Barbie is about to be reunited with some old friends. Mattel, the manufacturer of the popular fashion doll, wipes dust off three sleeping lines that have not been on the toy shelves for decades: Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar.
The re-emergence of three action heroes is part of a strategy developed by Ynon Kreiz, Mattel’s CEO, to leverage 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 party in San Diego.
“This is our toe in the water,” said PJ Lewis, vice president of global marketing at Mattel. “Back in Action helps us maintain the validity of our IP and decide what’s next.”
Mr Kreiz’s strategy has helped Mattel turn around its declining fortune since taking over in 2018. The company reported a 19 percent jump in revenue in 2021, to $ 5.5 billion, and despite supply chain bottlenecks and rising raw material costs. has expected a growth of 8 percent to 10 percent this year. (It will report second quarter results on Thursday.)
Part of the toy manufacturer’s recent success stems from the expansion of older brands. Barbie will star in a live-action film starring Margot Robbie, one of a dozen films working for various Mattel brands, including a live-action Hot Wheels film produced by JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company and one for Masters of the Universe, in collaboration with Netflix. Other brands on the way 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 or a TV show or a video game,” said Danny Eardley, lead author of “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”
But how will Mattel create interest in brands that have been off the toy shelves for decades?
Major Matt Mason, an action figure for an astronaut, was introduced in 1967 and saw success until children began to lose interest in space exploration. He reappeared in pop culture in 2019 when Tom Hanks signed to produce and star in an upcoming film about the Romanian. Big Jim came in 1971, followed by Pulsar in 1976, but they too have been out of the public eye for decades.
The trio’s reintroduction makes economic sense because Mattel does not earn revenue from locked properties, said Gerrick Johnson, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets, which covers the toy industry.
“You own the IP, so there is the opportunity to capture merchandise,” he said. “One of the great benefits is raising a toy line that did not perform at all.”
Mattel’s strategy for reviving a dormant brand is to engage hardcore fans first, said Richard Dickson, the company’s president and chief operating officer. If they absorb it, the next step is to come up with binding content and create a play line for children.
This formula can be seen with the Masters of the Universe, which was introduced in the 1980s and quickly became a $ 2 billion franchise. After the line led by He-Man disappeared, Mattel hid it away, only to revive it years later as a collector’s product. Last year, it was followed by a couple of animated series on Netflix – one for adults and one for children – which were accompanied by toy lines at retailers.
“We are testing and seeing if we should bring the brand back in a meaningful way,” said Mr. Dickson.
Encouraged by the success of Masters of the Universe, Mattel uses the same formula for Monster High, a line of scary fashion dolls that was introduced in 2010 and became one of the company’s bestsellers. The dolls have been off the shelves since 2018, but they came back last year with a “Skullector” series. Mattel also plans to introduce an exclusive doll, Voltageous, the superhero’s alter ego to Frankie Stein, at Comic-Con this week and has announced a Monster High live-action musical that will air on Nickelodeon and stream on Paramount + in October.
Mattel uses Comic-Con, which has become a major marketing hub for toy companies, to test the waters with Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar. Hasbro will also be there, marketing brands such as Nerf and Transformers, as well as the first toy line from the fantasy series Dungeons & Dragons and an exclusive GI Joe action figure, Dr. Mindbender. (Last week, The New York Times announced a partnership with Hasbro to develop a Wordle-based board game.)
Reintroducing brands like Major Matt Mason to a new generation presents challenges. To begin with, the toys in the Back in Action trio have been off the shelves for a long time.
“There is no father of a 7-year-old boy who knows what Major Matt Mason is,” said Mr. Johnson.
To bridge the generation gap, Mattel will introduce the toys in a smaller size that appeals to collectors of toys from the 1980s.
“This figure shape is loved by collectors,” said Brian Heiler, publisher of Toy-Ventures magazine, which examines the history of vintage toys. “These people may not care as much about Big Jim or Pulsar, but they can buy this format.”
And if they do, it could be a sign that the Back in Action brands will live up to their name.