Liv™ Katie™ doll

Last night, I saw a commercial on Qubo for a new line of dolls called Liv™. This is the first time I've ever heard of them. (Qubo mostly shows commercials for infomercial gadgets and "boy" toys so it was a bit of shock to see dolls. )

At first I thought it was an ad for MGA's Moxie Girlz™ (the "successor" to the Bratz® line) because their heads sort of resemble the Moxie Girlz' "carved out of a piece of soap with a butter knife" look. () However, the Liv dolls - Sophie™, Alexis™, Daniela™, and Katie™ - are larger (closer to Barbie®-size), their bodies are fully-articulated, and they wear wigs. It looks like they have inset "glass"-style eyes as well.

The commercial definitively made it sound like the dolls were only available to purchase via mail order, but apparently they're also being sold at retailers like Walmart. For some reason, both the commercial and "LivWorld" website seem to avoid saying the dolls are made by Spin Master - a company that primarily manufactures "boy" and "activity" toys. (Which explains why it was on Qubo.)

The theme of the Liv dolls is that they're "real girls", they represent "many races", they're "smart", they're all about "being yourself", etc. etc.. It's tough to be optimistic, since we've seen this before and know where it's most likely heading. Liv adheres very closely the model created by numerous blink-and-you-missed-them "anti-Barbie®" fashion doll lines with "progressive" overtones - complete with set-in-stone "personalities" for each doll, a concept I almost always disagree with in a toy line that's not tied to an existing property. (Although I do like the idea of a "clumsy" character who's inexplicably good at skateboarding... )

Sophie™ in her packaging

Liv adds a "technology" aspect to the mix (yup, that "technology" thing is all the rage with toymakers now-a-days): Each doll comes with a code that "unlocks her world online" (which is apparently becoming a buzzphrase of some kind). Basically, it looks like you get to read the character's "diary" and whatnot. The off-putting part is, there's a time limit for accessing the website; the codes are only good for a year, and after that - although it's not explicitly stated anywhere - the only way to continue using the site is to buy another doll. What - after a year, your doll stops being your friend and you have to bribe another one to let you read her diary? That's not exactly in keeping with the lovey-dovey "respect yourself" theme.

If they have to go this route, they should at least pack codes into supplementary products (clothes, wigs, etc. - if they are any?) that "add time", sort of like a pre-paid cell phone. The codes could even open up new areas of the website based on the specific accessories that were purchased, so the web experience would "grow" with the doll. Of course, a better choice would be not to attempt to extort money from consumers in the first place, assume they're smart enough to see through it, and just let the codes remain valid indefinitely. Frankly, if Liv's predecessors are any indication, it's unlikely the brand will last more than 2 years anyway. Let the kids keep using the website until it closes.

Sophie™ sporting her color-streaked second wig

There is one thing about this line that sets it apart and which I think is cool: The dolls have interchangeable wigs - obviously not a new thing, but the interesting part is, they're promoting the idea of cutting the dolls' hair, since you can "replace" it by adding a new wig. (I hope Spin Master will have replacement wigs available to purchase separately, though - otherwise it's a waste of a good idea... )

Of course, there are downsides; wigs can be extremely messy and difficult to style (hopefully they're rooted onto sturdy vinyl "scalps" [rather than mesh] and no Velcro® is involved...), and the anemic brushes they come with aren't very useful. (11 bristles? ) Nevertheless, wigs are one of the only ways hair-cutting can be effectively incorporated into a toy. (Ask the kids who cut their Cut 'n Style™ Barbie® doll's hair as per the instructions only to discover that once you chopped it off, 75% of it was gone for good.... ). Kids love cutting doll hair and it's an attractive aspect of the Liv line, so it's good that they're drawing attention to it. In fact, it might have worked better if that had been the focus. (Spin Master has a lot of experience with "activity" toys of this type.)

Of course, there's one issue that's kind of hard to overlook: Is it just me, or are the Liv dolls a bit creepy-looking? They remind me of the marionettes from Thunderbirds. (But I may be biased - Thunerbirds has always creeped me out. ). The clothes and styling are top-notch, though, and the age range the dolls are targeted to might not mind the style of the faces.

You may also be interested in these entries (or not - it's your call):
   • Liv™ - More Information
   • New Liv® Dolls
   • Doll Review: Liv® by Spin Master - Part 2
   • Doll Review: Liv® by Spin Master - Part 1
Doll Diary 26 July 2009