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Mego - The World's Greatest Action Figure Company
Mention the word Mego to any avid action figure collector and their eyes will probably glaze over and a look of pure joy will spread across their face as they think back to their days as a child playing with their action figures.
For many collectors their first action figure was probably a Mego figure. In the 70's and 80's Mego were the only company who really gave Hasbro a run for their money.
However, they did not get involved in the action figure business until 1971, but with its innovations and designs they quickly won the praise and hearts of collectors and consumers to become "The Greatest Action Figure Company".
So how did this little know, nickel and dime company become one of the biggest movers and shakers of the action figure market and become known as the Greatest Action Figure Company?
Most of the company's success can be attributed to the promotion of the president's son, Martin B Abrahm's, in 1971.
Up until this point licensing had only been a very small part of the toy industry but with the guidance of the young Martin Mego would become the sixth largest toy company by the end of the decade, mainly through acquiring almost every major license available.
However, Mego also owes its success to its innovative designs and innovations, many of which became adopted by the industry and are still used to this day.
Martin Abrahs had a natural understanding of the toy industry and realized early on that it was part of the show business.
He also realized early on that for a toy line to be successful it wasn't the consumers he needed to persuade and coax but the toy industry buyers!
As without their support and enthusiasm they would never have a chance of getting into the hands of the kids they were targeted for.
Mego's answer to this was to lay on some of the most lavish, entertaining and exciting launches in Toy Fair history many of which are still remembered and talked about to this day. The result was that they not only secured the popularity of their figures but ensured that the company became one of the major toy manufacturers in the US.
Throughout its history, unlike many of the large toy manufacturers in the US, Mego remained a family business. Martin Abrams as the president was the major creative force behind its success, his father and company founder David Abrahms oversaw all of their manufacturing in Hong Kong while his mother oversaw the manufacturing and quality of the costumes, often co-designing them, and his younger brother, Howard, helped him with the day to day running of the business.
One of Mego's most important and successful innovations was its introduction of an 8-inch standard, jointed body. This innovation was to prove to be a major asset and would save the company thousands in losses in time.
Mego's, and most toy companies, biggest risk factor at the time was the failure of a major license as each character had to be designed and molded separately.
However, with the new standard 8-inch jointed body this was no longer such a big issue as the figure could be quickly and effortlessly be converted simply by changing the head sculpt. Another obvious advantage was that it was also much more cost effective than the then standard 12-inch figure and was more adaptable to being mass produced. This meant that Mego were able to mass produced several lines of figures at the same time with far less cost and risk than their competitors could.
Its biggest advantage was that if a particular line failed to sell well at retail the figures could easily, and quickly be recalled and converted to other lines thus avoiding potentially huge losses as was the case with their Planet of the Apes line.
Mego were also the first major toy manufacturer to extensively use TV advertising, which was a natural fit with most of their figures being based on many prime time tv programs.
Much of Mego's rapid success is due to the huge success of their TV commercials but again Mego didn't follow the standard format and set a new precedence by producing ads that were highly creative with open story lines for the kids to develop making them more like mini Hollywood productions rather than commercials. Also they had the advantage of being able to use authentic footage, theme music and special effects etc from the original shows.
With the commercials ran throughout the holidays and peak week day and weekend children's' viewing times they soon became popular with kids, who up until this time had never seen or been exposed to this type of advertising campaign, directly targeting them rather than their parents.
As a result these ads have also become highly collectable and are eagerly sought out by enthusiasts and collectors and you can find many of them listed on eBay.
Mego's use of POS material and catalogues was also very innovative and again went against what was generally considered the norm at the time. Most companies rarely used catalogues to promote their lines, considering them an unnecessary expense whereas Mego printed mini-catalogues that where included with most of its playsets to keep the children informed of what was available and were actually used as a selling point for the playsets. The kids even started using these mini-catalogues to keep track of their collections and what figures they needed, they also meant that parents had any easy reference point to check what figures they could buy their kids for birthdays and Christmas etc, thus actually stimulated sales far beyond the actual cost of printing them.
Other POS (point of sales) material Mego developed was the use of counter displays. Most of Mego's retail orders for 8-inch figures came with free easily assembled counter displays that featured full color action drawings of the characters available. These counter displays allowed the retailer to quicker and easily display the figures in a prominent position.
