Mattel’s Director of Consumer Products and MAD//Fest speaker, Ruth Henriquez, talks about the alchemy that has been Mattel’s marketing in the past year, why Liquid Death, (another MAD//Fest speaking brand), are the brand to keep an eye on, and what she’ll be talking about in July on the Hexagon Stage.

1. 2024 is the year of?

2024 is the year of expansion.

At Mattel, we're moving into a new era of growth and evolution, with exciting collaborations, new product launches, and immersive experiences that will redefine our house of brands for generations to come.

2. Who is your hero from the marketing and advertising world? Why?

There are a lot of people I admire in the marketing space, so many trailblazers have gone before me, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Ruth Handler. As one of the first female execs in a boardroom and pioneer in toys, Ruth invented Barbie and marketed her and the other brands in the Mattel arsenal in new and targeted ways. For instance, Mattel (through Ruth and Elliot) were the first ever sponsors of the Mickey Mouse Club TV series.

As a trailblazing female executive in mid-century America, she shattered glass ceilings and revolutionized the industry with her bold creativity and strategic vision.

3. What was the last ad your saw that made you buy something?

Marketing is truly about driving connection with your brands and its consumers, in that regard the Patagonia ‘What’s Next?’ campaign struck a deep chord with me. In authentically talking to their audience, they were able to resonate beyond that demographic. Purpose driven campaigns like Patagonia’s, and Dove’s recent ‘Beauty in the AI Age’ are important for moving the dial and partner creativity with quality product – it definitely drives me to purchase.

4. What’s your all time favourite advert/campaign and why?

One of my all-time favourite advertising campaigns is Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign. This conversation starting initiative challenged conventional beauty standards and celebrated the diversity and authenticity of women's appearances. Its powerful message of self-acceptance and inclusivity left a lasting impact on the industry and society as a whole.

If 2024 is the year of expansion for Mattel, then 2023 was the year of Barbie!

5. Fortune favours the bold - how is your brand being bold and cutting through the noise?

At Mattel, we are aiming to strike a balance between boldness and consumer appetite. There’s a fine line between powerful advertising that the industry loves and advertising that actually gets consumer cut through. In that regard, we treat ourselves as brand guardians – constantly checking the pulse of society to ensure timely messaging that is truly impactful. From our world class collaborations with high-profile partners, to our innovative product launches and immersive brand experiences, we are meeting the consumer where they are.

6. What keeps you awake at night?

When you are the guardian of some truly powerful franchises such as Barbie and Hot Wheels, ensuring they continue to evolve and innovate while remaining relevant in an ever-changing market landscape keeps me up at night. It’s about knowing how we deliver faithfully to the consumers, while also keeping partners invested. I am constantly thinking about how we take partners on the journey with us and set industry standards at what true collaboration and ideological alignment can look like.

7. Given the advances in AI, do you have a job in 5 years time?

Call me naive, but I believe that there will always be a need for human creativity and passion in the industry. While technology may evolve, the human touch and emotional connection will remain essential elements of effective brand storytelling. AI can be fantastic at giving you a base, but we will always the level of connection that can only be between humans talking to humans.

8. Which established brand continues to inspire you?

Nike, their unwavering commitment to creativity, and authenticity, alongside their ability to connect with consumers on an emotional level means they have a strong capacity to be able to react authentically when the moment requires it. The same can be said for Patagonia, I’m inspired when brands such a strong narrative vision that even by seeing just a logo, you know exactly who they are.

9. Which challenger/game changing brand should we all have our eyes on?

Liquid Death, their recent collaborations have been genius – they have seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Their disruptive approach to FMCG will no doubt redefine industry standards, it has already captured the hearts of millennial and Gen Z consumers with its humorous and unexpected strategy. I have my eye closely watching what they will do next.

10. What’s the biggest opportunity in marketing and advertising right now?

Partnerships, when you have two powerful brands joining their consumers together you can create a really engaging fan experience. The moment when you see a new joint product and think why has this never been done before, you realise it’s the simplest of ideas that can create big moments.

11. What is the most underrated superpower in marketing?

When you look at strong heritage brands, the most underrated power is actually saying no. Being so secure in your brand purpose and position that even the most appealing opportunities do not take you off that path. In sticking to a brands true narrative, we are able to build trust, loyalty, and long-lasting relationships with consumers – they return because they know what they’re returning to.

12. Which (emerging) trend or innovation of 2024 will have the greatest impact on the industry in 2024?

Going back to the digital, one trend that will have a significant impact on the industry in 2024 is the rise of immersive experiences and virtual reality events. As consumers seek out more engaging and interactive brand experiences, virtual reality and augmented reality technologies will play a pivotal role in creating memorable and impactful marketing campaigns.

13. What would you most like to change about the ad industry?

In the past few years, the industry has made great strides to diversify its talent pool, but I realise I am in a very privileged position and would like to see more people at my level that look, sound, and resemble me. I would like to see more opportunities given to people who at the moment may feel unable to escape their background and have the industry as a whole reflect the rich tapestry of our global society to create authentic and resonant advertising that speaks to everyone.

14. What are you speaking about at MAD//Fest in July?

We had an absolutely phenomenal year in 2023 with Barbie, with over 165 partnerships for the movie alone, many people have asked how so many brands activated with us in such differing ways.

At MAD//Fest in July, I will be speaking about the Barbie journey of innovation and transformation, highlighting our bold brand strategy, groundbreaking collaborations, and visionary approach to marketing and advertising. This is something we have worked on for a number of years across our brands, in that vein I will explore the future of brand storytelling and consumer engagement across the Mattel brands.

Ruth will be speaking on the Hexagon Stage on Day One of MAD//Fest. Buy your ticket here.