When we were little, my brother and I used to get overly excited whenever our parents came back from the mall carrying home appliances.
We would stand in the kitchen and wait until our mother had finished unpacking the boxes; as soon as the goods were out, we’d snatch the foam package used to protect the appliances, carry them into the living room, and begin the journey of space travels.
“I’m going to be Rick Hunter today,” he would say, claiming ownership to one of four six-inch Robotech figurines.
Rick was a pilot and arguably the most handsome member of Robotech’s Defense Force. My brother loved playing as Rick Hunter because he knew I would hate playing as the other three characters: Max Sterling, Lunk and Minmei — primarily because in the cartoon, they didn’t appear as cool as Rick.
The more we played, the better the stories we crafted for each character — and sometimes this turned each mission into a full-blown drama.
Over the years, there had been many dramatic scenarios, all unscripted, and all equally engrossing if you had been a part of the play. And every time we acquired a new space ship, my brother would say: “It flies like a dream, guys.”
As of 2020, the global toys and game market is seeing significant development in the Asia-Pacific region, primarily because more educational toys are seen as the better contender against toys which only promote core skills among children. Between 2020 and 2025, the market is expected to grow by 9.91% according to Globe Newswire. In China, pre-school and developmental toys that are linked to real-world intelligence, such as computing abilities and programming skills, prove to be more popular than toys which address only motoric skills.
For decades, the toys industry has always been the one to create trends, rather than follow them. Major players like Hasbro and Mattel are two brands which always put extra money on R & D and Product Development — searching for the next heroes and heroines which children can see themselves in.
Which comes first?
When the word storytelling is paired with the toy industry, the first thing that usually comes to mind is Pixar’s Toy Story — and it’s true that it makes a good example of how stories can be incorporated into selling toys. Believe it or not, a decade after the first Toy Story came out, approximately 25 million units of Buzz Lightyear and Woody characters had been sold globally. But if you wonder whether the toy comes before the movie or vice versa, let’s first look at how stories play a role in selling toys.
In the early 1980s until 1990s, Hasbro and Takara produced a robot toy line that could morph into an alternate form (vehicles, miniature guns, animals, cassettes, etc.) by moving the pieces around. The toys were made for little boys in Japan and the United States (its primary markets) who were obsessed with futuristic elements.
As was customary at the time, the best marketing option to sell toys was to create a comic book, TV show or theatrical film based on characters of the toys. So, after Hasbro had worked with Takara to produce the new line of toys, they contacted Marvel and asked the team of editors and writers to come up with a storyline for Transformers.
In 1984, Hasbro released the new line of toys; and its marketing effort primarily took on the shape of a Marvel comic book series, an animated TV series and a slew of merchandising items. Two years later, in 1986, Hasbro produced an animated feature film — which helped move their toy line off the counters.
Twenty years following the animated film’s success, Hasbro once again partnered with Marvel and released a live-action rendition of Transformers using state-of-the-art technology. The movie, released in 2007, was produced by Steven Spielberg with Shia LaBeouf starring in the lead and a star-studded cast of supporting actors which include Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight and Megan Fox.
The film became the highest-grossing feature of the year with USD 709.7 million in revenue and Hasbro made over USD 408 million for a Transformer toy line produced in 2005 and 2006 — long before the movie was released.
Wait, are you saying I have to make a movie to sell a product?
No, no. You just have to attach a narrative to your product. In the toys industry, that narrative means developing back stories to the characters they are selling in the form of a toy line.
The more the audience identify with the back stories, the faster your products are going to move. Let’s say you want to sell a box of chocolates. They may taste heavenly, but you also want your audience to know the chocolates were handmade using your great grandmother’s recipe who had had to steal it from her mother-in-law, who inherited it from her mother-in-law, but never bothered to make the recipe.
Let the story be the hook that adds to the experience of eating those chocolates.
The Transformer movie did exactly that for Hasbro’s toy line. It gave a name to a plastic face, a whole living experiences to an otherwise lifeless toy, and an expansive universe to explore.
Up Next week…
Transmedia storytelling. What does it mean to sell through mediums of story? And how can you use stories as part of your marketing efforts for your products or services without investing in something as expensive as a feature film?
We get it. Not everyone has Hasbro’s capital.
However, transmedia storytelling isn’t just popular among toy companies, it is also a popular form of communication among news media companies, film production companies, and comic book publishers.
Wait for it next Monday, Feb 15 at 9 a.m.
Find out more?
Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer
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