From Astro Boy to Iron Man: toys keep media alive
Every geek must admit: merch enriches fandoms. And what kind of geek are you if you don’t have a toy collection, no matter how big or small it is?
Take it from Star Wars fans and lightsabers you can actually hit with. Or action figures of Final Fantasy’s Cloud Strife. How about a quantum suit hoodie to match your Iron Man Mark 85 from Avengers Endgame? Items help promote media products: whether it is a TV show, video game, or movie.
Mass media toys for promotion
In the book Anime’s Media Mix: Franchising Toys and Characters in Japan, author Marc Steinber discusses how the merch and media relationship started in 1960s Japan. It started with chocolate stickers and Astroboy, then a famous comic character. It’s the first wave of what is called masu komi gangu or mass media toys made by companies to increase sales by riding on iconic characters’ popularity, while indirectly contributing to a media product’s prominence through indirect advertisements.
While these mass media toys targeted series fans for sales, they also helped extend the longevity of the media product. Action figure owners, for example, can create their own stories based on their toys. Play sessions then extends a character’s story from the official to the personal. This helps both the toy company and the media product, and has since been practiced as a marketing strategy worldwide.
Toys’ role on media consumerism
One success story for mass media toys is Gundam. It’s fame didn’t blow up until plastic model kits based on the show’s giant robots were released. And this happened after the anime’s last episode aired. This revived interest in the series and started an entire franchise spanning different Gundam stories. Today, over 500 million Gundam plastic models or Gunpla have been sold in the franchise’s 40 years of existence. Check out the details in the clip below.
As for movies, notice that merchandise announcements are much awaited. Some toys give clues to what to expect from these movies, like Lego depicting that big battle in Avengers Endgame. Others, meanwhile, were meant to misdirect potential viewers, such putting Finn’s figure in Monopoly to avoid spoiling Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ twist.
In the end, media products nowadays can’t detach themselves from toys, especially big franchises. Because as long as there are geeks of different ages, toys for collections will always be a hit.