Look out Barbie, the Olsens are coming

Look out Barbie, the Olsens are coming - 28th September 2002
(Credit: The Age)

The slender, stylishly attired, twin blondes touched down in Sydney on United Airlines flight 815 at 6.10am Tuesday. Within 14 hours, their young, composed voices were on the radio in every state bar one.

Over two days, they fronted a 150-strong press conference, spoke to another 28 journalists, hung out with 200 young fans, posed for scores of photographers and two fashion shoots. Oh, they also squeezed in a few hours of school work. After all, they are only 16.

At 2.35pm yesterday, United Airlines flight 816 whisked Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen back to their US home.

The twins first stole hearts as toddlers in the sitcom Full House. They have since built an empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Chief executive and co-founder of their company Dualstar, Robert Thorne, has been their agent since they were four and oversees their videos, dolls, board games, books, fashion, accessories, cosmetics and calendars, which have been voraciously snapped up by consumers. Their dolls outsell Barbie by 500 per cent in Britain, and are second only to Barbie in the US. They go on sale here in November.

It all adds up to about $US1 billion ($A1.8 billion) in retail sales a year, and the girls' earnings easily outstrip that of any other child celebrity. Yet, said Mr Thorne, "we've never spent one dime on advertising". Only new release videos and dolls are "modestly" advertised.

Mary-Kate and Ashley are a product, tenaciously promoted as the mary-kateandashley brand. "The marketing approach and the business approach is stylised in a unique way," Mr Thorne said. "The product is uniquely more sophisticated and the development, design, production, creation is done by us... The philosophy is: you make it, you publicise the heck out of it... then cross your fingers and hope that the customer embraces it."

The Olsens say they have "total control" over the way they are marketed. "The brand is an extension of what we try to represent to kids, but it's not us," they said. "We never put anything out with our name on it that we don't like."

The media has been all too willing to lap it up. The main press conference in Sydney had double the turnout as the one in Britain, even though Australia is a smaller market.

"Publicity is not manipulative," Mr Thorne said. "If we were spending millions on advertising I could understand people thinking that we're going after their kids but we're not."

Dualstar marketing's representatives in seven countries have generated more than 72,000 media mentions in the past four years. "It seems that if they breathe, there's a feature story in 20 (US) newspapers," Mr Thorne said.

Target, which has the exclusive rights to the fashion line, initially opposed the idea unless the girls' three shows were seen on free-to-air television. But Mr Thorne said the "awareness explosion" was very persuasive.

Similar assaults will be launched in Mexico, France, Germany, South Africa, Israel, Scandinavia, Japan and China.

Managing director of Sydney's celebrity public relations firm Markson Sparks!, Mark Markson, said the mary-kateandashley publicity blitz began three weeks ago. "They've just hammered it," he said.

Mr Markson said "brands" like Bardot and Big Brother were popular because they were "thrust down people's throats".


Official websites

The Age


Olsen-Twins dot org

Lady Dragon.com


Great moments in product placement

The Great Yankee promoters

The Great Aussie Promoters

Games - The Games People Play


Max Markson