Mattel to reintroduce dormant brands Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar


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Barbie is about to reunite with old friends. Mattel, maker of popular fashion dolls, is dusting off three dormant lines that haven’t appeared on toy shelves in decades: Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar.

The reappearance of the three action heroes is part of a strategy devised by Inon Kreutz, CEO of Mattel, to capitalize on the company’s intellectual property by resurrecting old brands for new generations.

Mattel will reintroduce the toy line under the Back in Action umbrella label this week at Comic-Con International, a festival of pop culture fans in San Diego.

“That’s our problem,” said P. J. Lewis, Mattel’s vice president of global marketing. “Back in Action helps us keep our intellectual property legal and decide what to do next.”

Kraitz’s strategy has helped Mattel correct its declining fortune since it took over in 2018. The company reported a 19 percent jump in sales in 2021 to $5.5 billion, and despite supply chain bottlenecks and rising raw material costs, it forecast growth of 8 percent to 10 percent this year. (The results of the second quarter will be published on Thursday.)

Part of the toy maker’s recent success is due to the expansion of older brands. Barbie will appear in a live-action film starring Margot Robbie, one of a dozen films that Mattel’s various brands are working on, including a Hot Wheels live-action film made by production company JJ Abrams’s Bad Robot and one for Masters of the Universe. in partnership with Netflix. Other brands heading 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 has to do with a movie, TV show, or video game,” said Danny Eardley, lead author of The Real Man’s Toys and the Game Master. Universe.”

But how will Mattel spark interest in brands that haven’t hit the toy store shelves for decades?

Major Matt Mason astronaut action figure was introduced in 1967 and was a hit until kids started to lose interest in space exploration. It resurfaced in pop culture in 2019 when Tom Hanks signed on to produce and star an upcoming movie about an astronaut. Big Jim appeared in 1971, followed by Pulsar in 1976, but they, too, remained out of the public eye for decades.

The re-introduction of the trio makes financial sense since Mattel is not generating income from the property that is under lock and key, said Herrick Johnson, a toy industry analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

“You own the intellectual property, so there is an opportunity to take over the merchandising,” he said. “One of the huge benefits is improving a toy line that didn’t work or didn’t work at all.”

Mattel’s strategy to revive a dormant brand is to get its most dedicated fans first, said Richard Dixon, the company’s president and chief operating officer. If they take it on, the next step is to come up with additional content and create a toy line for kids.

This formula can be seen in Masters of the Universe, which was introduced in the 1980s and quickly became a $2 billion franchise. After the He-Man-led line ceased to exist, Mattel hid it, but revived it years later as a collector’s item. It was then followed last year by a pair of animated series on Netflix – one for adults and one for children – that were accompanied by toy lines in retail stores.

“We are testing and seeing if we should bring the brand back in a meaningful way,” Mr. Dixon said.

Inspired by the success of Masters of the Universe, Mattel is using the same formula for Monster High, a line of spooky fashion dolls that was introduced in 2010 and has become one of the company’s top sellers. The dolls have disappeared from the shelves since 2018, but last year they returned with the “Skullector” series. Mattel is also planning to unveil an exclusive doll of Voltageous, Frankie Stein’s superhero alter ego, at Comic-Con this week and has announced a live musical, Monster High, which will air on Nickelodeon and air on Paramount+ in October.

Mattel is using Comic-Con, which has become an important marketing platform for toy makers, to try their hand at Major Matt Mason, Big Jim and Pulsar. Hasbro will also be there, promoting brands like Nerf and Transformers, as well as the first toy line from the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy franchise and an exclusive G.I. 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 is challenging. Let’s start with the fact that the toys from the Back in Action trio have long been out of stock.

“There is no father of a 7-year-old boy who knows who Major Matt Mason is,” Mr. Johnson said.

To help bridge the generation gap, Mattel will introduce smaller toys that will appeal to 1980s toy collectors.

“This form of action figure is beloved by collectors,” said Brian Hayler, publisher of Toy-Ventures magazine, which explores the history of vintage toys. “These people may not care 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 live up to their name.

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