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A 23 July 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal titled, Online Popularity Contest Next in Barbie-Bratz Brawl, reports MGA will be releasing their own online social networking site, Be-Bratz, on August 1st.

MGA’s Bratz has been gaining ground on Mattel’s Barbie the last several years, but Mattel’s new online world, Barbie Girls, has been a huge success and is helping them pull out further in front again. Plus they have received a tremendous amount of free publicity recently in coverage of Barbie Girls audience growing from zero at rates faster than any other major online social networking site. We even covered it here. Mattel stock took a nice jump for several days surrounding the announcement, but has since settled back down.

The Be-Bratz site will require purchase of a special Bratz doll (like Webkins requires the purchase of a pet) to participate. But the Bratz doll comes with a special USB key (thumb drive). You can choose your on screen name, a Bratz avatar that can be dressed to your specs or a custom character designed from scratch, you can customize rooms, chat with other users, “buy” clothes for your avatar at an online store using virtual currency you earn by playing the game. An online theater will show clips from the Bratz movie to be released August 3rd (looks like they are tying the online world to the movie release date for cross promotion).

The Barbie site does have some additional features if you buy a $60 MP3 player with a USB port. Mattel especially thinks the MP3 player will help them win back some of the older preteen girls.

Both sites try to address the dangers young people face online. They restrict free chatting and force the use of predetermined scripted messages and do not allow the display of personal information (names and addresses).

But, as the Journal mentions, even with all their efforts, Be-Bratz will be similar to Barbie Girls which has been online since April – and you don’t have to buy a doll to participate. MGA CEO Isaac Larian says any similarities between the sites are only coincidence and that he’s never visited the Mattel site.

As the battle heats up between them, both companies report they have committed to two year research and development timelines, boosting inhouse design operations, hiring outside programmers, and using lots of girls in focus groups.

The two companies continue to fight in court over the actual rights to Bratz with Mattel claiming Carter Bryant, the designer of Bratz, was employed by them when he did the initial Bratz designs. MGA now accuses Mattel of copying Bratz designs into their “My Scene” Barbie line.

The battle between these two companies will now be moving forward on four fronts:

1. In the stores – Doll & doll accessory sales

2. In the theaters & on DVD – both companies have movie

3. Online – Barbie Girls vs. Be-Bratz

4. In the courtroom – legal rights to Bratz design

Looks like there will not be a lot of love lost between MGA and Mattel for a while, unless a common enemy comes on the scene (like a new hot doll from Japan?)

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