The Merchandise Driven show, otherwise known as the "half-hour toy commercial", is not merely a television show (or other work) with a line of toys licensed on the side, but a television show created from a line of toys. The program exists largely to sell these products to the audience, and this is most commonly associated with cartoons and anime targeted at a younger audience. It is rare for an independant show's merchandise to become so successful that it puts selling merchandise first.
Note that there are very few instances of the Merchandise Driven cartoons of today that predate the deregulation of children's television in the Reagan years. The FCC classified 1969's Hot Wheels cartoon as "a thirty-minute toy commercial", which pretty well killed the show (along with reruns of Linus the Lionhearted, a show starring the cartoon Mascots of the Post Cereal line).
(Conversely, it was rare that a popular show would spawn action figures and toys when it was actually on the air in the US. Throughout The Sixties and The Seventies, the only reliable source for the various Cool Cars and Cool Ships from various science fiction and superhero shows were the Corgi line, imported from the UK. Mego's Star Trek figures didn't appear until well after the show was in reruns.)
Today, there is a full symbiotic relationship between the show's production and the toy company (or other manufacturer licensed, show-themed products), which is usually the primary (or even only) sponsor of the show. But the key difference between this and normal licensed merchandising is that here, it is the toy manufacturer who dictates the show's Canon. They may be able to demand addition or removal of characters from the series based on the actual toys in their production line, or that new characters must be something that they can design a toy version for on demand (Military or paramilitary-themed shows and Humongous Mecha anime are particularly prone to this). Another sign of a toy manufacturer exerting influence is the blatant structuring of episode plots solely around the newest merchandisable toy accessories, often where the characters Gotta Catch 'Em All or be declared a failure as a human being ... yeah, something like that.
Merchandise Driven shows are not limited to a young audience either. Many anime are adapted from manga or video games only if there's an existing lucrative market, and older anime fans are often targeted for their potential loyalty and deeper wallets. That so many late-night anime can maintain a decent budget is due to this small but vocal group of fans.
Can be halfheartedly avoided with the use of a Segregated Commercial. Still, this sometimes produces a Franchise Zombie. However, Tropes Are Not Bad — some fandoms like the merchandise more so than the show itself.
Many musicals ensured that potential hit tunes were reprised a few times. This was as much for the sake of the song publishers as for dramatic opportunities like the Dark Reprise. The revues, which were formed around Sketch Comedy and had little to no plot, could get quite shameless: some of them explicitly introduced song reprises as a ploy to sell sheet music.
Note that a show can have a line of licensed merchandise without being Merchandise Driven, and once the requirements are met the writers are basically given free rein to script what they want. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was famously quoted as saying there is nothing wrong with using characters in marketing, so long as the quality of one's work stays refined. That said, Bill Watterson has famously taken no chances, and limited Calvin And Hobbes to the print medium, to prevent any decay in quality. (Unfortunately, this caused people to just make offensive unauthorized merchandise...)
Also note while this can often be the main reason for a show's existence, it is never the only reason, that's what actual commercials are for. Shows of this nature always do their best to tell a story and to keep the viewers hooked with said story. Keep that in mind whenever viewing a show that falls under this trope.
It's also notable that, when the series is particularly well-done, it may outlive the product that inspired it. This seems to be particularly true of comic books, such as Rom Spaceknight and Micronauts. It's also common for merchandise driven shows to develop a cult following that long outlasts the original merchandise; such a fanbase may result in its eventually being Uncanceled (usually with accompanying new merchandise), as the current incarnations of Transformers,G.I. Joe, and others can attest.
Compare Misaimed Marketing, where this sort of thinking is applied where it shouldn't be. See also Defictionalization, where the licensed merchandise is also merchandise inside the show; and Breakaway Advertisement. Contrast with The Merch, where the merchandise sales came after the work, in order to support it. For derivative works that are (usually) not metatextual focus of the original work, see Tie-In Novel and Licensed Game.
Per Trope Repair Shop, this trope and The Merch are under repair to better distinguish the tropes, so watch for some major edits to this page coming soon. Basically, if you can find no evidence that either the program was created to market a toy line, or the people involved with the toy line have creative control, then your example belongs under The Merch and not here at Merchandise Driven.
