Mattelling it straight

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 5 April 2016
AdNews online editor, Pippa Chambers

This article first appeared in AdNews in-print. Click here to subscribe to the AdNews magazine or download the digital version here.

We're told growing up that when you fall down you pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and try again. And of course that you have to learn from past mistakes, be it 90s fashion or perhaps one too many 4am shots of tequila on a work trip, or backing the wrong kind of creative. Whatever the error, you take the new-found knowledge from the fuck-ups you've made to make better choices next time.

We pause (or linger) for reflection on our wonky trodden paths, recalibrate and move on. Perhaps they weren't all mistakes per se, just choices we now know perhaps should, or could, have been different.

‘Fail fast’ is trotted out so often that it's becoming old hat, and we can all acquaint ourselves with such scenarios. What isn't so familiar is brands, marketers and general adland being upfront about the stuff-ups they’ve made along the way.

Cloak and dagger techniques, fear of competitors, and worries over investors and reputations all play a part in why many keep the trapdoor firmly shut on the demons of business failure.

This is what made Mattel's presentation at the Adobe Summit in Las Vegas – definitely a place where too many 4am shots were consumed on a work trip – a highlight of the program.

Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson took to the stage to speak about staying relevant, taking a look at its wide range of toy brands from Chatty Cathy and Uno to Hot Wheels and Barbie.

Statements like “we lost our way,” the brand had “devolved,” and “at some point we stopped looking at the future,” as well as “we didn’t keep up with the omnichannel universe,” made it a deep and much needed breath of fresh air.

This was Mattel, a huge multinational toy manufacturing company – with investors – giving its warts and all story on how it took its eye off the ball – and the doll, so to speak. Dickson was by far the most talked about speaker in conversations I had, even more than the big attraction of George Clooney.

Also, speaking during the opening keynote session, Royal Bank of Scotland's head of analytics, Giles Richardson, was also candid about its digital marketing “firework culture” of launching ad hoc experiences based on gut feeling and poor insights.

Why did confessions of Mattel's missteps please so many? Because it was honest, authentic and above all, unusual – unusual because Dickson was so passionate and genuine about what the company had neglected, what its firm failings and errors of judgement were. From that position only a stronger future and strategy can emerge.

An historic toy behemoth that addresses where it went wrong and what it learnt, in my mind, only serves to help and improve us as people and the industry we work in.

It's not about the sorrys when you trip up, it’s about owning your mistakes and, more importantly, sharing them.

Pippa Chambers is online editor of AdNews.

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