The world of products aimed at “tweens” is an ever-changing one – what’s hot one minute will inevitably become passé in short order as new characters and brands enter the marketplace. The creators and licensees of these seemingly ephemeral brands face an uphill battle to stay relevant to a demographic notorious for being fickle.

For Stardoll Media, the company behind the online community stardoll.com, the key to capturing and keeping the attention of its target audience of 9- to 14-year-old girls is to change as often as they do. Stardoll is an online community of more than 150 million subscribers dedicated to fashion, making friends, shopping and creativity. “The Stardoll motto is ‘fame, fashion, friends,’ and that’s really what we’re all about,” says Maggie Dumais, head of the branding and licensing division of Innovative Artists, Stardoll’s licensing agent.

Stardoll users customize and “shop” for an online representation of themselves, create environments for their creations and share them with others, in addition to other activities.

“I think what Stardoll has done is kept themselves creative and almost neutral in a way – there’s no specific point-of-view or characters,” Dumais says. “It’s all about creativity and girl empowerment; we have an across-the-board appeal and don’t just appeal to one thing. There’s a large diversity of things available on the site in terms of styles and fashions and things you can do – we are not one thing, we are hundreds of different things to every girl.”

Dumais credits Stardoll’s creative vision to CEO Mattias Miksche. “The whole Stardoll direction and where it’s come from and where it’s going comes back to Mattias,” she says. “This wouldn’t exist without his vision and drive and the hard work of the people he’s hired.”

Fashion Forward

Two major licensing relationships secured by Innovative Artists are bringing the world of Stardoll from the virtual world to the real one. 

In fall 2011, an apparel line was introduced in J.C. Penney Co. stores and online. The apparel line reflects the themes and designs of several of the fashion lines available within the website. These include “Pretty n’ Love,” a fun take on classic girly-girl styles with a modern flair, and “Rio Chicas,” a Latin-inspired collection full of bright pieces for the glam girl. 

“What we’ve done is basically taken the online brands and turned them into not only collections of fashion apparel but given them a living, breathing character of their own,” Dumais says. “With this line, girls will get a feeling that the virtual online world they’re familiar with is now a real thing on the floor at J.C. Penney.”

The retailer’s online presence and strong identity with the back-to-school segment made it an ideal match for Stardoll. “They are a very good match fashion sense-wise to what Stardoll wanted to represent on the merchandise floor,” she adds. “They just had the right formula.”

In addition to apparel, the Stardoll brand also will be represented in soft goods such as cosmetics, jewelry, hosiery, bags and backpacks.

“We are excited about our partnership with Stardoll,” says Syndi Stark, divisional merchandise manager for J.C. Penney. “It is a unique opportunity to provide great fashion as we bring a desired virtual brand to life. It allows us to interact with tween girls in their play space.”

Home of the Dolls

Stardoll’s second major licensing partner is a natural fit not only for its demographic but also for its name. “The brand is Stardoll, so when you think ‘dolls,’ you think of Mattel,” Dumais says. “In our opinion, there was no one with their creativity and ability to truly capture what Stardoll represents, not to mention their worldwide distribution. In our mind there was no better partner.”

Amy Harkin, a senior marketing manager for Mattel, says the Stardoll brand is an ideal fit for the company. “At Mattel we always strive to push boundaries and look for innovation within the toy industry,” she says. “We recognized that the Stardoll online community was growing, and this was an opportunity for us to bring to life this amazing fashion community.”

Stardoll’s focus on fashion and fun melds particularly well with the world of one of Mattel’s most famous products. “When we go back to what Barbie®’s DNA is, it all starts with fashion, and when you look at online products, Stardoll is a true leader when it comes to the fashion community,” Harkin adds. “It was an intriguing idea to take the online avatars and make them a 3-D property. This license is a great marriage of like-minded brands within the fashion space.” 

The Stardoll by Barbie® collection of dolls and fashion accessories, like the apparel line, is themed around the existing fashion lines on stardoll.com including “Pretty n’ Love,” and “Rio Chicas,” as well as “Fallen Angel,” an edgier, gothic-inspired line; and “Bonjour Bizou,” a French-inspired line. The dolls have a sculpt different from Barbie and feature unique poses, Harkin says. 

The line is available at leading U.S. retailers and online. Dolls and fashions are geared to two audiences within Stardoll’s target – both the traditional “Barbie doll girls” who play with and dress the dolls, as well as older collectors who leave the dolls in their packaging or display them, Dumais says.

All licensed Stardoll items reflect the site’s spirit of creativity. “There’s no ‘Stardoll girl’ per se; we want all girls to get involved with the brand,” Dumais says. 

Instant Messaging

Licensing the Stardoll brand was a natural progression for its creator, as the brand is already established with its audience thanks to its online nature. Dumais says she feels the built-in audience for online properties gives the brand a secure future alongside television and movie-spawned brands. “What used to happen in licensing is that a character would be created and put out there in hope that people would embrace it,” Dumais says. “Because of the Internet, we’re listening to what the public thinks and licensing accordingly; the consumer can literally tell us what they like and don’t like.”

The instant feedback available online offers licensees a guide to what sort of products or fashions to produce. “We can literally feed data to our licensees about what our subscribers are consuming online,” she adds. “When we put a new collection online we can see how those virtual products are being purchased, go to our licensee and say, `We put up 14 new outfits and these are the top five’ - it takes a lot of the guesswork out of what our assortment should be.

“We can also involve our subscribers in product development and ask them what they want to see – it’s a more natural and organic way to create products that before the Internet was impossible because there was no way to get that instant response.”

Stardoll’s user base also helps to spread the word about the site as opposed to traditional marketing methods such as television spots or targeted advertising. “Stardoll Media’s philosophy toward marketing is they don’t want to tell the consumer to like Stardoll, they want people to find it and fall in love with it,” Dumais says. “What they’ve done is use the virtual community to be their marketing voice, which is much more pure because it’s coming from the consumers themselves.”

A chat with Stardoll's Judy Choi

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