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Disney, Mattel: Partners in Play

Industry executives discuss strategies to leverage fan favorites.

Ben Roberts

February 9, 2024

7 Min Read
(From L to R): Nicolas Houssin and Gill Archer.
(From L to R): Nicolas Houssin and Gill Archer.Disney/Mattel

License Global joined exhibitors and visitors from around the globe in Nuremberg, Germany, for the 73rd Spielwarenmesse, which showcased the latest trends and innovations in toys from over 2,000 exhibitors hailing from 68 countries. While there, Ben Roberts, content director, EMEA License Global, spoke with Disney and Mattel executives about their ongoing partnership. 

Ben Roberts: How is the Disney x Mattel partnership maturing, and what new milestones are you celebrating/hoping to celebrate this year? 

Nicolas Houssin, vice president, marketing, EMEA, Mattel: The collaboration between Disney and Mattel continues to go from strength to strength. We were delighted with the impact of the launch of our Princess dolls at the start of last year, and we are incredibly proud to work together on the Disney Princess and Disney Frozen lines at Mattel. Disney celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2023, which was an extraordinary milestone, and we had successful launches of The Little Mermaid and Frozen 10th Anniversary campaigns, as well as the release of the new movie, “Wish.” There has been plenty going on. 

Gill Archer, vice president, hardlines, EMEA, Disney Consumer Products: Looking ahead to 2024, we have big plans for what is next, particularly with the introduction of new localized content for our Spark Joy campaign to continue to drive awareness for Disney Princess, Frozen and Wish. Our collaboration extends to joint content plans for Frozen, a refreshed annual thematic campaign for Disney Princess and ongoing efforts to create meaningful moments for fans through innovative products and experiences. For both of us, this is a shared adventure, with collaboration that runs throughout on either side.   

How has the Disney Princess line become a hit with fans of all ages? 

NH: The Disney Princess line has resonated strongly with fans of all ages due to our strategic efforts, captivating hearts across generations. Our commitment to multi-generational moments and co-watching has transformed the Disney Princess line into an experience beyond dolls. It’s about creating everlasting memories and stirring emotions that resonate with fans of all ages, reminding us that the enchantment of these beloved characters knows no bounds. We reintroduced the princesses for new generations, elevating the line to make it true to film with authentic features, and of course, added our experience and expertise in dolls. It’s an honor to do that with the team at Disney.  

GA: Princess is a key play pattern for girls aged 3 to 6, and the line developed with Mattel enables this with a focus on the world around the Princess. We will take this theme forward through a multiyear campaign that kicks off this year – more to come. 

How is the kidult market playing into your strategies as partners and as standalone brands? 

NH: The kidult market is a key aspect of our strategy both collaboratively and as a standalone brand. Beyond the core Disney Dolls, our expanded collaboration with Disney includes limited-edition collections and specialized launches. We believe adult fans are not just hardcore collectors. They’re also casual fans who want the nostalgia of their childhood or something cool or fun, whether through a Mattel Creations Disney Collector Alice in Wonderland doll, a Star Wars The Mandalorian plush or UNO Ultimate Marvel.  

GA: We know that the Gen Z and millennial demographics are hugely nostalgic and look to trusted brands for a sense of familiarity and comfort. Disney has a wealth of IPs that meet that need, namely Stitch and, of course, Disney Princess and Frozen. As mentioned, Disney Princess is a brand we’re putting a lot of weight behind in our owned campaigns, and we’re continually expanding the brand through our renewed relationship with Mattel. 

For consumers in these groups with children, sharing favorite brands and characters can also be a way to connect with their kids through play – Star Wars is a great example of this. 

How are you continuing to work together on new product lines to mark the release of new Disney entertainment moments? 

NH: Our collaboration with Disney is an ongoing story of creativity and innovation, bringing iconic characters and stories to life through unrivaled true-to-character expressions and creating rich systems of play that spark imagination. Our work on Disney entertainment lines is expanding in 2024 to cover additional content releases that span a range of audiences.  

This multiyear program ensures a continuous stream of new stories and products, with displays at events like the Nuremberg Toy Fair. Our shared commitment to innovation allows us to synchronize our efforts in marking the release of new Disney entertainment moments, creating a dynamic and engaging consumer experience.  

GA: A recent standout moment for us was the fantastic range of products Mattel produced around Disney’s “Wish.” It truly brought the film’s themes, music and humor to life and offered a way for the entire family to immerse themselves in it. 

NH: The industry activity will likely emphasize creating immersive experiences, innovative product launches and integrating digital content. The Spark Joy campaign, the thematic approach around Disney Princess, and joint content plans for Frozen align with these trends, showcasing our commitment to staying at the forefront of industry dynamics. Get ready to witness a spectacle of immersive experiences, innovative launches and a fusion of entertainment and toys that will redefine playtime. 

GA: The idea of world-building clearly holds huge potential. It encourages creativity and shared unstructured play, which we know is crucial for kids’ development. It gives consumers, young and old, the license to expand their favorite characters and worlds and find something new within that nostalgia.  

This lends itself well to immersive experiences, as Nicolas has pointed out. More so than ever, retail, marketing and entertainment are inextricable – moving from a “nice to have” to a “non-negotiable,” particularly for the influential Gen Z audience.  

Why is protecting the concept of play and our love for fan-favorite IPs so crucial for the growth of the toy market? From multi-generational moments to co-watching and beyond. 

NH: Play isn’t just a concept; it’s the heartbeat of childhood, a realm of endless possibilities that transcends trends. We believe nobody does dolls better than Mattel. Our love for fan-favorite IPs is about creating moments that echo across generations. Protecting this essence is the very foundation of the toy market’s growth. Play is an essential aspect of childhood development, fostering creativity, imagination and social skills.  

From multi-generational play to co-watching, we’re creating a wealth of shared experiences, connecting everyone through the joy of play. This not only ensures the sustained growth of the toy market but also cultivates a sense of nostalgia and shared experiences that resonate across generations, contributing to the enduring success of our brands. 

GA: Fan-favorite characters and stories are connectors across every possible demographic. They bring people together, whether it’s playing video games with friends online or parent and child playing with dolls. Play will no doubt continue to evolve, but the power it holds to expand and renew the brands and characters we all know and love cannot be underestimated. That is what will ultimately continue to drive our industry forward.  

About the Author(s)

Ben Roberts

Content Director (EMEA), License Global

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