Hasbro (HAS) has been able to cash in on its marquee brands in recent years, breathing new life into decades-old toy franchises through theatrical releases and updated product lines.
It worked splendidly with Transformers, spawning a couple of box office blockbusters. G.I. Joe did reasonably well in 2009. Battleship didn't do so well this year, but it didn't seem like such a good movie idea from the start.
Larger toy maker Mattel (MAT) may not be at that point yet with some of its younger properties, but it seems inevitable now.
Monsters to the Rescue
When it comes to dolls, Mattel is best known for its American Girl and Barbie franchises. However, its fastest growing doll line -- which has gone from $20 million to roughly $375 million in annual sales -- is Monster High.
Unlike Barbie, which targets girls between the ages of 3 and 6, Monster High attracts a slightly older audience. They've outgrown Barbie and Ken, and the gothic yet stylish Monster High dolls allow Mattel to reach a new audience.
Mattel has been milking its young and mysterious monsters in creative ways. A website complete with games and online episodes debuted two years ago. There have been TV specials and a console game. There was even a direct-to-DVD release in time for Halloween last month.
However, now Mattel is aiming at the silver screen. A full-length, live-action movie is in the works, and should hit a multiplex near you come 2014.
It's not the only line that may prove to be box office gold for Mattel on the silver screen.
Max Steel isn't a household name in this country, but Mattel is hoping to change that soon.
Mattel announced this week that it will introduce Max Steel -- an action figure line for boys -- in the U.S. next year. It's a line that has served Mattel well in Latin America, where it delivers roughly $100 million in sales a year.
Mattel plans a similar approach with Max Steel, starting with an animated TV series and an interactive website. If things go well for the product line, a movie in a few years also wouldn't be a surprise.
Lights! Camera! Playthings!
Toy companies don't have much of a choice in going Hollywood. Children have been bypassing traditional playthings in favor of tech toys and digital content.
A few analysts have downgraded the toy makers ahead of what they see as a challenging holiday season in 2012. If the trend continues -- and kids continue to show more and more favor to tablets and portable media players over toys -- the toy companies will be glad that they branched out into theatrical releases to make their toy lines more entertaining and conducive to licensing deals.
Kids may not want toys now, but deep down inside, these toys want to be movie stars.
Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any of the stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro and Mattel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Hasbro and Mattel.
Big Name Makeovers
Mattel Goes Hollywood: Can Toymaker Beat Hasbro at Its Own Movie Game?
What's a company to do when sales slump and interest in its product or service fades? One option: A major makeover. From Sears making over its stores to Mattel giving Dora the Explorer a new look to McDonald's turning out new burger boxes, we profile what's new and improved.
Click through our gallery to see what's changed with these well-known products and brands.
What's Changed: The national restaurant chain went through a drastic decor makeover in 2008 to make the furnishings more upscale and sleek, a change from its former look of Tiffany-style lamps and antiques. Total cost? $65 million. When the company got to the last of its locations, it staged a mock explosion, blowing up the interior and replaying the action on YouTube. Now all 600 locations of the 36-year-old chain have a modern look with black awnings outside and black-and-white checked tablecloths inside, plus a new straightforward logo.
What's Changed: Hasbro updated the 60-year-old game of Clue with changes that include a fancy new mansion with a spa and theater, and new weapons like a baseball bat and an ax. Professor Plum is now an Internet billionaire and Colonel Mustard is a former football star, and the murder mystery takes place during a party for the rich and famous. The game structure has also changed somewhat, with the addition of a second deck of cards, which is supposed to add an extra element of surprise.
What's Changed: Holiday Inn is in the process of a $1 billion makeover of its hotel locations as well as its logo. About 100 properties will leave the chain, while about 1,000 hotels will be added over the next three years. Existing locations will be upgraded in ways big and small -- from improved infrastructure to "triple-sheet" bedding. All locations that are spruced up will get the new logo, which will be a stylized white H on a green square, rather than the green script familiar from most highway views.
