It turns out that if you make action figures for girls, they’ll buy them.
DC Super Hero Girls, a new line of toys from Mattel featuring DC Comics’ female super heroes recast as high school students, had a strong debut, the company reported on its quarterly earnings call April 20. While the toys just began sales in March, and only at Target, Mattel’s president, Richard Dickson, was optimistic enough about their potential to flag it to investors. The line goes on sale more widely in June.
The toy industry has had a fraught relationship with female action figures lately. Hasbro was hammered by consumers and in the media for not selling a figure of Rey, the female protagonist from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, alongside those of her male counterparts. (The company said it didn’t want to reveal a major plot point.) It didn’t help Hasbro that it also excluded the heroine Black Widow from a toy set recreating a scene from Avengers: The Age of Ultron, despite the fact she was the key figure in the sequence. (She was replaced by Captain America in the toy version.) And these are only the most recent kerfuffles involving female action figures. Polygon lists some others.
There’s some irony that its Mattel is counting on sales of its female super heroes to prop up its results—the company is not exactly a bell weather for progressive toy design. In January, Mattel lost its rights to sell toys based on Disney Princesses, a franchise worth at least $300 million annually, to Hasbro. And with sales of its flagship Barbie and American Girl lines in decline, the company could use a hit.
While the conventional wisdom in the toy industry was that girls weren’t interested in action figures, Mattel’s early sales may be proving otherwise. DC Super Hero Girls, which features A-listers like Wonder Woman and Supergirl, as well as newcomers like Harley Quinn, come as both 12-inch dolls and 6-inch action figures, and have accompanying videos and mobile games. They’re a product of Toy Box, a new unit within Mattel designed to operate like a startup by moving quickly and taking chances.
Mattel and Target aren’t shy about calling attention to the toys’ forward-thinking design, trumpeting them as “the first-ever action role-play toys for girls.” Take that, Hasbro.
The new toys probably won’t overtake Barbie, still a $1 billion juggernaut, or completely replace the loss of the Disney Princesses. But listening to its customers and responding to the market isn’t a bad strategy for a company looking for some new heroes.