See also Product Promotion Parade, a common occurrence in Merchandise Driven works, and Cash Cow Franchise. The Sixth Ranger is a common trope in these works, due to the addition of toyetic new characters.
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The Pokémon anime is an arm for advertising the video game series, with storylines being tied to the games, certain Pokémon games being promoted near the time of release, and character and plot being de-emphasized over showcasing the newest monsters. And it worked; it became one of the most popular children's cartoons and anime series at the time of release, and helped turn Pokémon into the Cash Cow Franchise it is now.
Contrary to what some may believe, the original Yu-Gi-Oh!manga/anime did not fit this trope: not only was Duel Monsters not originally part of the series, it took a while before it could be developed into a real collectible card game, which explains why the series seemed to be making up rules as it went along before the Battle City arc. Its sequel series, Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, and Yu Gi Oh Zexal, however, were very much this, causing some fans of the original to complain. Ironically, there's a rumor going around stating that the cards were wiped of text not to eliminate the Japanese language from the dub, but because a rule in children's television prevented "in-show advertising" to be shown (which the executives felt the show would skirt if the cards were left untouched or translated). Evidence for this is seen in Yu-Gi-Oh: The Movie, in which the cards look like the real cards, and are even translated into English.
Digimon, in all of its anime forms. Notable as the marketers didn't care about anything except the merchandise and gave the anime writers a free hand, with diverse results. Digimon Tamers even features merchandising from the franchise in the show!
It should be noted that, nevertheless, it still shows in most series, only not as blatantly as other examples in this page; the exact degree varies considerably. Adventure 02 is a good example — in the series, Takeru's and Hikari's Digimon had to evolve into Armor forms because the plot placed a restriction on normal evolution methods. Later in the series, the limitation was lifted, allowing Patamon and Tailmon to reach their (more powerful) angelical forms; nevertheless, they still went with the Armors most of the time, since they were what was selling then.
Digimon Xros Wars tightly embraces the marketing side - practically every main character was clearly designed with Combining Mecha toys in mind, and as such the story primarily wove itself around said combining gimmick, but it is unclear how much of the story is influenced by it. It paid off, as its toy sales were reportedly the best of any Digimon line in years and were enough to prevent another Sequel Gap happening; said sequel, Digimon Xros Wars: The Young Hunters Leaping Through Time, is significantly less toyetic so far, to the point where no actual toys for the series are known to exist at this time.
On the other hand, Digimon Frontier provided a rather blatant example, as Takuya, Kouji and Kouichi's combined forms, as well as their Ancient Digimon, were quite clearly designed as simple amalgamations of their earlier Hybrid forms and thus easily able to be made into toys. Susanoomon, the final hero, was also a visible amalgamation of KaiserGreymon and MagnaGarurumon.
Battle B Daman had a similar premise, based on increasingly ludicrous games involving marble-shooting chibi robots.
In the same gamut, Bakugan. At least it has a better justification (parallel universe and all).
Ojamajo Doremi showcased magical accessories that were not only gaudy and colorful, but even in the anime looked like cheap plastic, and featured sounds, lights, and actions that were easy to replicate via the magic of mass production. This Dreamspinner◊, for example, is precisely as depicted in the show, right up to the point where it fails to spit out a magic wand and costume — they're sold separately.
Savagely attacked (both literally and figuratively) in the final episodes of the Humongous Mecha series The Brave Express Might Gaine, which up until that point had been a fairly straightforward merchandise-driven show. The titular Brave Express team and their boy genius creator discover that their entire world is the creation of a malevolent alien... toy company and their entire lives up to this point have been one long commercial for the company's line of toy trains that turn into robots. Our heroes are understandably upset about this and go on to fight against their creators for control of their own destinies. This is said to be a case of Writer Revolt due to a breakdown in relations between Sunrise, the studio that produced the anime and the Takara toy company.
The entire Brave Series was heavily Merchandise Driven; the franchise was essentially a knock-off of Transformers when Takara was having difficulty with its other contractors about that franchise and so turned to Sunrise, then already famous for Mobile Suit Gundam, and asked them to animate several toy-driven kid's shows. The brand never did as well as Takara had hoped it would and they eventually stopped caring, which led to both the above example and pretty much everything that ever happened in GaoGaiGar.