What's Changed: The high-end chocolate market is expanding, so Mars is trying to cash in with M&M's Premiums, a specialty line of the candy which was launched in 1941 as a treat for soldiers that wouldn't melt in the battlefield. The new version comes in brightly-colored boxes, rather than small bags, and comes in flavors like chocolate almond, raspberry almond, mocha, triple chocolate and mint. The biggest difference is that the new version does not have that signature crunchy candy shell, but instead has a softer glaze and each nugget is larger than a regular M&M.
What's Changed: The new Super 8 logo is more whimsical, with cursive script and a big red eight, than the previous boxy version. This is just part of a rebranding effort by the 33-year-old discount hotel chain that plays up new amenities like free wireless access, free premium cable or satellite and in-room coffeemakers and hair dryers. It builds on a previous upgrade that put fancier linens in rooms and expanded the breakfast options. Franchise owners have until July 2009 to implement the changes that were put in place in May.
What's Changed: Popeyes is sporting a new look with an orange and red logo with the words "Louisiana Kitchen" set off by fleur-de-lis designs and a giant "P" in the middle -- the better to emphasize the almost 40-year-old chain's New Orleans roots. Gone is the blue-bordered logo that the company deemed not fancy enough to go after the upscale audience it seeks to court. The logo makeover comes in conjunction with a new $1.49 menu that will include a loaded chicken wrap, the delta mini sandwich and a chicken biscuit. New commercials will feature a fictional chef named Ed, who sits with diners and talks about his food.
What's Changed: Strawberry Shortcake got more than just a new dress or two when she got a makeover in early 2008 (just before American Greetings sold the rights to the character to a Canadian company). The '80s icon got a total makeover that includes a few nips and tucks to her physique as well changes to her makeup. She will now spend a lot of time talking on her cell phone and eating fresh fruit in an effort to appeal to a new generation of young girls. A new animated movie and TV series are slated for 2009.
What's Changed: Now owned by Stride Rite, which re-acquired the rights to the sneaker brand from hip-hop mogul Damon Dash (a recent foreclosure victim), PRO-Keds get a makeover as they come back into the fold. Stride Rite focused on classic styles, such as the "Royal" canvas basketball shoe, first introduced in 1949, and gave it an overhaul that was planned to hit stores in November and retail for $50 to $80.
What's Changed: Little girls have been inundated with Disney princess paraphernalia for years now, and the line has been so popular that the company wants to try to do the same thing with fairies. Tinker Bell, a mere side character in J.M. Barrie's 1911 novel and the 1953 movie version of Peter Pan, is going to soon be a leading lady. A straight-to-DVD movie, 'Tinker Bell,' came out October 28, and that will be followed by a line of books, toys, lip gloss and stationery. The new line could mean big bucks as Tink already brings in about $800 million in retail sales for existing products.
What's Changed: At 120 years old, Avon is not stuck in its ways. As fashion goes upscale, the company is trying to go with it. New products with premium pricing are the order of the day, and Avon is also concentrating on a world market, with sales up in Brazil, Russia and Venezuela. In 2007, the company signed Reese Witherspoon as the first-ever Avon Global Ambassador, and while she has official duties focusing on health and charity issues, she also promotes products like the Pro-to-Go lipstick.
What's Changed: After nearly 100 years, R.J. Reynolds is giving the Camel cigarette box a makeover. While the company has tried numerous brand campaigns in print, the actual product packaging hasn't budged. But now, while the camel picture remains untouched, its milieu is different. The graphics are rounded, the pyramids are larger and the lettering is darker. Color-coded ribbons also identify the style of the cigarettes. The change comes in the wake of R.J. Reynolds vow in Nov. 22007 not to buy newspaper or magazine ads in 2008.
What's Changed: The venerable crock pot, long a staple of the American kitchen, is trying to become the ultimate multi-tasker for the contemporary two-income family that wants to eat healthy. Crock-Pot's owner, Jarden Consumer Solutions, wants the slow cooker to become a "trophy" product that people want to give as gifts and buy for themselves. So new cookers will come in bright colors -- no more cream and burgundy -- and will feature updated packaging that evokes savory root vegetables rather than grandma's quilt.
