The new Mattel ‘DC Super Hero Girls’ toy line isn’t just another pretty doll collection for young girls– although they are that– but a completely new attempt to market super heroes to this audience, who already make up 9% of the action figure-buying market.  It’s a relatively small number, but it represents a sizable enough group for Mattel to stand up and pay attention.  Jim Silver, editor of toy review site sums it up, saying “Everybody has ignored it, but now the world has changed.  Gender barriers are breaking down, from girls playing with Hot Wheels to boys playing with Easy-Bake Oven. Why can’t girls save the world?”

The stakes are high for Mattel, who has watched it’s $1 billion a year Barbie franchise wane in sales for years and will be losing  the lucrative Disney Princess brand– which includes juggernaut ‘Frozen’– at the end of the year as it shifts to Hasbro, which holds the licenses to Disney’s subsidiaries Marvel Super Heroes and ‘Star Wars’.

Mattel already held the rights to DC Comics’ roster of super heroes, but hasn’t fully exploited it in years.  ‘DC Super Hero Girls’ employs a strategy that has worked for the toy maker in recent years with proven hits ‘Monster High’ and ‘Ever After High’– re-imagining the heroes and villains of the DC Universe as teenagers in high school.  Clearly elements had to be toned WAY down for a juvenile audience.  The example given is Harley Quinn, a psychotic mass murderer in the comics, who is re-imagined as a practical joker in the toy line.

After research, it turned out that girls and boys wanted different things from their action heroes.

Boys are totally fine with killing off the villains; girls wanted the bad guys to be redeemed and turned into friends. Girls also desired different superpowers, including the ability to talk to animals, hear whispers, and force people to tell the truth.

At the same time, girls poo-pooed the first designs for the toys for being too girlie.  The first dolls were described as being “more pretty than superhero.”  Girls also pointed out that a flowing scarf on the first Poison Ivy doll would get in the way during a fight and complained that they dolls were too skinny and not muscular enough.  Designers also opted to stick with traditional colors, keeping Supergirl’s costume blue and RED instead of the girlie-go-to pink.

Designer Christine Kim explained, “We wanted to have this very strong, toned body, but keeping in mind that they are still in high school, so they’re not fully mature yet.  But they still look like they can save the day instead of being saved.”

The dolls even passed the test with a more critical audience– adult feminists, many of whom had rallied against Mattel for years.  One such critic, Melissa Atkins Wardy, a mother of two, was prepared to hate the dolls, but was actually taken in with them, saying “It’s everything we’ve been advocating for, right down to the muscle tone in the dolls.”

The toys are being unveiled at NYCC this weekend.  When they arrive in store this spring, there will be two main lines, 12″ fashion dolls and 6″ plastic action figures– a rarity in girl playthings.  There will also be role play toys such as Batgirl’s utility belt and a Wonder Woman shield that launches flying discs.

The characters will be introduced to their target audience via a web animated series, DC graphic novels and Scholastic YA novels as well as TV and DVD movies.

Are you intrigued by this new toy line?  Do you have young girls that love super heroes that could go for these toys?  Or are you an adult collector who will be adding these to your collection?

Source: Bloomberg Business