The "success" of a Gundam anime series is often considered to be measured by the number of Gunpla models it sells. The fact that many of these series are either good, great, or mind-blowing, seems completely unimportant to its production company.
Ironically, Tomino made the original Gundam series in an attempt to make the Giant Robot genre something other than a toy commercial. It hasn't always worked. For example, the color scheme of the titular mech was drastically altered to be more visually appealing (even though it was much, much less realistic). And all of the other modifications to the original story.
Even more ironically, the Gundam series' continued survival and success is largely down to the fact that Bandai chose to sponsor the series and sell plastic models. The original series' cancellation was in part due to poor merchandising.
Gundam Sousei discusses this. The show's ratings were absolutely terrible, so Tomino started creating blatantly toyetic mobile suits and vehicles (such as the G-Armor) in hopes that toy sales would keep the show afloat. It didn't work, but the strong toy and model kit sales did help convince the studio to do a trilogy of Compilation Movies, which eventually lead to Zeta Gundam, which was far more successful.
In the later parts of the UC timeline, mobile suit technology is refined to the point where the suits can be built 20-30% smaller and lighter without sacrificing power or armor. And so Bandai gets to market smaller and cheaper models in the same scales, grades, and price points as before.
Despite the expense of new kits, this has recently been phased out as newer kits are often priced depending on their weight and complexity. Kits like the 00 Qant and the Unicorn Gundam are hot sellers but they are priced according to how much plastic is in those kits. On the other hand, large kits like the Sinanju err to the more expensive side.
Often times, Bandai will find ways to release old kits as a new model with various ways to make them seem like legitimate standalone kits. One such method is to market recolors (0 Gundam and the celestial being colors) or spin-off variations of a kit (Astraea, Astraea type F) without having to create an entire set of runners. This can be both subtle and completely in your face like the GN condenser 00 where the frame is the exact same except for an extra clip that gives you the condenser pieces.
Funnily, this is also the creation behind Sunrise shows that fans call "it's Gundam, only not". Since the Gundam name has such a specific stigma behind it and requires model sales to be successful, Sunrise will make shows that in many ways are essentially Gundam series, but called something else in order to avoid said stigma. Examples being Code Geass, Valvrave, and Dragonar, which was called by fans "the best Gundam show of the 80s".
Zoids is unusual in this respect, as the original model line from the 80s had no supporting media, aside from two short promotional videos, a few video games and a comic series produced by Marvel. The second model line, however, had numerous anime and manga adaptations, though only the first three (Zoids: Chaotic Century, Zoids: New Century, and Zoids Fuzors) saw distribution outside of Japan.
Hello Kitty and all her Sanrio friends. They have various adaptations including TV shows and comic books, but they are at heart saleable products.
In Sailor Moon, the Outer Senshi had unique Transformation Sequences due to the transformation wands Bandai sold at the time. Since the Outer wands came with tubes of lipstick, the Outer Senshi were given close-ups of their lipstick magically gliding over their mouths during their transformations.
In the live-action Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the weapons and accessories used by the characters in the show were the actual toys on sale concurrently in the shops.
Inverted as to why Telecom Animation Film (Yes, thatTelecomAnimationFilm) did this; The reason why Telecom did this series was to make up all of the money that Telecom lost on Green Lantern First Flight witch spent 78 Million dollars to make, Telecom (at the time) only made 5.6 million off of it (US DVD sales only, a extra 3.8 for Blu-ray sales, and another 5.4 million counting the rest of North America and Download sales, 14.8 million dollars in total); in order to make up all of the money Telecom lost on it, they did Lilpri, however, they did not get much money from this as 100% of the first broadcast fund went straight to TV Tokyo and they only got money from post TV Tokyo airings & Crunchyroll's uploads and they did not get merchandising rights either (that went to Sega & Shogakukan), which in all, Telecom only made 1.8 million in it's whole broadcast.
Pretty Cure: Becoming a long running Cash Cow Franchise for Toei Animation. The franchise grew so popular over the years that toys, dolls, accessories, and coloring books are released long before the new season even airs or even proves ratings worthy.
