Toymakers use Spidey senses
More than 400 Spider-Man 3 licensees share in millions, writes Raju Mudhar

Raju Mudhar

Toronto Star

May 04, 2007


Rita Di Costanzo knows that Spider-Man is a force for good, and not just in Gotham, but also in her household.

She says so as she's scouring the Spider-Man 3 display at the Toys R Us store at the Yonge Eglinton Centre. Christian, her 3 1/2-year-old son saw toy web shooters in the store's flyer and this morning, she's on a mission.

He's really enthusiastic about superheroes right now.

"He's an only child, so it helps him with his imagination. He's learning about being good and actually it helps him learn how to wear clothes, because he's always putting on his Spider-Man costume," she says.

At least Di Costanzo was given specific orders on what to find the final accoutrement for her son's Spidey costume because with more than 400 licensees worldwide doing Spider-Man tie-ins, there is a confusing amount of merchandise to go along with the release of the third movie in the series today.

Licensing has become an incredibly important business for Marvel Enterprises. The company made $155 million (all figures U.S.) from toys in the first year after the original film in the series came out and overall, the company now makes about $230 million annually from more than 500 licensing partners worldwide. Of course, it does lead to some strange combinations. One mash-up is the Mr. Potato Head version of Spider-Man. There are board games like Spider-Man Monopoly and Operation. And also plenty of head-scratching toys like the Spider-Man Web Copter. Since he swings through the air with the greatest of ease, why ever would be need a chopper?

"It's a funny thing, when a licence is hot, people try to capitalize as best that they can and you do see some pretty odd stuff come to market ... It's one of those things where Spider-Man is hot, kids want to play with Spider-Man, kids also like helicopters. Put them together and there you go," says Eric Levin, executive vice-president of Techno Source, which is making electronic games and toys based on Spider-Man 3. Mississauga's Thinkway Toys is a Canadian licensee the company also made the Toy Story toys for the entire world and is very excited about its new Action Command Spider-Man toy. The toy is an almost 60-centimetre-tall action figure that speaks, is programmable and is run by remote control.

It sells for $44.99 and is in stores now.

"It's pretty big and really as soon as you put him on the ground and he starts spinning around, kids go crazy," says John Barton, senior vice-president of sales and marketing."Spider-Man is obviously one of the strongest character brands in the world. It's already been a splash with the last two movies, so it's the kind of opportunity that's a perfect fit for us," Barton says.

As for the parents buying all these toys, there is also another ancillary Spider-Man effect. Using the symbol of the hero often works as a motivator, according to Di Constanzo.

"Like when I take him to swim class, I say stuff like Spider-Man had to learn how to swim, and it works," she says with a laugh.