What's Changed: U.S. automakers are in trouble, with sales down almost across the board. So what's a financially troubled company to do? Makeover its products. Ford is introducing the Ford Flex crossover in 2009, and it will also be revamping its Lincoln brand with two new models -- the MkZ mid-sized car and the MkX crossover -- that have luxury amenities at entry-level prices. That leaves little excitement in store for the lower-end Mercury line, but stay tuned in case the Lincoln update doesn't yield enough sales ' maybe Ford will try sprucing up Mercury's next.
What's Changed: A new global version of Monopoly Here & Now replaces the streets of Atlantic City with world metropolises like Taipei, Cape Town and the Latvian capital of Riga, which nabbed the Park Place spot in a round of online voting. Hasbro's new board game, which will be printed in 37 languages, goes on sale in early Sept. You'll still be able to find the original version on sale, but the game maker is trying to attract a global audience with this new version.
What's Changed: The social networking Web site unveiled a redesign over the summer that wasn't so much a graphic change as a shift in functionality and availability of features. The site, owned by News Corp., is attempting to capture more casual users and keep them on the site longer, so it revamped navigation tools and upped the profile of video features. The site then went on to log 2.5 million new users in July, a new record, and record 75.2 million unique visits. The site also increased user engagement -- with each visitor spending an average of nearly 4 hours on MySpace in the month.
What's Changed: Iced tea is more popular than ever, and so Nestea has decided to make its bottles look as different as possible from traditional soda bottles. Sales in the tea category went up 24 percent in 2007 -- with green tea sales skyrocketing in particular -- and so now Nestea wants tea to stand on its own. The new bottles are sleek and thin with clean graphics that call out the antioxidant content and all-natural elements of the flavoring. Judging by the sudden surge in popularity, you might think iced tea is a relatively new phenomenon, but Nestea, which is owned by Coke, has been around for 50 years.
What's Changed: Old Navy didn't want to be "old" anymore, and so to better compete with the likes of H&M and other teen-oriented mall chains, it has updated and jazzed up its look. Now, instead of touting plain jeans and hoodies, the company is courting young celebrities to show off its new high-fashion designs with four new lines which were rolled out over the spring. The campaign kicked off with a star-studded launch party in New York that was attended by Hayden Panettiere, Kristen Bell and Sophia Bush.
What's Changed: The linen brands, now owned by the Brazilian company Springs Global, are being re-launched to better connect with consumers. The Springmaid brand, which became a Wal-Mart house brand in 2000, will be re-introduced to a wider market to try to better capitalize on its popularity. Wamsutta is going for a "lingerie" feel and featuring more sensuous palettes and feels, like a lush blanket with "warm dry" technology that removes moisture from the body, micro-sateen sheets and an Eco-Luxe line of organic cotton duvets with fill made of recycled water bottles or duck down.
What's Changed: The athletic shoe retailer is trading in its franchise name for the acronym TAF (all lowercase on the new logo) and will move into making signature apparel and other accessories. It worked for KFC, right? The new name-change will extend to the company's 242 stores, and stores in urban areas will also be branded with tafUP (The Athlete's Foot Urban Premium), which will be more like boutiques specializing in sports fashion and urban wear.
What's Changed: Ethical concerns about how young calves are raised for food have curtailed veal consumption in recent years, but a new campaign is trying to tout the meat, at least for high-end buyers. "Certified Humane" meat packers raise calves in group housing, which means they are free to move about in pens, and are fed some grain rather than all milk. The resulting veal is sold in specialty butcher shops, for now, and commands only 5 to 10 percent of the veal market.