The Black Rock Shooter franchise exists to promote new BRS figurines. It would have been less egregious if other Other-world characters have their figurines released, but they just keep releasing BRS variations (regular, 2035, BRSB, IBRS...), and the variations aren't even all that different.
Anime distributing company Funimation had even gone on to say that the reason why they were unable to get the rights to the TV series was because of the expensive toy dealings that were practically tacked on to the rights.
In Queen's Blade the Visual Battle Books are what really ignites any other related product for the franchise, from figurines to Anime/Manga and Video Games; Hobby Japan itself are endorsed by other companies to make merchandise of their products, so making some for their in-house creation comes off as expected.
Medabots was a vehicle to sell a series of video games and customizable action figures; justified in-universe by having battlers being able to take one part from their opponent on victory and add it to their robot. Fits this trope to a T; and was also pretty memorable in its own right.
Cardfight!! Vanguard definitely smells of this, with a hefty number of early episodes pretty much being dedicated to instructions on how to play the game.
Redakai was made in an attempt to support a card game of the same name, with the characters "Unlocking new X-drives" (basically opening a booster pack of cards and listing them off) at the end of each episode.
A glaring example of this is a comment made when Ky unveils his "Gold Metanoid"
Boomer - I've got to get me one of those!
Monsuno, which is being backed by Jakks-Pacific and Topps. It is gaining a steady fandom for the show, card game, and action figure line.
Parodied in the dub of Shin Chan with Tokusatsu hero Action Bastard, spoofing toy-driven tokusatsu with open plugs for action figures, role play gear, and mail-away offers during episodes.
In Atop The Fourth Wall, Linkara reviewed a comic called "US-1" that was used to try and promote a line of toy trucks. It failed miserably.
Marvel's Micronauts comic book series was created specifically to sell the action figure toy line, but writer Bill Mantlo successfully turned it into a well-written and sometimes deeply philosophical science fiction epic, while doing all they could to avoid some amazing similarities between the toy line and the recently-released Star Wars: A New Hope. The comics outlasted the toy line, but since Marvel doesn't own the trademark, the Micronauts have rarely reappeared in the Marvel Universe, and their more familiar aspects, and name, have been suspiciously absent when they did appear.
Bug still appears without the rest of the team, since he bears so little resemblance to the "Galatic Warrior" figure on which he was very loosely based, that Marvel can claim him as their own original creation.
Marvel Comics had several toy-based series in the late 70s/early 80s: in addition to Micronauts, there was also Shogun Warriors,ROM: Spaceknight, Transformers, G.I. Joe and others. Somewhat unexpectedly, nearly all of them, especially G.I. Joe, are usually regarded as quite good. All of these (except Transformers and Joe) were considered part of the main Marvel Universe, meaning they could interact with Marvel characters. In fact, even after losing the rights to the main characters, Marvel still owns the ones they created (such as the Dire Wraiths from Rom) and they still show up in the comics occasionally. Marvel also created a few series that were intended to be adapted as toy lines, such as Crystar Crystal Warrior with Remco.
More recently, after merging with a toy company, Marvel produced a comic based on its own "MegaMorphs'' Transforming Mecha toys. Fans seem to regard the resultant comic as So Bad, It's Good.
Marvel's Secret Wars miniseries was created to promote sales of Mattel's Marvel toys.
DC produced three mini-series for Kenner's Super Powers Collection toy line. The minis are fondly remembered today due to featuring artwork from legendary comic artists like Carmine Infantino and Jack Kirby.
A similar mini-series was produced for Kenner's Total Justice action figure line. The contrived plot saw the members of the Justice League donning high-tech suits of battle armor after temporarily losing their abilities. The writer, Christopher Priest, has admitted in later years that the series was pretty awful.
The original Atari Force started off as promotional giveaways included with Atari 2600 game cartridges. The second series kept the backstory and the characters, but was otherwise an original sci-fi romp.
BIONICLE was, for LEGO, something of an experiment in this trope in response to increasing financial trouble and realising that reliance on their Star Wars licence wasn't a good permanent solution - the company theorised that promoting a line with a story would bolster sales compared to lines without a story. It's hard to tell whether the story was much of a factor, but they were proved right for a while — no other LEGO line sold better until around 2007, this being when the story really started to become bloated. Though the toyline was terminated in early 2010, the line's head writer continues to write story serials, making BIONICLE an example of a merchandise-driven property that outlived the merchandise. Its Spiritual Successor, Hero Factory, is still merchandise-driven but doesn't push its story as much in comparison.
