From GI Joe to Green Lantern to Cars 2; Are Tie-In Movies in Trouble?

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In my last blog posting, I wrote about the critical failure of Cars 2 and what it may mean for the toy industry.  What difference does it make if a movie is a critical failure but still does big box office?  Well, maybe a lot. 

Think about this:  Over the last two years, how many successful movie tie-ins have there been in terms of product sales?  Transformers, despite a critical success and strong box office, has not been producing the sales or excitement off the shelf that it once did.  GI Joe performed surprisingly weakly on store shelves as well (in fact I am told that its shelf presence has actually shrunk since the movie came out).  Green Lantern is not moving.  Thor, Captain America and Iron Man appear to be creating little excitement.  Even Toy Story 3, a critical success, provided disappointing sales.

What is the problem?  One reason may be that the lucrative relationship between the toy companies and the movie studios may have run its course.  Movies that are perceived as designed to sell toys, bedding and t-shirts begin to wear the consumer out over time.  As I stated in my prior posting, parents who control the family purse begin to feel manipulated and eventually angry when they feel they are being controlled through their children’s emotions.  Perhaps too many movies made to sell too many franchises begin to create a backlash among cash strapped parents.

It may be wise for studios and toy companies to chill for a while.  Maybe concentrate on making fewer movies that begin with a great story rather than a great marketing strategy.   



10 thoughts

  1. I believe it’s not necessarily any one thing that causes the licensed goods to not move today. There are a number of contributing factors: the economy, the licensing burn out parents feel, the sameness of movie plots (or marketing and special FX templates) are all culprits. In fact, I would even add a couple more items to that list. First of all the licensing model by definition robs the toy of play value in terms of innovation, technology, play features and quality. The large toy makers partner with Hollywood to mitigate their marketing risks and think they are playing it safe. But the price they pay is a double digit royalty that bites deeply into product innovation and ultimately user appeal. When the block busters translate to sales, that’s OK, but what if they don’t? It’s no surpise Lego toys win parents’ hearts and wallet today. I am surprised ,however, the mom who wrote previously suggested Star Wars toys represented traditional value… it all started with Star Wars! The deminished SW toys value was because of the 25% royalty paid to Lucas! The high royalty sucked the oxygen out of toy innovation and quality. The other issue has been coming on for a long time, and that is “age compression”. The dollars you can always count on for action figures and collectibles of block buster movies (particularly the comic book derived ones like X-Men, Green Lantern, etc.)are relatively small. These are diehards who wait for TRU deliveries at the back of the store. But the real business is made up of kids who once upon a time drove mega sales like Turtles and He-Man Masters of the Universe. These are younger and are the targeted ages, but today you’re competing against I-Pod apps, Angry Bird, X-Box and PS3. The point is the licensing model has moved on to other more Interactive platforms and kids play very differently because of that. Richard is right toy companies and Hollywood should have a temporary separation, but if they should remarry, the terms of the relationship should be reexamined very seriously.

  2. I would add that the higher cost of these licensed products is impacting sales. For example, the price of a single movie based action figure has almost doubled in the last three years.
    You’d think when Hasbro was selling movie toys based on their own properties, they could afford to A) put more into the products or B) reduce the price because they weren’t paying someone else a licensing fee. In the case of GI JOE, they did neither. No wonder the movie toys bombed.

  3. Collectibles for Collectors. There’s that “C” word. That’s all relative. One can find countless collectibles in personal garages as well as wholesale warehouses. They are only Collectible and sold for a higher perceived value in cash, if someone wants to pay that much cash for whatever the item is. Too many motion pictures in distribution offering the same formula is tantamount to going to any lunch counter and seeing the same peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You might change the bread and the jelly, but after looking at the 29th sandwich, one gets the idea. With less expendable income, our largest demographic is now Baby Boomers, with far fewer youth; and while the Boomers may well be looking for entertainment, story and more often meaning as diversion, that does not mean they need to reach into wallet, with vast other areas of lacking needs in the Boomer’s economy, to take home a collectible, a souvenir, or another useless piece of plastic.

