Mattel to reintroduce dormant Major brands Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar
Barbie is about to reunite with old friends. Mattel, the maker of the popular fashion doll, is dusting off three dormant lines that haven’t been on toy shelves in decades: Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar.
The reappearance of three action heroes is part of a strategy hatched by Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz to capitalize on the company’s intellectual property by reviving old brands for new generations.
Mattel will reintroduce the toy lines under an umbrella label called Back in Action this week at Comic-Con International, the pop culture fan fest in San Diego.
“It’s our foot in the water,” said PJ Lewis, vice president of global marketing at Mattel. “Back in Action helps us maintain the validity of our intellectual property and decide what happens next.”
Mr. Kreiz’s strategy has helped Mattel turn the tide since he took office in 2018. The company saw a 19% increase in sales in 2021, to $5.5 billion, and despite the bottlenecks of supply chain bottlenecks and rising raw material costs, it has forecast growth of 8% to 10% this year (it will report second-quarter results on Thursday).
Part of the toymaker’s recent success stems from the expansion of traditional brands. Barbie will feature in a live-action film starring Margot Robbie, one of twelve films in the works for various Mattel brands, including a Hot Wheels live-action film produced by production company Bad Robot. JJ Abrams and one for Masters of the Universe, in partnership with Netflix. Other brands headed to the big screen include Thomas the Tank Engine, Magic Eight Ball and Polly Pocket.
“When you walk into a store and walk down the toy aisle, almost everything is related to a movie, TV show, or video game,” said Danny Eardley, lead author of “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”
But how will Mattel generate interest in brands that have been pulled from toy shelves for decades?
Major Matt Mason, an astronaut minifigure, was introduced in 1967 and was a hit until kids started losing interest in space exploration. He resurfaced in pop culture in 2019 when Tom Hanks signed on to produce and star in an upcoming astronaut film. Big Jim arrived in 1971, followed by Pulsar in 1976, but they too were ignored by the public for decades.
Reintroducing the trio makes financial sense because Mattel doesn’t derive revenue from locked-in properties, said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets who covers the toy industry.
“You own the intellectual property, so there’s the opportunity to capture the merchandising,” he said. “One of the huge benefits is bringing up a toy line that was underperforming or not working at all.”
Mattel’s strategy for reviving a dormant brand is to engage die-hard fans first, said Richard Dickson, the company’s president and chief operating officer. If they do, the next step is to offer related content and create a line of toys for kids.
This formula can be seen with Masters of the Universe, which was introduced in the 1980s and quickly became a $2 billion franchise. After the He-Man-led line died out, Mattel put it away, only to revive it years later as a collectible. Then last year it was followed by a pair of animated series on Netflix – one for adults and one for children – which were accompanied by toy ranges at retailers.
“We are testing and seeing if we should bring the brand back in a meaningful way,” Mr Dickson said.
Encouraged by the success of Masters of the Universe, Mattel is using the same formula for Monster High, a line of scary fashion dolls that was introduced in 2010 and became one of the company’s best sellers. The dolls have been off shelves since 2018, but returned last year with a “Skullector” series. Mattel also plans to debut an exclusive doll, Voltageous, Frankie Stein’s superhero alter ego, at Comic-Con this week and announced a Monster High live-action musical to air on Nickelodeon and air on Paramount+ in October. .
Mattel is using Comic-Con, which has become a major marketing venue for toy companies, to test the waters with Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar. Hasbro will also be there, promoting brands like Nerf and Transformers, as well as the first line of toys in its Dungeons & Dragons fantasy franchise and an exclusive GI Joe figure, Dr. Mindbender. (Last week, The New York Times announced a partnership with Hasbro to develop a board game based on Wordle.)
Reintroducing brands like Major Matt Mason to a new generation presents challenges. For starters, the toys in the Back in Action trio have long been off the shelves.
“There’s no father of a seven-year-old boy who knows what Major Matt Mason is,” Mr Johnson said.
To help bridge the generation gap, Mattel will introduce the toys in a smaller size that will appeal to 1980s toy collectors.
“This form of action figure is popular with collectors,” said Brian Heiler, editor of Toy-Ventures magazine, which examines the history of vintage toys. “These people might not care much about Big Jim or Pulsar, but they could buy this format.”
And if they do, it could be a sign that the Back in Action brands will live up to their name.