LEGO also tried this with an AnimesqueHumongous Mecha set clearly inspired by stuff like Voltron. LEGO Exo-Force lasted three years; while short compared to City or BIONICLE, it was very popular during its run, second only to BIONICLE and LEGO Star Wars sales. It died in its third year due to the loss of the studio producing the related comics and because the bigger sets of the second year stayed behind in stores like solid rocks.
This is becoming more and more common in "regular" comic books, from Events to other stories. Many, many stories now heavily feature rapid-fire costume switches and variants on old costume designs, as heroes gain temoprary power-ups. DC's Blackest Night and Marvel's Fear Itself show this most strongly. In the former, a dozen heroes get possessed by Power Rings that alter their costumes more than once. In the latter, heroes and villains get new costumes and weapons. All have the side-effect of allowing whole new sets of toys to be created in their likeness.
Larry Hama's legendary run of G.I. Joe was full of this, in spite of his writing. Many, many issues featured an entirely new cast of characters on their "first mission" or a "training run" or somesuch thing, as they were based off of new toys that were coming out. Hama seemed to take it in good cheer, and enjoyed coming up with creative new concepts and character names. Aside from a near-constant recurring main cast, the comic featured an endless supply of new background characters.
The title was so popular that a second book, Special Missions, was started up with the stipulation that Hama didn't have to write all of the new toys into it.
In one case, when the "Eco-Warriors" subline (which included main cast member Flint) was worked into the book, Hama added a line about how the team's special new uniforms were made out of recycled action figures.
Spy Gal, who received a one-shot comic book as part of a promotion between Marvel Comics and Benefit Cosmetics.
Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, a feature length movie widely regarded as a classic. Quaker Oats Company agreed to underwrite the production in order to help the launch of a new line of candy. While Quaker failed, Nestle, the eventual owners of the Wonka license, did succeed with the re-releases of the film, as well as the remake.
Possibly the most blatant was the movie The Wizard which was basically a 90 minute infomercial for the Nintendo Entertainment System. They not only include showing characters playing popular video games at the time, they also showed the Nintendo hint line, and most (in)famously the Mattel Power Glove (which never worked as well as advertised, making one character's Totally Radical statement "it's so bad" more true in the literal sense). The climax of the movie has them going to a video game championship where it's revealed that they will be playing a secret game. The not-released-at-the-time SUPER! MARIO! BROTHERS! 3! The climax of the movie is the new Super Mario Bros game!
Singin' in the Rain is a rare example of a merchandise driven product that turned out beautifully. The studio had the rights to a catalog of songs, and asked some filmmakers to make a movie with those songs in it for promotional value. A more crass motive you could not imagine, and yet Singin' in the Rain is considered one of the best movie musicals of all time.
While were on the topic of Pixar here, Cars quickly became Disney/Pixar's Cash Cow Franchise in terms of selling merchandise. Kids don't want Woody, Buzz, or any of the other characters Pixar created; they want cars. Cars 2, the only other Pixar sequel created outside the Toy Story movies was created simply because the Cars franchise became a merchandise goldmine.
On a somewhat related note. At least part of the reason the Superman franchise was in Development Hell for so long is due to executives wanting to depower the Man of Steel so they could give him Batman-like toys that they could sell to kids.
Mattel execs hoped Masters of the Universe would save the then-dying He-Man franchise by reigniting interest in the brand. Unfortunately, the film flopped and the toy sales continued to plummet.
Similarly, Hasbro started the Transformers Film Series out of a need to revitalize the brand after the Dork Age of the Unicron Trilogy. It worked. The films were all box office hits, and the toylines were big sellers. The toys for the first Transformers film surpassed Power Rangers in sales for the top boys' toy series. The second film proved to be a big example of Critical Dissonance (it made several worst of 2009 lists, but made over $836 million worldwide), and had steady toy sales. The third film made over $1 billion worldwide, and the toys make that much every year.
