Mattel dust off He-Man, with a nod to diversity.
When Mattel introduced the muscular superhero He-Man in 1982, he was an instant hit. Four years later, at the height of its popularity, sales of the sword and witchcraft toy line soared to $ 400 million in the United States.
Today, nearly four decades after their first appearance, He-Man and the rest of the Masters of the Universe seek to reclaim the toy aisles.
But Mattel is trying to revive a dormant franchise for a new generation of consumers – those who expect content that reflects their world. To help, the toy maker has teamed up with Netflix to produce two new animated series to go along with two toy lines that have already hit retail shelves.
And Mattel expands Masters of the Universe’s roster of muscular heroes with the introduction of Sun-Man, a black character created in 1985 by a mother in New Jersey who wanted to create a role model for her son.
“My son said he couldn’t be a superhero because he was black. He was 3 years old, ”said Yla Eason, assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University.
So she started her own company, Olmec Toys, to make Sun-Man and other toys for black, Hispanic, and Native American children. “The intention was to give a positive presentation of black people in imagination and creativity,” she said.
That concept resonates more powerfully today, said Ed Duncan, senior vice president at Mattel who oversees Sun-Man’s official introduction to the line.
“Reintroducing a black hero to kids today is not only enjoyable, but also important,” he said in an email. “Sun-Man is such an ambitious character, from his aesthetic design to his character traits and powers.”
In both Netflix series – “Masters of the Universe: Revelation” (developed by Kevin Smith, who has created steamy movies like “Clerks” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”), and “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ”, (intended for a younger audience) – some characters have been redesigned in black.
Children need to be represented in the world around them, said Rob David, vice president of creative content for Mattel Television and executive producer of both animated series. “The television screen is a window and also a mirror,” he said.
The Masters of the Universe revival is part of a larger expansion strategy led by Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz to dust off aging franchises. “We have a treasure trove of brands, some of which have been discontinued for some reason,” said Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel. Brands that are lined up for expansion include the Magic 8 Ball, the Major Matt Mason action figure, and the Uno card game.
Expanding its intellectual properties could make Mattel more profitable at a time when the toy industry is booming. After falling 4% in 2019, toy sales in the United States jumped 16% to $ 25.1 billion last year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. Mattel announced a 40% increase in net sales in its most recent quarter compared to the same period in 2020.
“Ynon Kreiz has changed the business a lot,” said Gerrick Johnson, equity research analyst for BMO Capital Markets. “He looked at the profitability of the licenses. Taking a brand like Masters of the Universe out of the vault is a smart strategy, he said, because Mattel can turn around and sell licenses for a range of products, like sheets and backpacks.
Beyond toys and the series – and a long-running film project – Mattel is aligning partnerships in publishing and softgoods, which include clothing and bedding, said Dickson, who declined to provide further details.
Adults who grew up with the original He-Man and kept the brand alive on fan websites and conventions like Power-Con, which begins Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., Are excited about his return, but are wary. from the excess of traditional retailers.
“I’m afraid there are too many and too many people out there,” said Danny Eardley, lead author of “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe”. “A poor performance could signal Mattel that there is not enough interest.”
But Mr. Dickson wants to allay those fears. “Obviously we’ve left the property dormant over time,” he said. But “we are strategic for every toy we release”.