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Max Steel

When it comes to marketing action-figures for boys, it’s all in the narrative arc, reports Abram Brown in Forbes (5/6/13). "Having an action hero that’s on for a steady basis – on television, on webisodes, on digital – is going to create a more consistent demand for that product," says Mattel chief executive Bryan Stockton. That’s the plan for the re-introduction of Max Steel, a Mattel action-figure that "has been selling like hotcakes outside the US … since 2001." The toy previously was removed from the US market "because the company felt the toy’s terrorist fighting themes were too controversial," post Sept. 11.

Max’s "mission is to harness the turbo energy he possesses to morph into different cyborg forms to save the world from monsters bearing names like Elementor and Dredd. And, just like Superman, he has a mild-mannered alter-ego: Maxwell McGrath, a 16-year-old high-school kid with brown hair and a square jaw." Mattel creative director Timothy Kilpin says the idea was "to think about how many different ways" to bring Max Steel to life. The key, he says, is "to know where the brand is going 18 months from now in terms of a storytelling aspect."

Success for Max Steel is all-important, as Mattel’s flagship toy, Barbie, is suffering from declining sales. The toymaker is also banking on its Monster High line, a kind of Goth-style Barbie, and American Girl, whose retail stores generate an impressive "$1,500 in retail sales per square foot." Analyst Sean McGowan says the stores offer "a parade of revenue opportunities." Mattel has seen less success with digital toys, but Bryan Stockton says that’s okay because the typical kid still spends "about 30 minutes a day" with toys. "Just being digital is not an end unto itself or a guarantee of success," he says.