Barbie Prevails; ‘Jem’ Singing Her Swan Song : Hasbro Doll Being Pulled as Mattel Beats the Band

Times Staff Writer

Jem, the “truly outrageous” 12 1/2-inch teen-age rock star, is strumming her last tune.

Toy retailers say that Hasbro plans to stop making Jem, in an apparent surrender to Mattel’s ever-popular Barbie doll.

A spokesman for Hasbro said Monday that the nation’s biggest toy company was “reviewing” its plans for Jem, but will not announce a decision for a month or so. However, retailers said Hasbro disclosed at a toy fair in Houston last week that it has already decided to cancel the doll.


“They gave us the official word. Jem won’t be back,” said Robert Freedman, marketing director for La Mirada--based Federal Wholesale, one of the largest toy distributors in the West.

In 1986, Hasbro introduced Jem, and her rock band, the Holograms, in a monumental effort to break the spell Barbie has on the nation’s little girls. About the same time, Mattel, based in Hawthorne, created a rock band for Barbie that resulted in record-breaking Barbie sales last year.

Selling at Discount

The competition between the nation’s two largest toy companies for the fashion doll market helped sales of both Jem and Barbie at first. But retailers say that this year the competition led to reduced sales of both dolls, as little girls chose only one.

According to one retailer at the Houston meeting, Hasbro said it had projected sales of $30 million this year, but had only sold $21 million worth of Jem dolls. The Pawtucket, R.I., company told retailers it had $9 million of Jem inventory left that it was selling at discount prices.

As a result, some retailers have already reduced Jem prices to $7 from around $10.

“We’re not surprised,” said Rita Fire, a marketing vice president at Mattel. Fire said Mattel estimated that Hasbro spent between between $8 million and $10 million to advertise Jem, despite sales in the $30-million to $40-million range.

By contrast, Barbie sales stood at about $350 million last year, according to analysts.

“We know they are a smart and savvy company and that they (Hasbro) would realize it wouldn’t make sense to continue,” said Fire. “We’re happy to have the market back.” Retailers said Hasbro assured them that the syndicated Jem cartoon show will continue under a two-year contract with its producer, Sunbow Productions of New York. A Sunbow spokesman said the company couldn’t comment on its relationship with Hasbro.

Although Jem will soon be gone, Hasbro isn’t leaving the fashion doll market entirely. A year ago, Hasbro acquired a European toy company named Pedigre, whose Cindy doll is No. 2 in Great Britain next to Barbie. Said Fire: “The battle continues.”