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Monster High: Anatomy of a blockbuster toy

Mattel's frighteningly fashionable doll property for tween and teen girls has established itself as a top toy brand in just a few years. Dominic Sacco talks to global brand marketing director PJ Lewis about the science behind the dolls.

Five years ago, you'd be forgiven for thinking a doll other than Barbie would help take Mattel to new Monster heights.

But Monster High did just that when it launched in June 2010. It was the company's first new intellectual property released across a number of diverse consumer product categories simultaneously at launch.

The brand's USP, bringing teenage descendants of famous monsters to brave the corridors of high school, helped increase Mattel's sales in 2010 – and make the dolls a sell-out. This success has continued over the past years, with sales of Mattel's Other Girl Brands rising 57 per cent in 2012 and Monster High picking up several accolades (see 'Ghouls Rule the world' for an example).

Monster High's edgy, goth-like style went down a treat with tween and teen girls, and of course, it also offers a striking alternative to Mattel's other huge doll brand – Barbie.

But its success didn't just lie in toys. The property also has a strong licensing programme, with consumer products across notable categories including apparel and accessories.

Monster High reaches girls in other ways, too. A host of content and stories based on the franchise's world are available online, in magazines and more, allowing girls to discover the brand in their own way.

Mattel's director for global brand marketing, PJ Lewis, says Monster High is so popular simply because girls can relate to it.

"Grounded in a fun and humorous storyline, the frighteningly fashionable students at Monster High capture all the awkward moments that teens experience in their high school years, the powerful bonds of friendship and the challenges of fitting in all delivered through a 'monster' chic aesthetic and tone," he tells ToyNews.

"As part of each character's unique personality, they each have a 'flaw' or imperfection, which is related to their monster heritage. Some imperfections are also based on trials and tribulations and real flaws that teens deal with every day, making the characters relatable."

At the bottom of this article, Lewis runs us through the Jinafire Long doll's core features to demonstrate exactly how Monster High became a blockbuster toy range.

Ghouls Rule the world

Launched at the back end of 2012, Ghouls Rule was the first ever Monster High full length adventure on DVD.

The supporting dolls brought the characters to life; each one dressed to commemorate her famous monster heritage, such as Clawdeen Wolf, Draculaura, Cleo de Nile and Frankie Stein.

The range won Girls' Toy of the Year at the 2012 Toy Industry Awards and now it's being supported further.

A TV special called Scaris The City Of Frights arrived in January this year, featuring Jinafire Long – the daughter of the Chinese Dragon.

You can check out the new Jinafire doll here.


So where did the idea come from to mix monster descendants with a high school? And what were the main inspirations behind the brand?

Lewis says: "The original concept came from one of our packaging designers who noticed a trend in the marketplace in which girls were gravitating towards a more edgy, goth-like aesthetic as seen in a variety of consumer products."

"We took that trend and created a storyline that would connect with girls in a fun and humorous way, but was also very relatable for them."

"Girls like to immerse themselves in stories and worlds as they engage in new properties and trends. We know that they appreciate the clove tone, humour and unique aesthetics, as well as complex yet familiar stories of the Monster High characters."

He explains: "This property demonstrated one of our core beliefs – a good idea can come from anywhere. We have a wealth of talent and so many of our people/designers have their fingers on the pulse of what is on trend."

"The birth of the Monster High franchise has really been an in-house, cross-functional effort."


How did Mattel strike the right balance of having a monster theme but not scaring girls away?

"Monster High dolls feature readily identifiable monster cues to tie into the background story, while remaining pretty and fashion forward," says Mattel's director for global brand marketing, PJ Lewis.

"Each character has a specific face sculpt that is representative of the particular character's monster heritage, for example if you look at Frankie's head it is a bit more square than the rest, as Frankenstein is known for having a square shape to his head."

"We have a clearly identifiable signature style to make sure the brand has a consistent look and feel across the whole franchise."


Many girls love music and fashion, and Monster High was heavily influenced by both. This clearly comes across in the dolls' style, consumer products and on-trend online episodes.

"The fashion influence is a more edgy goth style, but all have a strong link with the character and their individual story," comments Lewis.

"Characters are frighteningly fashionable and everything is delivered through a monster chic aesthetic to make sure it captures the right tone. We originally launched with a pop video and music plays a key role with the brand."


Viewing a Monster High doll is like hearing a song and immediately recognising the artist. You know it's a Monster High toy from its straight lines, bright colours and, of course, monster-style faces.

It's a design style that Mattel says is 'perfectly imperfect' – a far cry from the almost flawless image of Barbie.

"It is important to create that modern contemporary feel for the brand that captures the fashion influences of the moment and the storyline of the characters, but in a relatable way for girls," says Lewis.

"We ensure everything's delivered through a monster chic aesthetic and tone – 'perfectly imperfect'!"


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