Super Hero Squad Rumorbuster

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An open letter to DC and Mattel on how to compete...

Like the title says, this is an open letter to DC and Mattel on how to compete... with the Super Hero Squad.

After the first couple waves of Super Hero Squad came out and demonstrated that the line wasn’t necessarily the flash in the pan that many toy lines end up being (a set of core characters get represented, but the line implodes, so collectors end up with a handful of Attactix or Super Hero Showdown or whatever else) many people seemed to ask “When will DC get into this?”

In Q&As like this or this Mattel tends to be very evasive on the subject. Never ruling out a competing line, but never officially admitting to anything. So in the spirit of brotherhood, we suggest the following steps DC and Mattel need to do in order to compete with Marvel’s Super Hero Squad, and maybe even beat them.

1) Quality control. Ask any SHS fan what their pet peeve is and they’ll likely say paint applications. Or too many Spider-Men. But it’s likely quality control. If you don’t cheap out on the plastic (see: The Ben Reilly Spider-Man that’s flimsy and 3/4 the size of most other Spider-Men figures) and, like your mother always said “color within the lines” you’ll be all set.

2) Distribution. If you want to be top dog, get your distribution issues under control. Yeah, there’s some hunting with the Super Hero Squad, and yeah, sometimes the case distribution is bizarre (see She-Hulk) but you can currently go to the Hasbro Toy Shop site and order approximately half of the line (if they ship to you that is. Sorry Australia.) and they have been very good about making current waves available for pre-order on the site before going to retail. The easier you make purchasing, the better.

3) Character Selection. How many Justice Leaguers have their been? Justice Society? Titans? Think of the Legion. With rumors that you’re going to produce 45 characters for the Infinite Heroes line in 2008 (with the figures not even dropping till late summer) you seem to recognize the value of mining a diverse character catalog. While Super Hero Squad has set a pretty high bar, producing many characters and filling out many of the big names in the X-Men, Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Defenders rosters, there are certainly people willing to trade 15 or so Spider-Men for new characters.

4) Comic-accurate vehicles and playsets. Fans didn’t want the Spider-Truckor the Spider-Racer (at least not the fans I’ve heard from) so while Super Hero Squad Vehicles and Playsets rely on “play factor”, completists and the “kid” market, you could catch the borderline collectors with a well designed Batmobile, Batcave, Fortress of Solitude, Justice League Satelite/Embassy/Cave/whatever else they’ve used. Playsets and vehicles will always be a hard sell (or so the conventional wisdom goes), so why not go for both the kids AND the collectors who want some fine wheels for Batman.

5) Take chances. When most “outsiders” look at SHS, they immediately jump to the riskier moves Hasbro has taken with the line. Ghost Rider, Punisher and Elektra were all early characters. Ultimate Giant Man and Nick Fury before 616 counterparts. Super-smiley Galactus om-nom-nom’ing. In that spirit, throw us a few Doom Patrol characters. And don’t give us that “oh, we keep Vertigo separate” line… Animal Man switched back to the mainstream universe for 52, Doom Patrol came back for their last couple series (and appearances in the Teen Titans cartoon), the Golden Age Sandman came back. Kids are more likely to pick up a Jamie Delano trade of Hellblazer sitting right next to the Superman books at Borders after seeing the movie on FX at 3 in the afternoon than picking up a classic issue of Swamp Thing (which… didn’t you produce a cartoon of Swamp Thing right around the time Abby was committing obscenities with him? Huh.)

6) Brand it early. SHS began in early 2007, after a demonstrated dedication to the format shown by other lines like Star Wars Galactic Heroes which had begun in 2004. It wasn’t as experimental or risky a concept as some would believe. It was literally a matter of throwing another license at the format. It wasn’t until early 2008 that fans learned of what promises to be a huge branding push for the line… books (potentially comic books), an animated series, a direct to DVD feature, a video game.

DC has the benefit of a long-established tradition of stylized youth-oriented comics, through both titles representing its various animated series and more experimental fare like Tiny Titans, as well as its Cartoon Network properties. Slap the brand onto your youth line, or even just particular books like Tiny Titans, and make sure those characters get represented in the toy line. Inability to work out a deal for the late, lamented Legion of Super Heroes toys based on the animate series resulted in missed synergy for that brand. Coordinate character “looks” like you already do with Super Friends.

So make sure you hit characters represented in Brave and the Bold, and even Teen Titans and Justice League (which still have large followings), make sure that the toy line's name crosses from comic book to toy line to general merchandise. Put it on folders or even the mythical Trapper Keeper. But make sure that thee brand is cohesive. Now, I'm not suggesting you renamed Batman: Brave and the Bold to "DC Super Powers Presents Batman In The Brave and the Bold Showcase" but how bout putting a Super Power (or whatever name you choose) logo on a splash panel at the end of every episode?

7) When in doubt, sculpt it out. A big complaint of SHS collectors is the number of re-used sculpts, especially Spider-Men and Hulks. While there’s definitely a market who will buy everything, and another who buys strictly for play value, there’s an entire market out there that will not purchase yet another Spider-Man shooting a web at the ground or Captain America with shield on his arm. They would rather have Superman in flight, Superman with “dem laser eyes” (aka, heat vision), Superman with super-breath, Superman mid-punch, Batman with Batarang, Batman mid-kick, Batman with grappling hook out. This may require more cash than the Justice League Unlimited (so named because of the unlimited number of re-used body parts) but surely the DC Universe Classics line has shown you that fans love great sculpts.

8) Don’t be afraid to recycle. But I don’t mean figure sculpts. This time, don’t use the Super Friends name, already in use with their Spider-Man & Friends-esque line. Bring back Super Powers.

9) Stay away from arctic radiation polka dot space armors. If you want to put another Batman or Superman out, then do both kids and collectors a favor and give them a straight out new version of the character, not a gimmick version. Tek-suits and radiation-suits and cyber-suits and mechano-suits aren’t really what make the figure. It’s doubtful that many kids are wishing they had a complete set of JLA parka-wearing figures. They want the character, and if they have to settle with the latest day-glo neon Batman, they will, but it’s really Batman that they want.

10) More characters per wave. The 4 2-packs per wave is nice, but most collectors, casual and hard-core, would love to drop an additional $6.50 when a new wave comes out if that meant a couple more characters.

11) Be flexible. Offer 2 packs. 3 packs. 5 packs. A Batman Family. A Superman Revenge Squad or Rogues Gallery multi-pack. If Doomsday requires a big sculpt, then give it to him but do not make fans purchase a Giganta-sized Doomsday just because figures must be either standard-sized or mega-sized and nowhere in between.

12) And this one is just from me to you: Stay away from the chase. Sometimes it's nice to know that a 4 packs equal one wave. That I can pre-order everything online. That I won't pay a premium for a pack because there's a different paint scheme.

Unless I’m wrong. I will happily accept any marketing data that anyone can show me saying that Magic-Repelling Costume Superman sells better than ole-fashioned vanilla Superman.

I know it’s been Generally Accepted Action Figure Protocol (GAAFP) since the legendary days of He-Man and his Masters of the Universe that nobody wants “just another figure” so you need to make it different, better, cooler."

“What’s that Bill? We need another wave of MOTU? Ok, so this time give He-Man flying fists or battle armor.”

But toy lines are often built on a lot of conventional wisdom that isn’t always borne out. See Pre-Marvel Legends Toybiz Marvel figures with action features like squirting water and robot dinosaurs versus Marvel Legends and Classics figures.
And those would be our suggestions for putting out a line of Super Hero Squad competing figures. And if you’ve got a little more time, we’d be happy to give you more suggestions.

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