This page is a copy of an article about Diva Starz in the January 30th, 2001 Orange County Register. It describes Diva Starz, Mattel's best-selling new girl's toy for the year 2000. Guy Macon was project Manager for the Diva Starz project. See http://www.GuyMacon.com/mattel.html for details.

Diva Starz Hit The Right Note with 'Tweens

The Orange County Register
January 30th, 2001

TOYS: Diva Starz dolls, the latest hot plaything for 'tween' girls, will chat to you, about you, to one another, and about everybody's fashion expertise.

The word is that this is the greatest word-of-mouth toy since Pokemon, which got a sleeper kind of ho-hum nod when it debuted in the United States and look at it now. Still.

Hope for Diva Starz, this month's toy du jour, is as high. Just a month ago it was the bona-fide sleeper hit of Little Girl Christmas. And now it's the toy a lot of parents are hunting for so that the neighbor's Diva Star is not alone in the 'hood.

Diva Starz - all four of their big-headed selves -- are ever so much what they preach: Hip and Cool and Trendy. And at less than $30 each, relatively cheap for a doll that does 40 or 50 things and has nine minutes [1] of speech at the ready.

How did the Starz sneak up on us? Simple answer: In the toy business, you never know what's really gonna hit with little girls. The Diva Starz's target market is girl "tweens" (6- to 11-year-olds). "They really hit on the play pattern of little girls with this one," says Chris Byrne, editor of the Toy Report. "My girls take turns with them, telling them secrets, which is cute, and playing games with them," says Lynne Collins, a Laguna Beach mother with two daughters.

There are four dolls, each with different sensibilities -- Glam Girl Alexa, Earthy Girl Summer, Nikki (no adjective attached) [2] and Urban Girl Tia. All of them chat to you and one another, about you, about one another, on everybody's fashion expertise, your hair, their hair, their clothes and how great it is to be so smart and so cool and so with-it and so us. They have pets and electronic gizmos and phones, too, which is just so neat. "The best thing," says 8-year-old Dakota Banda of Laguna Beach, "is that you do lots of stuff with them."

The dolls stand 9 inches high -- and, yes, their oversized heads do take a good portion of that. They come with clothing and accessories and a pet. And they've managed to succeed this wildly without the benefit of a great deal of advertising. "My girls didn't want them until they saw them in other kids' hands," Collins says. "I think we were in a store when they first noticed."

Byrne says Collins is right. He says Mattel must have been taken by surprise by the demand. He says they probably considered the toys to be a promising but small brand. (Mattel did not respond to Register inquiries.) Byrne also says the only commercial he can remember for the Divas is one that was really a Target ad. [3] He says most of this toy's vibe has come from little girls, driven by cross-country e-mails and school lunch chatter. Which is downright amazing when you think about it. Byrne says Mattel got a little lucky here, getting to the market first with something toy manufacturers pray for: "a really unique product for little girls, one that really understands how they play. This age of girls becomes sophisticated consumers long before boys. They're style-driven and fashion-conscious, and they want to play and they want social interaction."

Carol Fuller, national spokeswoman for Toys 'R' Us, says that all the dolls are doing well across the board and nationwide. [4] "Every one of them is selling," says Fuller, explaining that girls are just glad to get their hands on anything Diva, not just the (as you might expect) blond one. [5] And, yes, she says, demand has outpaced supply. (She would not characterize their reaction as "surprise.") [6]

Still, the toys are also doing well on Amazon.com, making Amazon's toy editor list of best talking toys. The availability changes daily but is tending toward real spotty even there now. And it's important to note that Divas are also selling so well because two dolls are better than one and three are better than two. See, these dolls play nice when alone but they can also talk to one another if positioned correctly. [7]

But, you might ask, isn't this like pretending with Barbie except Barbie won't spontaneously comment on your coolness at regular intervals? Yes, the logic goes, but wouldn't it be fab if she did?

But, you might ask, isn't this like pretending with Barbie except Barbie won't spontaneously comment on your coolness at regular intervals? Yes, the logic goes, but wouldn't it be fab if she did?


Notes from Guy Macon, Mattel's project manager on the Diva Starz project: See http://www.GuyMacon.com/mattel.html to learn more.

Note [1]: Nine minutes is the total sound storage. The actual amount of unique speech was roughly 4 hours. We accomplished this by storing sentence fragments and partial phrases and then mixing and matching them to get get over 1600 unique phrases, and varied the playback speed to give rising or falling inflections. It took a test engineer 40 hours to go through every path in the software and hear every phrase.

Note [2]: Nikki was "Sporty Girl"

Note [3]: Actually, Mattel ran no ads, thinking that the toy would be a flop. Target, K-Mart, and Toys-R-Us, on the other hand, saw the potential and ran ads.

Note [4]: Diva Starz turned out to be Mattel's best selling new toy for the year, despite severe shortages and no advertising by Mattel.

Note [5]: We designed different personalities into the software. This wasn't just the same toy with different hair and skin color. It was four toys with four personalities and play patterns. Because of this, a large percentage of customers bought all four, leading to greater than expected sales of the non-blond dolls.

Note [6]: "Shocked" would be more accurate. Even I was surprised. I knew that it would be a hit, but didn't realize how big of a hit it would be. It was also notable that the sales decrease in the second year was much smaller that usual. Because of the complex software, it took a lot longer for the toy to get boring.

Note [7]: This was the hardest part of the software to get right. It would be easy to have two dolls relate to each other, but we wanted to make it so that the two dolls would relate to the child while relating to each other. With four or more dolls in the room, things got a lot more complex. When you consider that there might be two Alexas, a Nikki and three Summers in the room, you can imagine the work it took to get it right.


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