomically correct dolls.

I don’t know Richard Dickson, and he is credited with reviving the Barbie brand. He seemed, however, incapable of acculturating Barbie. Today Mr. Dickson is President and CEO, Branded Business, at The Jones Group. I bet he learned a ton by analyzing Barbie’s failure in China; just about everything else he said on the show was spot-on! How his personal growth benefits Mattel I’m unsure of.

If you cannot find local resources to help you penetrate a market successfully, then at least find someone who can ask the right questions. Relaunching a brand in any part of the world is significantly more difficult than nearly destroying it.

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