Everyday Heroes

Toys and collectibles depicting police officers have taken a hit since the protests against police brutality began almost a month ago with the killing of George Floyd. Lego temporarily stopped marketing its police-centric building kits (but did not stop selling them), while Paw Patrol has come under scrutiny in some quarters for portraying the police in what critics say is an unrealistically positive light. On the adult side, TV shows such as Cops and LivePD have been cancelled and others have disappeared from the schedule temporarily and/or prompted discussions about their future direction.

This is a big change from a month ago, when a notable emerging trend was the creation of collectible and toy lines that featured first responders and essential workers—including police officers—as the heroes of the pandemic and beyond. Some of the examples set for release this year:

  • Mattel announced a #ThankYouHeroes line of products that started with Fisher Price and quickly expanded to the company’s Matchbox, Mega Construx, and UNO brands. The initiative is part of Mattel’s Play It Forward charitable platform, and net proceeds will go to #FirstRespondersFirst. The Matchbox gift set includes an ambulance, garbage truck, grocery delivery van, news helicopter, mobile hospital, package delivery van, and police car. One Mega Construx building set includes a police cruiser, delivery cart, and medical lab as well as a police officer, scientist, two EMTs, and an ambulance driver, and a second features a food delivery truck and kitchen, plus a firefighter, cook, and food delivery worker. A tinned set of UNO cards portrays Mattel characters as frontline heroes (e.g. Barbie as a scientist and He-Man as a grocery delivery worker). And, from Fisher-Price, 16 action figures include delivery drivers, EMTs, nurses, and doctors, while a five-character Little People set features one of each of those plus a grocery store worker. Products are set to ship at the end of the year.
  • Upper Deck released a collection of collectible trading cards featuring real-life essential workers such as nurses, grocery store staffers, and community activists under the Genuine Heroes banner. The company first launched the initiative in 2018 as part of the Goodwin Champions brand, with members of the military and public servants highlighted. The new cards expand the line by adding real-life COVID-19 heroes, selected from submissions from the public. The products will be digital at first, meant for sharing on social media, but Upper Deck said it was looking at the potential for a physical product release to benefit charity.
  • The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum introduced a bobblehead series of essential heroes including 35 different frontline professions such as warehouse workers, gas station attendants, food service and grocery store personnel, sanitation workers, mail carriers and delivery drivers, hospital workers, and more, each in a male and female version with dark and light skin tone options. Proceeds from the line, which is expected to ship in August, go to the Protect The Heroes campaign. Before launching this set, the institution offered bobbleheads featuring famous faces from the COVID era, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, high-profile state governors, and others, also for charity, with Dr. Fauci becoming its bestselling release ever.
  • Funko is developing a Frontline Heroes collection of Pop! Vinyl figures featuring doctors and nurses. The set is expected to launch in October and includes four figures, two female and two male, shown in full personal protective equipment. BoxLunch and Hot Topic are donating net proceeds from sales of the figures to GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. Funko made a separate donation to GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding platform that pairs nonprofits with donors and companies and is now focusing on supplying PPE to medical personnel. The figures are also available for preorder on Amazon and Entertainment Earth.

Many other licensees are supporting frontline workers through donations of proceeds from product sales or discounts to first responders, but the companies listed here have taken the extra step of creating merchandise depicting the frontline workers themselves. There has been no indication that any of the lines (or any of the figures therein) are not going forward, despite the backlash against portrayals of the police in pop culture. But it stands to reason that strategies may be tweaked to place less emphasis on police officers and more on health care professionals and other essential workers, depending on what the ever-changing landscape looks like when each line is released.

We recently posted our latest update on how the licensing business is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis; read that piece, and all of our other coverage on the pandemic, on our Coronavirus Resource Page. You can also read our wrap-up of trends impacting the licensing and consumer products community since the May 25 death of George Floyd, here.

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