Barbie and Bratz, the grande dame and the young chippie of the doll world, are ratcheting up their turf war this holiday season.

The pitched battle for dominance in the $2.8 billion market has taken on added significance, with both brands experiencing slack sales during a shopping season analysts expect to be lackluster.

Sales of Mattel Inc.'s Barbie, a brand that accounts for almost a third of the toymaker's total sales, is likely to remain weak during the holiday period, despite a recently released DVD, "Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper," and an endorsement deal with teen idol Hilary Duff.

Bratz, a product of Van Nuys-based MGA Entertainment Inc., faces what analysts expect to be a falloff in sales after triple-digit growth in each of the last three years. "(Bratz) distribution is very widespread, which is never a good thing," said Margaret Whitfield, managing director and toy analyst with Ryan Beck & Co. in Livingston, N.J. "Interest seems to be waning."

Local retailers are sounding skeptical about both dolls.

"We don't sell as many Barbie and Bratz as we used to," said Leonard Lieberman, owner of Star Toys in Brentwood. Lieberman said he is carrying less of both lines, noting: "Shelf space is valuable, and I'd rather put something I think is going to sell there."

At the KB Toys Inc. store in Burbank, the Bratz line sells somewhat better than Barbie, but the real winners are electronic toys, including Game Boy systems and Nintendo DS.

"Many retailers bought the Bratz line aggressively in 2004 and some have been disappointed," Banc of America Securities analyst Gary Cooper wrote in a Nov. 18 report. He noted that as Barbie struggles and Bratz revenues decline, the doll category will experience increased competition.

"For the most part Barbie has retained its shelf space if not retailer support but another holiday of meaningful decline in Barbie and retailers may take some shelf space from Barbie," Cooper wrote. "Alternatively, Bratz gained shelf space in 2004 but given its decelerating revenue, this line is likely to give back some of that shelf space next year."

Barbie still tops

Lisa Marie Bongiovanni, a spokeswoman for El Segundo-based Mattel, downplayed the pressure for Barbie to perform this holiday season. "Barbie is and continues to be the No. 1 brand for girls worldwide," she said.

Indeed, a recent survey conducted for the National Retail Federation found Barbie would be the most popular toy purchased for girls this season, with 21.7 percent of consumers polled planning to purchase Barbie merchandise, compared with 16.5 percent of consumers shopping for Bratz dolls.


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