It’s no secret that kids crave action, and lots of it. The truth is, so do adults. Generations have grown up with comic books and movies that have created pop cult heroes with established back stories that resonate. These are the good guys who take on all kinds of villains and win. The battle of good versus evil is a universal theme and it’s just as relevant today as it ever was. It’s at the heart of great story-telling. Plots and sub-plots leading to conflict, ensuing battles where the advantage goes back and forth between hero and villain, and eventual resolution with the triumph of good over evil never gets old.
Action figures are among our pop culture heroes. And every one of them has its own back story. Many originate from comic books, movies, animated series and video games. Others evolve from toys, making the leap to other entertainment platforms. Much like G.I.JOE or the Transformers (the Buzzworthy x Bumblebee package design example shown above was developed by the talented team at Hasbro). Each property’s storyline must evolve to remain relevant and to continue fueling kids’ imaginations. Failure to do so leads to the demise of these brands as new action figures take center stage in a fast-changing culture.
Fueling kids imaginations by urging them to ad lib with their own variations of the stories as they interact with action figures leads to increasing emotional involvement. Ongoing interaction and fantasy are absolutely necessary to generate continued interest and excitement. Promotional tie-ins, licensing and co-branding opportunities keep these brands front and center in a world where thousands of pop cult entertainment and action figures vie for attention every day.
The role that licensing plays in the mix
Launching licensed consumer products to extend the reach of action figure toys makes sense. However, licensing programs for these properties must be supported by well-designed style guides. A good one allows flexibility yet ensures that the brand will be consistently and faithfully represented in consumer products and packaging. The marketplace is teeming with licensed products and they’re not all a resounding success.
Think about the enduring legacy of Star Wars and its cast of unforgettable action figures: protagonists and antagonists. What about the individual Marvel and DC universes? Why do they continue to be successful? A constant stream of licensed products, toys and games – real and virtual, movies and cartoons and promotional tie-ins that keep them top of mind in a well-orchestrated manner.
They’re for kids, yes. But don’t forget about adult collectors
Heritage action figures evoke interest in more than one generation of fans. Maintaining their legacies while contemporizing the characters with updated adventures engages fans of every age. Developing design assets for their licensed product packaging programs and establishing a consistent retail presence requires careful maintenance of visual cues that are unique and essential to these brands.
When it comes to packaging, it’s critical to consider two equally important and distinct groups: adult collectors and kids. Communicating the brand and its assets as well as ensuring an exciting brand experience by leveraging cues relevant to the action figures themselves are essential. Quick identification of action figures and their unique characteristics should be the focus. Package design should allow the product to be as visible as possible. Verbal communication should be limited and selective on the front panel, conveying character name and action feature. The latest revelations about the character’s adventures can be expressed on the back panel of the packaging.
Maintain a high-quality visual appeal to engage every audience
It’s best to resist the inclination to make action figure packaging too juvenile. Kids gravitate to their favorite action figures and will purchase them no matter what. But adult collectors may shy away from them if they’re packaged in a juvenile manner. Since collectors value packaging and usually retain it along with the action figure, it’s important to elevate its quality. Collectors know that action figures should be kept within their retail packaging to maintain their value. Collectibles bring higher prices when resold if packaging is maintained in good condition.
Designing packaging for these properties is exciting. A visual approach for licensees that can stretch to encompass all consumer product categories in all channels, allowing for exclusive deals with specific retailers is crucial. Developing an iconic visual hook for the property is important as the first step toward establishing recognition, but its storytelling on consumer products and packaging that cements relationships. As the characters story continues to evolve and that story is carried forward in a fresh, new manner this is the secret to making a deeper emotional connection with consumers.
Remember: great design is a core value in all consumer product packaging. When it comes to packaging action figures for kids and collectors, this is especially true. Making the brand come to life for kids of all ages ensures that their favorite action figures will live on forever.