Action Figures Collecting, Production and Marketing Methods to Look For!

Action figures production has, due in part, during the 1990s, to the success of "Spawn" and the resurgence of "Star Wars", made some major advancements. Production became an "art form" and action-figures are remarkably better than ever before.

When figures first became popular, the ability to create poses was of paramount concern. This separated the action figure from the common doll. With the introduction of the 3 3/4" sizes, the need for more diverse vehicles and playsets became a market draw. And the 5" figures allowed the integration of interactive features.

However, if you pay close attention to the industry's marketing tactics today, you will find these figurines are starting to come full-circle back to the 8-12" format. This can be seen in such collector lines as Playmates' "Star Trek", Kenner's "Star Wars", McFarlane's "Spawn" and Hasbro's "Classic Collection G.I. Joes".

Many marketing tactics are starting to target the collectors these days. Below are a few of the marketing strategies that you may want to be aware of from the collector’s point of view. At any rate, it's a fabulous era to be a toy collector!


These are usually one-time-offers used to promote any number of other products and always destined for limited production runs. The concept is to get the consumer to buy other products and send "proof of purchase" seals of those products back to the manufacturer in order to receive the particular action figures, which are not available elsewhere.

Kenner is a major culprit of this marketing tactic. Some of their better known mail-in premiums include: Boba Fett with rocket firing backpack, Ambush Predator, and the more recent Star Wars mail-ins, to name a few!


Action figures that have attained top-seller status are great targets for an "exclusive". Many large retailers and distributors can afford to purchase great quantities of product from the toy manufacturer Toys 'R' Us is one example. They are in a position to request something special. These retailers can also request and receive products not available from other competitors. Then the hope is to get customers to shop at their stores.

A great example of exclusives were Playmates' Captain Kirk & Mr. Spock figures dressed in the garb of the classic Star Trek episode "A Piece of the Action". These figures were only available at Kay Bee Toy stores. Not only were both they considered exclusives, but were limited to 5,000 each and there was absolutely no advertising to even promote them. Talk about an exclusive!


This is the same basic idea as an exclusive. The twist is more than one retailer offers the "exclusive" product. "Semi-exclusives" are designed to avert the problems associated with regional retailer exclusives, such as stores located only west or east of the Mississippi River. There are also cases where some figures are offered to all retailers, but only one or two actually place orders for them. This scenario happened with Playmates' "Slag" from the "WildC.A.T.S" line.


Variations are considered minor changes made on occasion to various action figures. The changes can result from one or more of the following: 1) The correction of flaws or defects that made it into the retail market. 2) Changes to comply with government safety regulations. 3) Identical figures produced in different molds.

Quite likely, one of the most sought after variations was Kenner's 1995 "Power of the Force" tan vested "Luke Skywalker as Jedi Knight". The figure originally shipped with the tan tunic and was quickly corrected to black.


Toy companies will sometimes reduce the production of one or more figures in a series. They may even numerically serialize the figures in an attempt to enhance collector appeal.

Most toy manufacturers feel that characters which are not expected to sell in large quantities, often merit the "Limited Edition" label and are frequently found in the company's collector edition series.

As an example of this form of marketing, just take a long hard look at Hasbro's "G.I. Joe Classic Collection". But then, which one of these figures isn’t a limited addition (ha ha)?


Prototypes are production quality figures used to test out new molds. Usually made for the sole purpose of showing the detail of the figure before it goes into full production and for the most part appear unpainted.

Most prototypes never leave the buildings of the manufacturer, but some do slip out to be sold on the secondary market. Sometimes they are obtained by action figure magazines to be given away in a contest.

May individuals don't explore this avenue of collecting though, due to the simple fact that nine out of ten of these "rarities" are fakes produced by talented con-artists. If you are interested in pursuing these items for your collection, I would strongly suggest you check the background of the individual trying to sell you a prototype figure. And if at all possible, call the manufacturer to see if any were released.


This is when action figures are packed in reduced ratios per shipment case. Typically this will be one per case, while other figures shipped in the same case structure, may come two, three or even four to a case.

An excellent example of this is the ever-elusive "Malebogia" of the Spawn series from McFarlane Toys. There are a number of reasons this is done and it depends on what marketing strategy the particular toy company holds belief in. Some of the more popular corporate rationalizations are: 1) The higher cost of making a particular figure in a given case 2) Lower expectations of consumer demand for certain figures 3) Hopes that collectors will visit retail outlets seeking a particular figure

This theoretically will create more demand than supply, and in turn the collectors will either buy other figures in the line, and/or force the retailer to purchase additional cases of the product from the manufacturer.

Final Thoughts

action figures

Action figures collecting has become quite an active and enjoyable hobby over the last 30 years or so. You may want to pursue some of the figures that the above marketing strategies have been used on. If you are just getting started in your action figure fascination or have your own collection started, then you may want to check out this action figures blog. You should find some great info here, pics too!

Continue on to the next page for a profile on a typical manufacturing plan for creating action figures. You may find it vary interesting.

If you want to keep up on the varied and interesting activities going on in the world of comic books, then feel free to sign up for my newsletter “Comics Galore” in the form below. And by all means, I would love to hear your comments and opinions on superhero action figures. You can sure leave them for me at my contact page in the menu at the left. I may even be able to include them in my newsletter. I thank you ahead of time.

Dave Gieber

How are action figures manufactured?

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