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The UNO Movie: Mattel Has Learned Its Lesson

Roar writer Anna Reig Caballeria on the new film about the UNO game, and the ongoing trend of toy companies making movies.

A movie about the UNO game is the latest proposal from Mattel Films, the film division of one of the largest toy companies in the world. Previously, they had opted to make films from their other products, such as Barbie, He-he Man, or Hot Wheels, but this latest production is not aimed at children, it wants to attract a more general public. Concretely, it is a comedy settled in the underground and hip-hop world of Atlanta, Georgia, starring Lil Yachty.

“Star products like UNO require a lot of investment, but they also generate a lot of profits,” says Neus Soler, a marketing expert. The Mattel company is not in its best moment financially; its shares on the stock exchange have fallen by 26% in the last five years. So, it is reasonable to bet on one of its most popular products, which they know will be well received, instead of stepping for a new product with more risk.

Precisely, the Mattel Films subdivision was born at a crisis time for the company. In July 2018, Mattel laid off more than 2,200 workers, 22% of its workforce worldwide, and sold some of its factories in Mexico. In addition, sales fell 14%, an event attributed to the liquidation of its main distributor, Toys’R’Us. “They had to be renewed or die,” says Soler. That’s how Mattel Films opened in September. They had been making films about their products before, but the new challenge was to produce them alone and take them to the big screen.

Other brands, such as its main competitor, Hasbro, which owns Transformers and Power Rangers licenses, as well as multinationals such as Marvel and Lego, had long been committed to the film industry. “Sooner or later all brands realized that they had to offer the society something more than just tangible products, in this case, toys,” says Lluís Mas, professor of advertising and public relations at University Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona).

“Mattel had fallen asleep,” says Soler. “We may know Mattel better than Hasbro in Europe, but in the United States there is a lot of competition between the two brands,” she added. Hasbro began making films based on its products ten years ago and “has advantaged Mattel because they have captured better the market trends.” In fact, the pandemic did not affect Hasbro, which rose profits by 14% in the third quarter of this year to $218 million.

Game movies are a way to create branded content and engage the public with the brand values. “Through fictional characters, they can pass on to children empathy, friendship or integration, and contribute to their education,” according to Mas. It also creates an emotional bond with the brand: it’s easier for the consumer to buy the toy if they have seen the film before, there is feedback.

Despite the high investment involved in film production, it is often profitable. First, even if you don’t make money with the movie, that product is getting better known and selling a lot more. But often the film makes a profit on its own. “It is a strategy to diversify the business model,” explains Jordi Campo, professor of marketing at the University of Barcelona. In a digital world, brands need to adapt to consumer trends. “Now the children probably don’t play so much with Barbie anymore and look at the screens for far more hours,” adds Soler.

This is where “nostalgia marketing” comes into play, because films are not only aimed at children but also at adults. Parents can remember through a movie that toy that fascinated them when they were little, and this feeling can encourage them to buy it and share it with their children. To what extent will people continue to buy games in an increasingly digitalised future? We will see. At the moment, thousands of children are still waiting for Sant Claus to bring them Mattel’s toys.

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