Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Decoding The Marketing Magic

Turtle Power rides again. Whether ringing your front doorbell this Halloween (the National Retail Federation estimates that some 1.8 million Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will roam the streets) or wielding a high-tech katana sword in the aisles of Toys R Us, it’s clear the reptilian Fab Four are this year’s retro toy hit.

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael may be celebrating their 30th birthday this year, but they’ve had their marketing ups and downs, says toy expert Jim Silver, editor in chief of Following a huge wave of popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s, they ninjitsu-d their way into the hearts, video collections and toy boxes of today’s Gen Y parents.

“But two subsequent efforts to reintroduce them failed,” he tells Marketing Daily. “When Nickelodeon got involved, created a brand-new animated series and committed to a movie, it made all the difference.” And the almost universally terrible reviews of this summer’s film didn’t matter: “These four heroes are very funny, and kids relate to the humor.”



Even little kids get the joke, says says Patricia Hogan, a curator at the Strong Museum in Rochester, N.Y., who specializes in action figures.

“There’s just something wonderfully absurd and silly about a fast-moving turtle,” she says.

It also helps that the characters are teens. “Experts in child development often say that kids like to follow kids who are just a bit older,” she tells Marketing Daily. “I suspect if these were Old FuddyDuddy Mutant Ninja Turtles, they’d have less appeal. They’re not grownups, like Superman or Batman. They’re kids. All they want to eat is pizza.”

And finally, she says, there was brilliance in creating a cast of four heroes, each with a distinctly different personality. “You can find the turtle most similar to you, and every kid in your neighborhood has traits that are more similar to one turtle than another.”

And while Silver says not all characters can make an automatic leap to the toy aisle (sorry, ‘bout that, Nemo), the turtles are a textbook success story.

“Throughout the history of toys, kids are attracted to nonhuman characters who undergo some sort of change,” Silver says. “Transformers aren’t people, they’re robots.”

Target has already tapped the turtles for its Top Toy list for the upcoming holiday. But Toys R Us is really flexing its shell, with exclusive action figures, play sets, vehicles and role-play items, all linked to the third season of the Nickelodeon TV series. It’s also running a “Turtles in Training” Sweepstakes, with a shot at winning an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles. (Winners will get to add their voice to an upcoming episode of the cartoon.)

As the party-loving Michelangelo tells Marketing Daily: “Cowabunga, dude.”

1 comment about "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Decoding The Marketing Magic".
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  1. Stone Zuber from ASU, October 4, 2014 at 5:26 p.m.

    It’s remarkable that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still a very loved and hot commodity. After many years, the ninja team has had its ups and downs in popularity, however this Christmas, Target is anticipating a top seller. Even after Michael Bay’s tragically reviewed movie yet again, the turtle love is still going strong. The National Retail Federation is even predicting about 1.8 million Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles roaming the streets this Halloween! Even with the previous two subsequent efforts to reintroduce the turtles failing, and Bay’s universally horrible reviews, the turtles trudge on. Lucky for them, they’re pretty funny and kids get the humor.
    Experts in child development mention that a main reason why these turtles are so popular is because they’re teenagers and they love pizza! Each with a distinctively different personality is genius, so everyone has a chance to relate to one of the different characters. Plus, kids are very drawn to characters that undergo some sort of change or development. It’s what makes them super and different!
    Alongside all the anticipated Halloween and Christmas hype, the Nickelodeon TV series is offering a “Turtles in Training” sweepstakes, with a chance to win an all-expense-paid trip to Los Angeles. To make things even more exciting for these turtle fans, the winners are allowed to add their voice to an upcoming episode of the cartoon! The reason this campaign has been so successful is because of the marketing that has gone into keeping these characters alive. Without which, this ninja team may have died off a while ago.

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