  4. I am not sure I would be so quick to agree with the psychological shift in parenthood as the reason recent tie-in movies fail to meet box-office or merchandise sales expectations. There are far more basic business and less cerebral reasons that often affect programs like this. For one there are so many tie-in movies that you barely get the popcorn swept up from one and there is another on one the screen. Same goes for the number of tie-in toy. Toy stores might as well run these toys on a conveyor belt rather than shelves so they can get them in and out before the next one comes along.
    All kidding aside we are still in tough times. Movies and toys are clearly a part of expendable income that many no long possess. While many may be more willing to spend a few bucks on a movie as an effective escape from tough times, fewer are willing to consider the “quick toy fix” as a worthy investment.
    Summer movies have always been more eye candy than substance and the related merchandise more trinkets in nature. However I respectfully doubt this year’s relative disappointment has a lot to do with major shifts in parental psyche. As they say timing is everything and this is poor timing for too many movies and toys in a world with too few dollars to spend.

  5. I think one of the biggest failing of the movie to toy market atm is that its seeming a little forced and the amount poeple are getting for their money is visually becoming less. Yes what they’re getting is getting much more complex from an engineering point(Especially in the case of transformers) But even with very clever electronics, the size of what you get is going down.
    Perceived value on the parent power side seems to be increasingly ignored for some bizarre reason. Pester power can only go so far and in a recession it has even less sway.
    Plus there seems to be a move to a ‘Collect them all’ mentallity, but with changing productranges happening so fast and the push to promote the new products the consumer and the shop keeper sipley can’t keep up, Leaving shops with ‘old stock’ while customers are clamering for the new.
    Theres been too much too fast and those waves are returning and effecting the companies who created them in the first place.

  6. Good points-
    Parents aren’t buying low quality toys that they recognize as being targeted at a short-cycle fascination.
    Particularly if these toys aren’t part of a larger system- like Lego, etc.
    …..Also- When the budget is squeezed, you can see the movie without buying the toys- but doubtfully will buy the toys without seeing the movie.

  7. Richard, as a long-time toy retailer we have seen the movie tie-ins actually diminish product sales for lines like GI Joe and Transformers. Prior to their movies, both licenses were strong and steady sellers. Transformers had enjoyed a 25 year run as a fabulous interactive toy.
    Once the respective movies came out, however, the toys quickly shifted from steady to seasonal. In fact, the GI Joe movie killed our sales of GI Joe products completely.
    I think part of the problem is the tie-in to the movie, linking the toy back to one single storyline. It limits the toy.
    Without the movie the child has to create the storyline, use his imagination. With the movie the storyline is fed to him, thus taking his imagination out of the equation.
    So the toy loses its play value.
    And if the movie stinks? The toy stinks by association because the one single storyline is no good.
    And as final point, I agree the hype that surrounds movies and their associated toys has also started to wear thin on parents who are looking for more than short-term play value.

  8. Richard: good observation, and I wonder if part of the shift is a new generation of parents. The much maligned “gen Y” are now slowly entering parenthood across the country. This is a much “edgier” batch of parents, who appreciate individual tastes in culture and music, and align with brands that are less mainstream. The fact that brands like Kidrobot are as successful as they are with this age band speaks volumes. Maybe the big studio products just don’t resonate with new parents the way they have in the past is a by-product of the parents’ viewpoint these days.
    No offense to Disney, as it was a huge part of my media experience growing up, but frankly I’m happy to see a move toward more diversity and individuality.

  9. As a parent and toy designer, I can tell you that I am often disappointed in the quality of the movie related toys. My boys were very excited with the first round of Transformer toys and when they quickly broke and lost pieces, we haven’t looked at them again. We tend to lean toward classics like Logos, Star Wars figures and wood toys around here- things that will last past a movie opening.

  10. “Green Lantern is not moving. Thor, Captain America and Iron Man appear to be creating little excitement.”
    Maybe with kids and moms, but there is still a demand for these in the collector market. Part of the problem is that the big retailers order heavy on the first wave (first waves are usually heavy on the main character) so there’s no room for the next wave/characters. Hasbro’s Captain America line have more character diversity. As a result Cap is already on wave 3… Thor is still stuck on wave 1.

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