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Licensing nostalgia: Why Mattel is looking to the allure of yesteryear in 2020 and beyond

Whether it’s in the revival of the Masters of the Universe franchise, the ongoing celebrations for the 75th anniversary of Thomas and Friends, or the new waves that its pre-school brand Fisher-Price is making across markets right now, Mattel is well and truly tapping into the nostalgia trend this year.

With partnerships, new launches, and ’80s throwbacks flying out of Mattel’s consumer products division at a rate of knots these past few months, it’s little wonder that the firm has found it licensing business ‘busier than ever’. Now, boasting a portfolio of more than 100 new deals in the pipeline, the international toy maker and home of some of the biggest children’s IP on the planet is betting big on the appeal of yesteryear.

As Festival of Licensing edges ever closer – now only a matter of days away – ToyNews catches up with Mattel’s regional head of consumer products, Lisa Weger to find out just how big the nostalgia trip really is right now.

Despite the consensus that business has slowed over the last six months, we’ve seen a fair bit of activity and news coming from Mattel and its activity in the licensing space. What has 2020 been like for you guys?

There was an initial lull in business as partners adjusted to the new circumstances. However, as soon as they realized that eventually things would return to normal, Mattel’s consumer products business got busier than ever. We currently have more than 100 new deals in the pipeline across the region and most of those came in Q2.

All the data shows that partners are looking for stable evergreen portfolios that will perform independent of content releases. Mattel’s portfolio delivers that in spades, and we’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm in the market for our brands.

Can you talk us through some of the biggest developments for you guys over the last few months?

We had our most successful launch of Barbie T-shirts in Zara in May of this year, followed by a strong selling cross-category Barbie launch in more than 2,500 Biedronka stores in Poland. We are also working on our extensive marketing programmes to support our upcoming launches with Very and Skinny Dip, as well as programmes with other major retailers.

We also have a great new Barbie sewing machine launching with Sambro in Argos so kids will be to make clothes for Barbie and even themselves now.

We are also really excited about our upcoming lifestyle launches with several key fast fashion retailers including H&M for Hot Wheels. We are expanding our successful RC and arts and crafts lines, and we also have a Monster Truck brand extension launching in fall of this year.

We are seeing some of the most exciting product development coming through for Fisher-Price, some of the best that we have seen in years. We have a wonderful new offering from Eldohm musical instruments and exciting new products launching in the outdoor and mobility categories. And of course, we have had a fantastic year celebrating Thomas’ 75th Anniversary and we are looking forward to showcasing our partnership with Harrods in December.

What do you look for when translating the toy IP into the wider licensing space? Why is there such a demand for toy-driven IP across the wider licensing space at the moment, and how do you think this is shaping the look of the consumer products market currently? 

As we all know, the current pandemic has changed almost everything. Television and movie productions ground to a temporary halt and partners went in search of evergreen properties. Mattel has benefited from that and, while we all hope that the film and TV industry will be back in full swing soon, I do think that partners are liable to stick with more stable portfolios for the time being.

As far as translating toy IP to licensing, it’s always important that we make sure our product offering stays true to the brand’s DNA. We ask ourselves: what is it about this brand that sparks joy in our consumer? And will the CP product that we are developing add to that story? Will it attract that brand fan? And will it add value to the brand experience? This holds true for any product: physical, digital, entertainment or services.

 How has Mattel’s licensing strategy adapted to and evolved with the changes brought about by 2020?
We were already focused on our product and making sure we were delivering the right experience for the consumer. That required a re-focusing of our efforts and a tight collaboration between our commercial and creative teams. The change in 2020 gave us the little bit of extra time we needed to double down on those efforts while also allowing us time to research and reach out to new partners.

Have you seen any emerging trends in the licensing space over the course of the year, and how have you positioned the brand to tap into them?

We’ve seen an uptick in arts and crafts, pets, leisurewear, personalisation, home décor, puzzles and reading and we have taken advantage of all of them. These trends do offer us new and exciting ways to explore category extensions for our brands.

 Have you got any further plans to tap into this market through licensing?

Nostalgia is big right now. People are looking for comfort and familiarity. If there is one thing, we’ve all learned in 2020 it’s that planning has become much more difficult. People are turning to what they know. They’re reaching for brands that bring happy memories. You will see a lot of new product development on our brands that bring back those nostalgic looks, and products that spark joy in our adult consumer.

 What will you guys be showcasing at Festival of Licensing next month?

There is too much new news to cover, but we will be bringing exciting brand updates on all of our core properties as well as some exciting new launches in our game’s category and promotions across all of our brands.

 What will be leading the charge for Mattel’s licensing division for the rest of 2020 and into 2021?

It’s all about the products and the partnerships for us. We will be working to support our licensees and retail partners while keeping our main focus on constantly improving our product offering.

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