» The Search for Merch

There’s been a few petitions swirling around to encourage Hasbro to produce new and different kinds of merchandise outside of the core My Little Pony product. The new fanbase sprouting around Friendship is Magic has generated new opportunities and frontiers for products, and fans feel that Hasbro is leaving opportunities on the table. Do petitions have a chance to change that? Merch-hungry pony fans hope so.

Some examples of products are ones that would play well to both children and an older audience are ones that sprouted two such petitions. One group of people desires show styled plush toys, while the other wants LEGO style construction sets. Both groups have organized petition drives to try to convince the parties involved to start production on licensed products so they no longer have to resort to eBay (or in the case of the LEGO product, to get anything at all).

The main problem with online petitions is that anyone can start them, and there’s no legal binding, so the recipient can ignore them with little consequence. For sake of discussion, let’s grant that the petitions will be fairly entertained. What are they up against?

Plushie Predicament

On the side of the plushes, a little history is in order. Hasbro currently sells the So Soft talking series of plush dolls as well as the Animated Storyteller plush dolls. Both of these products are lightly modified carryovers from the third generation of toys with minimal modifications to connect them to generation four. For fans, this isn’t optimal, because they don’t look much like what is in the show, and in some cases (the Sweetie Belle newborn plush) they don’t act like them either. These dolls are targeted towards a younger demographic of four to six year olds, which is below FiM’s target of six to ten year olds. These dolls are just fine for the younger market they’re aimed at, but older kids might prefer a more traditional plush.

Twilight Sparkle Animated Storyteller

She's huggably soft!

If you want a plush doll today, your best bet is to hit up eBay or commission a plush maker. Unfortunately, the laws of supply and demand make it very difficult for average fans to pick up a plush. Dolls routinely sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay, and if you decide to commission a plush maker you may have to deal with a long wait in addition to a hefty fee. For the average fan, grown-up or kid alike, that makes getting your favorite pony as a plush a trying experience. Hasbro has so far left the plush makers alone, but one never knows when the hammer might strike.

Ultimately, the petition writers want Hasbro to pick up this untapped market of plush dolls so that any child (or one at heart) could pick up a plush of their favorite pony for a reasonable price. On the surface, the business plan makes sense. Plush toys are a gender and age neutral, and they make them for pretty much everything these days. So why not ponies, people ask?

Part of this is up to the people making product decisions at Hasbro, and past actions do not give much hope. “Why wouldn’t a toy company want to sell toys?” you might ask. Accurate plush toys cost more than their materials; they must be designed and a manufacturing process established. Hasbro has also shown little interest in capitalizing on a market with more money to spend in the Transformers fandom, where requests for higher quality models and toys keep going unanswered. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t ask, and a big signature drop is one huge way of asking.

Looking at what’s going on with eBay auctions, legitimate money is being left on the table if Hasbro keeps ignoring the plush market. The licensed plush dolls available today exist because they were easy retooling of existing products that don’t push too many demographic boundaries. It’s a safe, easy move made by a large corporation that knows it will sell. In our times of economic trouble, it’s not hard to see why this logic wins out, even though it’s enemies of fun type logic. That shouldn’t stop fans and parents from requesting the products. My niece would love a Fluttershy plush doll, and the only way Hasbro will know there’s a demand is for people to make a statement. Hopefully the unlicensed market and things like petitions and communications with Hasbro can make a difference for those who want plush toys.

Construction Barriers

When it comes to the LEGO style construction kits, the situation’s a lot cloudier. The petition to LEGO has gained some traction, and LEGO themselves have shown an interest if enough signatures were collected. Ordinarily, this would be promising news, but there’s always wrinkles in these sorts of plans. The stumbling block is that Hasbro owns a competitor to LEGO products in the form of Kre-O building sets.

Introduced in late 2011, Kre-O construction kits are LEGO compatible, meaning you can mix and match bricks and parts. The first line of kits are all based on Transformers, an obvious decision given the likely numerous requests for Transformers kits. This summer Hasbro is introducing the newest addition to the Kre-O line with sets based on the movie Battleship. Both of these moves continue the unfortunate stereotype of construction kits being a product targeted primarily towards boys.

Construction kits are not cheap things to produce, as anyone who works at LEGO can tell you. Compared to plush dolls, molded plastic has far higher startup and production costs. It’s not a slam dunk idea by any means from a company standpoint. Combine that with the unfortunate (and mostly untrue) stereotype of girls being uninterested in construction kits and it’s an easy hand wave away by some middle manager.

Theoretical Lego Sets

Suggested Sets in the Lego Petition

Yes, that’s enemies of fun logic again, but those are the kinds of roadblocks that the petitioners face. There’s plenty of great arguments for creating construction sets, and they’re all in the rich world created by the Friendship is Magic team. A Twilight Sparkle’s Treehouse Library, or Rarity’s Carousel Boutique are just two obvious targets. What about a gigantic, sprawling Canterlot? One could even make an entire theme of sets based around Sweet Apple Acres. All of these sets could have cross-gender appeal for the target age range, and if they were detailed enough, would pique the fancy of construction set hobbyists.

The good news, and the glimmer of hope, is that LEGO has stated that they will pursue the license if the petitioners reach the ten thousand signature goal. Credit goes to them for taking the requests seriously and willing to at least work with Hasbro. My personal guess is the odds of Hasbro licensing out My Little Pony to LEGO when they are actively building a competitor to LEGO are probably slim to none. Still, all the power to these guys for trying to show the powers that be that interest is there. 

Share your thoughts

  1. Great editorial. Hasbro has been leaving money on the table for years with many of their brands (witness the expensive third-party unlicensed Transformers toy market), but nothing ever changes. I know molds and patterns can be incredibly expensive, but they could surely find a way to compromise and offer people something.

  2. Pingback: Merch Quest II: Plastic Boogaloo | EverFree Radio