Last week at Comic-Con International 2012 in San Diego, Hasbro was able to give us at ActionFigs.com an official interview with the Hasbro Marvel brand team members present, a few hours before their Hasbro Marvel Update panel
We were given interview with Dwight Stall (senior Marvel product design manager at Hasbro) and Adam Biehl (senior director, global Marvel line at Hasbro). Since Hasbro's time was limited, we jumped right into the questions...
ActionFigs.com: So, I'll start off with the Universe. There's Jubilee in there. She's a more modern look.
Hasbro (DS): Yes.
ActionFigs.com: Will there be any chance of her being repainted to her 90's, her classic, look?
Hasbro (DS): That's a good question. It's a fair question. I don't know if the 90's look would be appropriate for that sculpt as a repaint. She was not a girl for spandex. So, I don't think the bagginess of the pants would look quite right on that sculpt. That's not to say that the opportunity, if she's a big hit, to go back and do her Origins look would not be there, but I would not recommend... We do take liberties from time to time, but I think fans would cry foul if we tried to paint that costume on that body as it is.
ActionFigs.com: Alright. Can you guys do Rom: SpaceKnight or is there something forbidden about that?
Hasbro (DS): There, while most figures are open to us, there are a handful of exceptions that a little bit more tricky.
Hasbro (AB): Yeah. To be announced, what we're going to do in that arena in partnership with Marvel, of course.
ActionFigs.com: So how do you balance popular figures, against more cult characters? Like for example, Alpha Flight - the comic has never been really successful, but you guys do do the ocassional figure, but you can't get everybody in that one look. So how do you balance that out?
Hasbro (DS): It's a full team discussion. We sit around tables and we have fantastic partners on all aspects of the Marvel team - from super uber Marvel fans, from the model shop, to our engineering team, to our marketing, to our design. We're very lucky in that fashion at Hasbro on this team specifically. We all sit around and we come up with them together. Design usually makes some rough line plans, shares them with Jesse Falcon [director of merchandising] at Marvel, and when we're happy with what we've got, we bring it to marketing, and then kind of work with them to finesse it. Because, sometimes, they just say "You're not focused today, are you?" And we have to tweak and adjust.
Hasbro (AB): I think the fans should be happy and proud that there are just as rabid fans in the halls of Hasbro. We don't all work on Marvel, by the way. But they're consultants for us. It's the best kind of kitchen research to have the real fans, you know. One of our engineers is a big fan cry foul. When he makes a choice and they hash it out and, you know, we talk to our friends in Marvel. Jesse and his entire team. You know, and we listen. You know, we listen to feedback and thoughts and we see reactions to other figures and we've got to make the right choices. We want to satisfy as many people as possible. Marvel Universe has over 8000 characters and we're never going to satisfy everybody, but we'll get as much as possible. So I think these guys do a great job, leaning heavy into the most popular, you know, A-list you got to have 'em. Everyone's like yeah must have. We throw little curve ones in there once in a while and keep people on their heels.
Hasbro (DS): And luckily enough, our engineer is rather slender. So if I can get my hands on him, I can pretty much take care of it. But he's a wiry little guy. So, you know. Sometimes he. He's a little hard to trap. [All laughing]
ActionFigs.com: So do you guys hear back from the retailers about B- and C-list characters when you try to put them in? Or are your retail buyers pretty open for the line, because you have a lot of A-list?
Hasbro (AB): I think our buyers are happy with the way we manage. It's not just the characters, but it's the way we weight them when we ship them. So we obviously weight the rarer characters lighter. And we're really good at doing that across action figures. [Hasbro] has been doing that since the 70's. And that's why you don't see solid packs of action figures. We control the weighting. Whether it's the kid's stuff or the collector stuff.
ActionFigs.com: But for specific characters, do retailers say "Oh, we want more of - not just Iron Man and Spider Man - but the B-guys." Or even less of those?
Hasbro (AB): Sometimes. But we don't get a lot of critique about our character weighting. On our collector's stuff. On some of our more mass stuff, when we're in the Avengers for example and Avengers movie time frame, you get shocked at what the best selling characters would be for the movies. Because you don't ever... It's actually a little easier to predict what collectors want. It's harder to predict what kids want. That's maybe where we fight bigger battles and we fight bigger volumes.
ActionFigs.com: Speaking of kids. You have several movie lines this year. And I noticed that Avengers and Spider Man, as the price has gone up since the business has gotten more difficult, sometimes you'll see less articulation at the same time.
