The New York Times Company
The New York Times
December 14, 1985, Saturday, Late City Final Edition
Section 1; Page 33, Column 3; Financial Desk
HEADLINE: THE SELLING OF TOY 'CONCEPTS'
BYLINE: By RICHARD W. STEVENSON
is simply "the most powerful man in the universe."
Coming out of nowhere just three years ago, he is He-Man,
the centerpiece of Mattel Inc.'s Masters of the Universe army
of action toys, and one of the hottest-selling items for the
third Christmas season in a row.
direct mandate is to make the world safe from the likes of
Skeletor, the "evil lord of destruction," and Stinkor,
"evil master of odors." But the six-inch plastic
figure is charged with an even heavier responsibility: keeping
the nation's children interested enough in the growing line
of Masters toys to extend its huge popularity - more than
125 million of the figures have been sold since 1982 -for
years to come.
product lines that can be expanded year after year has become
a top priority for the $13 billion toy industry. As the business
has consolidated into bigger and more sophisticated manufacturers
and retailers, the costs of starting new products, as well
as the risks - including charges by parents and educators
that the merchandising of these toys exploits the young -
have increased, putting a premium on brands that can grow,
according to industry experts.
The challenge for a toy maker is to find a "concept"
that can be developed into an entire world of play fantasy,
with new characters and accessories keeping mom and dad returning
to the store to buy more.
toyland's large field of combat, for example, He-Man and Stinkor
have joined forces against such other action lines as Hasbro's
Transformers, Matchbox's Voltron and M.A.S.K. from Kenner.
There are gentler lines, too: Coleco's Cabbage Patch Kids,
of course, as well as Tonka's Pound Puppies and Hasbro's My
Little Pony and its My Buddy doll for boys. And some old favorites
- notably Mattel's Barbie doll and Hasbro's G.I. Joe - have
been spruced up or brought back from retirement to head new
families of products.
key question is, do you have a new product, or do you have
a category?" asked Donald D. Kingsborough, chairman and
chief executive of Worlds of Wonder Inc., a Fremont, Calif.,
toy company that was founded last March. "If you have
a product, it will typically last two and a half Christmases
as a hot product. If it is a category, it will last 5 or 10
High-Tech Teddy Bear
Worlds of Wonder is hoping that its hot new product, Teddy
Ruxpin, the talking teddy bear, can make the crossover, and
become the founder of a dynasty. Teddy sells for between $59
and $79, and tapes and books to keep him telling fresh stories
cost about $12.95 each. The line also includes Fob and Grubby,
small, non-talking figures.
sales of the high-tech teddy will be considerably higher than
the $65 million recorded by the Cabbage Patch Kids in 1983,
the year that phenomenally successful doll line first took
off. But long-term success will depend on continued demand
for new spinoffs in the field the industry calls "animated
residual benefits of creating a toy category can be enormous.
Coleco, for example, expects Cabbage Patch sales this year
to exceed last year's record $540 million, as new dolls and
accessories, including toys for the dolls themselves, are
of the Universe has also continued to generate huge numbers.
The toys - together with licensing arrangements in 50 product
categories ranging from toothbrushes to backpacks - are expected
to produce sales this year of $1 billion, according to Dave
Capper, director of marketing for boys' toys at Mattel, the
nation's second-largest toy maker, behind Hasbro.
And the line, which has spawned a successful television cartoon
show, continues to grow. This year, for example, Mattel introduced
She-Ra, He-Man's sister.
a product shows the potential to grow, there are a number
of basic tactics used to promote it, industry executives say.
Mr. Capper listed several key elements Mattel employed in
selling the Masters figures. Analysts said these basic strategies
could be applied to other lines as well.
line is designed as an "open-ended, timeless fantasy
that can be adapted to changing play patterns," Mr. Capper
said. To track the changes, the company does extensive research
every year to stay on top of what children and their parents
want, and to test new characters and concepts.
example, Mattel's Barbie, long a homebody, now also comes
in versions dressed for work, complete with an attache case.
"More girls see mom going off to work, so they readily
identify with that," said Morinda Christopher, a spokesman
for Toys "R" Us, the nation's largest toy retailer.
Mattel also tries continually to add new technology and designs
to the Masters line, such as characters that walk and a dragon
that shoots water, Mr. Capper said.
another key tactic, Mr. Capper said, was making sure that
"strategies are put in place every year to freshen the
products and keep the play patterns exciting." This year,
for example, Mattel added a fresh set of villains called the
Evil Horde, creating a three-way conflict between good guys
and bad guys, presumably giving young boys a new scenario
to keep them interested.
its basic outline, that is the same sort of strategy that
Worlds of Wonder wants to follow to make certain that Teddy
Ruxpin does not end up as a one-year wonder. "We are
replicating what Mattel and Hasbro have proven is so successful
in character establishment," said Mr. Kingsborough, a
former president of Atari Inc.
Teddy Ruxpin has already been the star of two half-hour specials
on ABC, and the company hopes they will lead to a regular
series. The show would contain a whole cast of characters,
an ideal springboard for new products.
notion of using a television show as a marketing tool has
become increasingly popular among toy makers. In the past,
new toys were often based on existing characters from television,
movies or comic books. Even this year, LJN Toys has successfully
introduced WWF Wrestlers, characters based on popular real-life
professional wrestlers, and Coleco has brought out a Rambo
doll based on the movie character.
Toys Come First
But more often now, the toys come first. "The toy companies
have gotten much wiser," said David S. Leibowitz, an
analyst for the American Securities Corporation. "Why
take out a license when you can create one?"
He-Man and She-Ra, other toys with their own shows include
Transformers, the M.A.S.K. line, G.I. Joe and Thundercats,
made by LJN Toys.
advocates often complain that the television shows are nothing
more than half-hour commercials for the product. And there
is also concern about the impact on impressionable young children
of the violent themes of some of the shows.
some help from a television show, as well as heavy marketing
expenditures, including more than $6 million spent on advertising
in the fourth quarter, Mr. Kingsborough of Worlds of Wonder
hopes the Ruxpin line will grow to dominate the burgeoning
category of "animated plush," a segment that analysts
expect to be among the fastest-growing in the industry in
likens the toy business to Hollywood and its increasing reliance
on sequels. "It's easy to have the first hit," he
said. "You can't have Rocky II until you have a successful
Rocky I. We think we have Rocky II and Rocky III."