Many of these displays were thrown out as junk when they were finished with but have since become the prized possessions of some collectors, like the catalogues, and have become very hard to find in mint condition and are very collectible.
Mego's string of success and ability to get hot licensed products to market fast led it to becoming one of the most dominant manufacturers of action figures during the 1970's, so much so that even Hasbro, the birth place of the action figure , eventually followed Mego's lead and adopted the standard 8-inch figure for its GI Joe line of figures.
Bouyed by their successes in the action figure market Mego started to diversify into several oter lines of toys, including a talking educational robot. Many of these new lines, with Mego's by now well established connections in the industry, also did well.
They also established and maintained distribution centers in Europe, South America and Africa, with Brtian and Italy becoming its main European partners.
The figures were also often licensed and distributed by European toy companies resulting in totally different packaging to their original US figures. Mego even went so far as to establish Lion Rock as a separate company solely for the distribution of its 6-inch figures.
Many of these foreign companies also requested exclusive figures, which weren't released in the States, to be produced. It is only recently that information of many of these exclusive figures has come to light and many are very rare and extremely hard to find and as a result have become highly collectible.
Perhaps Mego's greatest success and most popular line was their "Official World's Greatest Super Heroes" which developed from an initial line of 4 figures to over 30 from 1973-1977. Their biggest coup with this line was getting the licenses for both Marvel and DC figures.
Mego were very clever with their marketing for this line, introducing new characters each year and rotating older characters in and out of the line as well as under producing some to keep the market fresh and stimulated. It also kept kids interested and eager to find out what new characters were being released and it meant that parents had to keep returning to the stores to check on their availability, often prompting impulse buys if a needed character was available as nobody new when characters were short produced or rotated out.
Mego again broke the mould, pardon the pun! ;-) , by producing female and villain characters. Up until this time manufacturer had assumed that kids would only want to roleplay the parts of their heroes and not the villains and females, but as we all know now, it is often the villainous characters that prove to be the most popular.
The "Official World's Greatest Super Heroes" figures were also produced in a variety of scales from 3 ?- inch figures to 22-inch figures.
It was also the popularity of this line that led Mego to developing the clear bubbles on the packaging so that both the kids and the parents could see the figure inside. The packaging also used eye catching artwork and designs. It was also about this time that Mego landed the Kresge contract, a general merchandise store now better known as K-Mart, who demanded that the Mego figures be compatible with their peg display system which led Meg to developing what is now commonly known as the Kresge card or blister pack for displaying their figures.
In the late 70's Mego decided to stop offering many of its playsets in order to concentrate on producing new lines of action figures, however other companies such as Empire and Tara Toys filled the gap and offered licensed, but not sanctioned, playsets and accessories specifically for the Mego figures.
But unfortunately Mego's success and dominance was about to come to an abrupt end. In 1976 they were approached and asked if they would like the license to a little known movie starring largely unknown actors, about an evil space Empire and a band of rebels from a virtually unknown director called George Lucas. The movie, of course, was Star Wars, and as there hadn't been a popular Sci-fi movie since Planet of the Apes the genre was considered o be dead and so Mego decide to pass on the opportunity and finally Kenner Toy acquired the license.
This was the main turning point for Mego and ultimately put them out of business. When Star Wars blasted across movie screens on 31st May 1977 the face of sci-fi and action figures was to change forever!
For the very first time in cinematic history billions, not millions, of dollars were made in merchandising from clothes, books, comics, games, videos and of course action figures.
With Kenner's Star Wars figures flying off toy shelves quicker than they could be stocked up Meg's dominance of the action figure market was quickly eroded.
But Mego didn't sit back and wait for a hot new license, on the contrary they went out and bought up the rights to nearly every major spin-off movie and show they could. However, much to the dismay of the studios and Mego each became merchandising failures and Mego's long run of hits finally came to a grinding end.
These failures and the internal pressure to produce a hit line and the lack of new products brought Mego into disarray and with their sales plummeting they were forced to sell most of their US and foreign assets. In order to stay in business.
Their mounting debts and internal problems soon became public knowledge and publicized by the press and by 1982 they were facing debts amounting to $50 million and was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and "The World's Greatest Action Figure Company" closed its doors forever.
During its heyday Mego acquired the rights to a whole host of shows such as Doc Savage, Logans Run, Dallas, Kung Fu and many more that never saw the light of day. But some of these lines did make it to the prototype stage and these figures have been highly prized among collectors.
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