Mattel’s booth at SDCC had this wall of Hot Wheels cars. | Source: the Pop Insider/Mattel

During this year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), Mattel came to the in-person convention with quite a presence, including two booths on the show floor and a Hall H panel for Masters of the Universe. During the show, the Pop Insider chatted with PJ Lewis, Mattel’s vice president of global marketing and portfolio leader (licensing). Keep scrolling to read the full conversation, which ranged from the growth of Mattel Creations to our desperate attempts to learn more about merch for the Barbie movie.

The Pop Insider: What are you excited about, with [SDCC] and specifically what Mattel is bringing to fans?

PJ Lewis: Yeah, it is very exciting. You know, as we think about where we’ve been the last couple of years with our partners and of course with our flagship IP, Masters of the Universe, the world has changed considerably since 2019. Considerably. And we were really excited to build a fan experience, our 12 Days of Fandom, around all the exciting IPs that we work with, all the partners that we work with, and of course, Masters of the Universe. And to tell a lot of stories for a lot of great fan groups, the pop culture fans, and action figure collectors. So I’m most excited to show these to the world. ‘Cause, you know, a lot of these had been concepted prior to us returning to the office. The ideas were presented all over Zoom, and here we are with great products and fans to enjoy them.

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PI: Over the past year, I know Mattel’s moved into NFTs and the metaverse, with the Hot Wheels Garage and the Cryptoys partnership. What has that response been like, and is that something you’re planning to continue?

PL: Well, the response has been outstanding. I think what’s so unique about it is you have an authentic way to collect, in a way that you could never authentically collect prior, in terms of tracking, right? And how you think about NFTs and how you think about the one that you own as the most unique one. You just think about the dynamics of digital assets, and you can do so many things with that that you can’t do a physical plastic. So I think the world is endless here. The audiences and the fans have been incredibly receptive, and there’s a lot of opportunities for us to take our IPs into many different areas, which is wonderful for us, not only as IP holders, but also as stewards of brands of pop culture. And I do want to add also, what I think is so interesting here is that collecting — whether it’s Hot Wheels collecting, whether it’s action figure collecting — is an inherent thing that we know very, very well. So this is a brand new landscape for us to do that.

PI: This is kind of a conversation swerve, but Mattel has so many movie projects in the works right now. Obviously, Barbie’s the one that’s getting a lot of limelight at the moment, but I know there are dozens of them. Can you talk a little bit about what those projects are going to bring to the company in terms of consumer products? And I, can’t not ask — When will we see product for the Barbie movie?

PL: So each product, each movie, each film, is of course its own world, in landscape and each brand. So some will be more, shall I say, merchandisable and product-driven than others.

But you know, kudos to Mattel Films. Robbie Brenner, who runs it, came in and really looked at our IP as part of strategy to say, “How do we really build? How do we work with the best filmmakers, the best storytellers, the best writers, and the best studios and tell the stories that are most authentic to audiences that they’re gonna love?” And I think it’s really been validated by seeing some of these images of Ryan Gosling right? Certainly here we are — It’s timely, right? And it’s just all over. It’s culture. The movie hasn’t even come out and it’s already of the zeitgeist. So it’s exciting. You know, I’ve been at Mattel, personally, for 16 years and there’s always been a hope. And now we have a date. And that’s really exciting.

PI: As Mattel continues to grow its collectibles offerings, what trends have you noticed in the past year, and how have those trends been brought to your presence at San Diego?

PL: I mean, I think there was an incredible acceleration during COVID around a lot of categories, and NFTs is one of them, for sure. But whether it’s training cards or action figures, there’s just been acceleration around collectibles, and we haven’t had the opportunity to play in that space with a lot of the IPs that we play in. So we had a really strong year last year with some of our IP, specifically WWE and Masters of the Universe, which have distinct collector segments targeted to audiences that just love these brands. And those businesses are just really healthy and really robust.

So it’s fascinating to me to watch these dynamics continue to evolve because we now have not just our retail channels, but we also have our Mattel Creations channel, which is or direct-to-consumer site. It’s exciting because we can do limited runs. We can do capsule collections, curated collections. We can do so many different things that allow us to widen the aperture of how we think about our brands.

PI: I remember when [Mattel Creations] launched and how it was just for the Comic-Con exclusives. And now here we are a few years later, and it’s got this incredible breadth of product. So what was/is the trajectory and plan for Mattel Creations? And was that the plan from the start, or has it just been growing because of COVID?

PL: That’s a really good question. I mean, the plan was always big. I think the creative and our design-led organization has allowed us to populate Mattel Creations with concepts and ideas that I don’t think some of us ever dreamed. But the collaborators are what I think is most impressive. The folks who wanna work with us. I’m wearing this Madsaki jacket, right? You know, there are so many areas where people want to partner with our brands and tell stories. It’s just really exciting.

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PI: I mean, even just some of the partnerships that have popped up, like the designer UNO cards —I like the way that it’s not just the licensed stuff, but also taking the classic toys and making those toys collectible.

PL: But the toys are canvas. You know, these brands are a canvas. And whether it’s Barbie, whether it’s UNO, whether it’s Masters of the Universe, they all mean something because people played with them at very, I would say, important times in their lives or continue to play with them or experience them. And if we can continue to engage with our brands, it allows us to create really fun executions and art, quite frankly, around these brands that bring joy and bring warmth to our fans. And that’s a lot of fun.

PI: As a fan, it’s been fun to watch. You already touched on this a little bit but, from an internal perspective, why is it ideal to use your own platform, like Mattel Creations, as opposed to partnering with retailers for those limited drops?

PL: You have to find the right things for the right channels. We have also watched and seen incredible acceleration around our collector businesses — I certainly have in my categories — with some of our key retail partners around the world. We will always find the right solutions for them. I think some of these curated collections, for Mattel Creations and for building a direct-to-consumer strategy… I just think about, like, how good we’ve got with some of our shoppable Instagram. We own the Instagram, we own that channel. We own that communication. And it’s really of the moment. That’s how a lot of us shop and explore, and we want to be there and we want to bring forward incredible collaborations. So, I think there’s something for everyone everywhere and it’s our job to find those strategies or find those products to meet that strategy.

The MOTU anniversary panel in Hall H at SDCC | Source: The Pop Insider

PI: To close, is there anything else that you’d like to share?

PL: Yeah, I think what’s really exciting is certainly He-Man’s 40th. It’s a dream for us to have a Hall H panel. The amount of fan response we have has been really just incredible, endearing, and warming, as someone who has the opportunity to think and work on the brand. But I think it’s pretty incredible to bring our Masters of the Universe to Comic-Con. Three years ago, we didn’t do anything near this size or scope. We’ve come so far. So it’s exciting. Amazing.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

About the author

Madeleine Buckley

Madeleine Buckley

Madeleine Buckley was a Senior Editor at The Pop Insider, The Toy Insider, and The Toy Book. She covered all things toys and fandom, and has appeared on Cheddar and a variety of regional news networks to talk about the latest trends in both. She is a movie score enthusiast, mediocre knitter, proud Syracuse alumna, and Marvel lover. You can usually find her at the movies or hanging out at home with her super-pup, Parker.