What's Changed: Wal-Mart keeps changing constantly in all different directions. The latest shift is with Supercenters, which it will make easier for shoppers to navigate with bigger aisles and new layouts. At the same time, some stores are getting smaller. The retailer is also experimenting with Marketside stores, which measure only 15,000 square feet and offer groceries and other fresh items that shoppers can get to quickly.
What's Changed: Xerox has one of those special brand names that has become the common name of a product or process -- in this case photocopying documents. But in 2008, after 40 years of the same boxy, bland look, the company decided it needed a makeover and it rolled out a new logo and branding campaign. Now, the logo has a red sphere attached to it that is supposed to symbolize the brand's worldwide reach and rounded lower-case letters.
What's Changed: The 400-location worldwide hotel chain is upping the ante on its makeover with a $4 billion project that it started in 2007 and is now 70% complete. The new look includes brighter colors in the room, with pillowtop beds and white duvets and flat-screen TVs. Sheraton is rolling out a branded line of toiletries, called Shine by Bliss, and fitness centers will get upgrades. Lobbies will feature restaurants, most with a casual dining chain called Relish, and cafes with Internet stations. Some locations may also have a steakhouse developed by Shula's.
What's Changed: Chex Party Mix, invented in 1955, will get a makeover with new recipes, new packaging and a new spokeschef, Katie Lee Joel.
What's Changed: What changed: For the first time, Long John Silver's will be offering its first non-fried items. The Freshside Grille selections includePacific Salmon (pictured), Shrimp Scampi and Tilapia.
What's Changed: Pepsi has unveiled its fifth new logo in two decades, left, as part of a new plan to redefine itself as a cultural leader. The redesigned Pepsi packages should hit store shelves early next year. Mountain Dew and Sierra Mist drinks will also get a new look. Read more about the new Pepsi can from BloggingStocks
What's Changed: Heinz decided its ketchup bottle needed a makeover after 110 years, dropping the gherkin and opting instead for a tomato that plays a much larger role in the logo than the previous pickle. "We really felt that the tomato is the hero of ketchup," said a company spokesman.
What's Changed: Following on the successes of Costco and other warehouse stores, Sears is trying out the concept with a test store in Joliet, Ill called "MyGofer." The prototype will allow consumers to order online and pic up their purchases at a drive-through.
What's Changed: News weeklies are hitting hard times, so Newsweek, which has been around since 1933, is going for less news and more analysis. The tinkering under the hood comes as the audience pool becomes smaller, yet more affluent. Beginning in May, the almost-76-year-old publication will get new sections, new commentary and more photos.
What's Changed: Amidst consumer outcry, Tropicana will change back its carton of orange juice to its original design, after complaints that the re-design makes it look too much like a generic brand.
What's Changed: Trying to woo over women, Frito Lay is making over its packaging for reduced-calorie and other "healthy snacks" like baked chips. The new designs -- such as beige for Baked lays instead of bright yellow -- was based on neuromarketing research.
What's Changed: Trying to hold onto preschool fans as they age, Dora the Explorer's parent companies, Nickelodeon and Mattel, are giving her a hip new look as a tween with fashionable clothes and wavy long hair. At first they released just a shadow, but that caused such an uproar that they released the full look early, which will be used on a doll.
What's Changed: The fast food chain is rolling out a new logo that is slightly "out of the box" which is causing a little giggling out there in the blogosphere as people toy with the word "Jack" and imagine that a large contingent of the chain's demographic will find some sexual connotations in rebranding the chain with an emphasis on that part of the name.
What's Changed: The original lite beer has been losing market share, so it is going back to an ad campaign that worked in the past, with the tag line "Tastes Great." New packaging and ads emphasize the slogan, also touting the triple-hops brewing process and a special lining on the cap that keeps beer from touching aluminum and picking up a metallic taste.
Many companies go for years happy with their products and then suddenly realize -- bam -- it's not working anymore. Like, for instance, the fact that Pizza Hut might be a limiting name if you want to tout a diverse menu. So here comes "The Hut," starting with a roll-out of "Hut TV" in select locations. To find out more, click here and then click through our gallery of other new product makeovers.