PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Mattel makes most of Barbie-Ken breakup

NEW YORK: First there was Ben and Jen parting ways. Now, there is Barbie and Ken.

NEW YORK: First there was Ben and Jen parting ways. Now, there is Barbie and Ken.

Mattel captured the media's attention with the announcement that the longtime doll pair was breaking up. The toymaker, working with its PR agency Ketchum, not only timed the announcement for the start of the annual Toy Fair in New York, but heightened the coverage by playing the event straight - acting as if Ken and Barbie were real people rather than plastic playthings. Russell Arons, Mattel VP of marketing, took on the title of Barbie's business manager to make the announcement at a Toy Fair press conference on February 12. New York-based firm Ken Sunshine Consultants - which had worked with such Hollywood stars as Affleck - was hired to represent Ken and help attract the entertainment media to the Mattel press conference. Invitations to the event were vague, saying only that the status of Ken and Barbie's 43-year-long relationship would be discussed. The AP had a story on its wire at 11:15am, 15 minutes after the press conference began. A release was distributed at 11:30am with the headline "The Storybook Romance Comes to an End for Barbie and Ken." By the following week, the story had 500 broadcast placements and roughly the same amount of print coverage. The announcement clears the way for Mattel to introduce two new doll characters this year, a new friend for Barbie and the friend's older brother - an Australian named Blaine - who could become Barbie's new boyfriend. The new characters are part of Mattel's efforts to revitalize sales of the Barbie line. The Ken and Barbie breakup also leaves open the possibility of future PR stunts should the company decide to get Ken and Barbie back together again. The coverage that Mattel and Ketchum generated with the stunt easily makes it our PR Play of the Week.

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