Toy Merchandising in TV and Movies

By Louie Wieseman

Companies like Nintendo, Hasbro, and Mattel are known worldwide for products and toys that millions of children and adults alike know and love. Because of advertisements on TV or in the newspaper, fans seem compelled to buy them no matter how ridiculous the toy may be. Starting in the 1970s, a new toy advertising technique for toys began: advertisement through movies. The toys were advertised not only by product placement or ads before the movie, but the toy became the star of the feature. This practice, while accused by some of manipulating children, has been successful in raising sales and spawning new toys.

    The Hasbro company was founded in 1968. They started created toys in the early 1940s with modeling clay becoming their first main toy created at Hassenfield Brothers, the original company that eventually ended up being Hasbro. In 1952, they bought the rights to George Lerner’s Mr. Potato Head. After creating other toys such as G.I. Joe, the company created their Hasbro Industries branch in 1968. It didn’t take long to become the largest toy company in the United States.
     In 1977, the Raggedy Ann doll was the first toy to star in its own movie. After the movie was released, other toy companies continued the trend. Hallmark released movies in the mid-1980s such as The Hugga Bunch and Rainbow Brite. Hasbro and Mattel immediately followed with My Little Pony: The Movie, and Mattel released Masters of the Universe, the story of He-Man.
     Despite the companies’ attempts to support their toy brands, most movies fell flat in terms of the quality. One example is the Garbage Pail Kids Movie, based on the popular trading cards from Topps. It boasts a 0% on RottenTomatoes.com and is considered by many critics as one of the worst movies of all time. Movies like Battleship and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra didn’t have much luck with critics either. Most movies starring toys are usually released direct-to-video to prevent losing money in theaters.
     The recent resurgence in toys starring on the big screen can be accredited to the Transformers movies, the first released in 2007. Despite receiving a 57% on RottenTomatoes.com, the premiere film grossed $703 million and was the fifth largest grossing film of 2007. Hasbro and DreamWorks released two more Transformers movies, earning $836 million and $1.1 billion worldwide, making Transformers the twelfth highest grossing film series of all time. A fourth movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is being released in this summer.
    Hasbro and other toy companies also market their toys to children with TV shows. Cartoon Network, for example, airs many of these shows. Their most popular show is the Bionicle shows from Lego’s Bionicle toy line. Monster High, a toy series by Mattel, has had specials on Nickelodeon. Pokémon has reached its sixth generation of games released with Pokémon X and Y released in 2013.
Hasbro even created their own television channel, the Hub Network, on 10th 2010, in an effort to  market in a family-friendly network. Hasbro’s original shows have been a success with critics and audiences. The Aquabats! Super Show!, R. L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour, the Littlest Pet Shop, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have been nominated for Emmy awards from Costume Design to Best Original Song.
Despite general commercial success, many criticize the toy companies’ use of family-friendly movies and TV shows and channels to market to children. Movie and television critics, parental groups, and social critics worry about the effects of what this advertising has on children. Some view the movies and shows as a twenty-two minute advertisement.
According to a study by Bowling Green University, parents have the most control over what shows and movies their children see. Therefore parents do have the final say and can prevent an over-saturation of advertisements to their children.
The trend of making a toy the star of a movie or show will only grow in popularity, especially after the latest installment of the Transformers series.