Anatomy of a blockbuster toy: Stretch Armstrong

From its 1976 debut to a global fame that spans licensed toy lines and its own Netflix series, Stretch Armstrong’s success is one that covers multiple generations. Robert Hutchins gets hands on with this iconic muscle man.
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If there was one thing the Seventies wasn’t short of, it was stout, blonde, well-muscled men wearing speedos with an athletic penchant for contortionism.

Stretch Armstrong wasn’t performing too badly either, and following its introduction to the toy aisles in 1976, the limitations of child’s play (and indeed mankind’s own endeavor for optimum elasticity) has never been the same.

A concept first developed by Bill Armasmith and brought to market by toymaker Kenner, Stretch Armstrong quickly went on to secure a cult following, the more avid among which will happily pay upwards of $1,800 for an unspoiled original Stretch action figure today.

Between 1976 and the early 1990s, the world’s toy shops were brimming with elasticated anthropoids that covered almost all topics from X-Ray powered mutants and Mego Elastic Donald Duck to Mexico’s own take on the muscle-man, El Hombre Elastico.

Its global appeal and readily translatable concept is one that has surely cemented the toy’s place along the industry’s walk of fame.

In the 1990s, the toy landed at the door of the firm now charged with bringing Stretch Armstrong to a new generation of kids today, Character Options.

“Character has a long history with Stretch Armstrong and we enjoyed great success with him in the Nineties,” Character Options’ marketing manager, Mark Hunt tells ToyNews.

“We were delighted to be given the chance to bring him back this year and we have been busy planning his re-launch to our 2016 portfolio to ensure that this superhero returns with maximum impact.

“Stretch Armstrong is a classic play pattern, as soon as you pick him up, you just have to stretch. We fully expect the toy to resonate with the older consumer who remembers the classic as well as being a big hit with our core target audience of kids aged five to nine.

“Our expectations are very high and we have an integrated plan that involves bang-up-to-date TVC, digital and print schedules, not to mention a huge drive with the online influencers. We are expecting the re-emergence of Stretch Armstrong to be a great success.”

The toy has already got off to a flying start for the global toy company who earlier this year named the Stretch Armstrong among the leading brands to help it to an overall revenue increase of 12 per cent in its half yearly financial report.

Of course, the newest iteration is not the first time that Stretch has attempted a comeback. In 2008, Universal Studios signed a deal with Hasbro to develop a film based on the Stretch Armstrong brand with Twilight star Taylor Lautner on board to play the man himself. Tipped at the time for a 2012 release, the movie never emerged.

However, not ones to surrender a vision, brand owner Hasbro has taken its own steps to reboot the hero for today’s audience of youngsters in a new partnership between Hasbro Studios and online streaming service, Netflix.

The new animated action-comedy series, titled Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, follows Jake Armstrong and his two best friends who obtain super powers when they are accidentally exposed to an radical chemical. The series is scheduled to debut on Netflix in 2017 with an accompanying new toy line.

Meanwhile, back in the here and now, there is nothing experimental about Stretch Armstrong’s return via Character, with excitement evident from a raft of retail partners.

“We are very grateful for their support in bringing this iconic toy back to market this year,” continues Hunt. ”Of course, the media reaction at Toy Fair proved that his popularity never waned and in terms of our classic, iconic Stretch Armstrong character, there’s a lot to come in 2017. We are going to stretch the boundaries a little.”

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