Hasbro (DS): Absolutely. Kids, what we've found in both through research as well as just experiencing what's happening in retail, kids don't have this same level of expectation on articulation. We still make sure to throw a super articulated Spider Man in the line, because kids and collectors care about that. But when we're talking about these key price points, we want to make sure for example that we don't go above that key ten dollar price. We've been fighting that battle for many years. We make decisions on deco and articulation, knowing that kid's and collectors alike can always find that in our Marvel Universe and our Marvel Legends product lines.
Hasbro (AB): That kind of goes under the category of "not all things are created equal". While all of our products are safe for the consumable masses, the play experience varies between what a collector wants to play and what a kid wants to play. It's not quite the same and we really want to make sure, above and beyond all else, is that the play experience delivers upon the desire of the consumer. And sometimes the Avengers line, as an example, has a little less articulation to make them a little bit more solid. So that they can't be customized as easily, like the other lines where you can pop things apart. I don't want these things falling apart for a child. I have kids and it drives me crazy when they dump out the toy box and their figures are missing hands. Their hand's gone. They're like "Daddy. It's broken". Well, it's not broken, but I can see how it could be not as much fun for them to play with immediately.
ActionFigs.com: And that's even when you could bring back an old tool, like from an Iron Man 2 on the Avengers line. You seem to go with a new tool over that.
Hasbro (AB): Well, yeah, but we do that sometimes. Sometimes, believe it or not, it's cheaper to create a new than it is to dip into our tooling library from past years.
Hasbro (DS): And it also gives us the opportunity to refresh a look, because it's in line with entertainment better. Whether it's a movie or an animation.
ActionFigs.com: Super Hero Squad seemed to kind of disappear, and then, all of a sudden, it just comes back out of nowhere. We've been seeing more Spider Man at Target, Toys R Us. And Avengers sets on eBay and Amazon. There are new pieces in them, but what about bringing back some of very difficult to find earlier ones from like Beast and Ice Man from like 2007, Thor and Hercules, that sort of thing?
Hasbro (AB): I think Super Hero Squad is interesting. I liken it and let's see if Dwight agrees with me, I liken it to the Muggs, in that, it's a betweener expression. It's not for everybody. Some kids like it. And some collectors like it. But what we found is it's way way more of a deep kid buy in than it is a collector buy in. We will make sure when the movies come out, we still do a set to go with the films. But in the end, most of the buy in and we've got some very loud collectors that really scream for the Super Hero Squad to come back. But for us, it's really kid expression. Not just the stuff we do in the boy's line, but the preschool line is taking that expression. Called it Super Hero Adventures, Spider Man Adventures, and brought it out huge. Sold it worldwide and it's doing very well there. We're glad that we could do that. And they're kind of in classic looks.
Hasbro (DS): I agree with absolutely everything you said.
ActionFigs.com: So, I only have a few more seconds. Is there any thought to doing, not on this line [Legends] so much but on Universe, premium expressions of existing figures: more paints or maybe higher quality...?
Hasbro (DS): Similar to to the Vintage line with Star Wars?
ActionFigs.com: Similar more to the Transformers Premium. The Vintage line is their only main one for movies so...
Hasbro (DS): Honestly, no. We've not looked at that currently. We consider the line as it is to be pretty much the benchmark, currently, for our Marvel 3 3/4-inch collecting community. That's a very interesting thought and can add that to the list of the other dozen interesting comments that have been brought to us by the fan community this week.
ActionFigs.com: Sure. So Marvel Legends is not your's originally. It came from Toy Biz line and so there's been a lot of water under that bridge. Do you find it difficult to come back to characters that have been done in that line so often? It's the same scale, but your tooling now. Or is it pretty easy to just say to the fans that "this is new and I hope you like it."
Hasbro (DS): I think that kind of goes to the thought process of we always need to have new to continue. So, we need to have more children get into this line. We need to have new fans. While you may have bought Captain America ten years ago, from the Toy Biz line, ten years has passed. That'a generation. And with that generation we have all new buyers that don't necessarily have that classic Cap or whatever character you're discussing. Some characters like Iron Man, gets a new suit of armor every couple years. So he's easy to evolve. But I think when the time is right, making some of those classics - those greatest hits of Toy Biz and/or our early years - to refresh them and bring them back out along with all new never-before-seen figures, I think that's always a viable option.
Hasbro (AB): I think that Marvel encourages that as well. They like to see us growing our tooling library so that we can continue to offer more great characters ongoing, and refreshing the classics.
ActionFigs.com: So you don't feel the weight of the past, then? It's always free?
Hasbro (DS): Yeah. I think the past only helps us. You know, it's inspiring.
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And with that, our time expired, so there you have it for our 2012 SDCC Hasbro Marvel interview.
We would like to thank Mr. Stall and Mr. Biehl, as well as everybody at Team Hasbro who made this interview possible.