Horus Heresy isn't really the best example as GW proper does not produce any Heresy-era miniatures (their sister company Forgeworld recently announced a serie of Horus Heresy campaign books and models, but the book serie had been going for years before). Many BL books heavily feature special characters from the games and sometimes you can catch hints of new models in books released shortly before a new codex/armybook that feature the army in question.
A series of Barbie novels was published in the 1960s that portrayed the character as a high school student. In 1999, a new series was published for Generation Girl line.
iCarly: Parodied when the webshow started advertising for sneakers on her show. The foot warmers and wi-fi pedometer linkup exploded and wiped hard drives, respectively, so they obviously didn't advertise them for long.
Worse, there was a monster that turned into a car not too many episodes later. Perfect for debuting the bike and working with the plot rather than against it.
The Milestone Celebration episode Forever Red in Power Rangers Wild Force was a hideous example of this. The original finale to the episode was supposed to of had the classic Megazords fighting Serpentera, but was shot down because they didn't want to promote old toys. Even more, because Bandai was helping finance the episode (as it was made during the transition between Saban and Disney), they were forced to use the brand new motorcycle Cole got the episode before, leading to the ridiculous Curb-Stomp Battle between it and Serpentera.
Power Rangers Samurai has a nasty case of it. The toys don't really look like the show versions due to The Powers That Be not expecting a new season. So the Rangers' Transformation Sequence involves transforming first into the suits minus helmets but with face-concealing masks (as that is how the toy makers did the usual head-flipping figures without actors to base heads on) and then the helmets form. During mecha fights, the toy versions of the Rangers' gear is used while in the cockpits, and only there. This means there are enough all-new suits and weapons that you could make a whole new series out of them if you wanted... and all this stuff only exists while piloting the Megazord and serves no purpose whatsoever within the show. (You'd think morphing from the show version to the toy version would make a good Mid-Season Upgrade, but that'd mean making expensive new fight scenes instead of being able to use Stock Footage from Samurai Sentai Shinkenger.)
The production staff of both series have even said that TV ratings are an afterthought compared to merchandise sales. The reason behind the increasing amount of mecha and Rangers in recent Super Sentai seasons are to recoup the losses of an underperforming Power Rangers under Disney's tenure with the show. Power Rangers is also typically the best-selling boys' toyline in America; so it's often a big deal when it's outperformed, as other examples of this trope can prove.
Every single episode of Madan Senki Ryukendo is devoted to the introduction of some new toy. The main character has four different forms (with four different action figures) each with its own robot sidekick — that's eight episodes to introduce everything. Then towards the end of the series he gets a Super Mode that upgrades everything he has, meaning another eight episodes to introduce all of his new powers. And then at the end of that, he gets an Ultimate Form. With equally Ultimate robot sidekicks. This isn't counting the episodes where he gains a new piece of barely-useful equipment (Madan Dagger, anyone?) or one of the two other main heroes gets a new upgrade/robot sidekick/finisher. God forbid he use the powers he already has in a new and interesting way.
The Metal Heroes franchise of the early 80s to mid 90s featured the same kind of toys most sentai do, however a lot more emphasis was placed on firearms such as Blue Swat's famous Dictator, which fired frighteningly similar to a real gun.
Also, they had crazy arsenals even when it was just one hero, as much gear as the average Super Sentai series (right down to the giant robot in some cases.) Bikes, tanks, drill-tanks, fighter jets, and at least one giant mecha-dragon all launched from a huge flying base. There are whole sentai teams who don't have as deep a bag of tricks as a Space Sheriff may on his lonesome.
For a time in The Sixties, it was de rigeur for eccentric characters in high-concept Sitcoms to drive George Barris-customized show cars. They would invariably be available as AMT model kits. Examples include Batman's Batmobile, The Monkees' Monkeemobile, and The Munsters' Munster Koach and Drag-U-La.
Monty Python's Flying Circus parodied this with "Trim-Jeans Theatre," which presented plays and movies with the cast members all wearing Trim-Jeans.
The newer seasons of Glee have basically gone from a TV show about life in a glee club to a commercial to sell cover albums. Is it really a surprise that the ratings have gone down?
This sort of work is homaged by the energetic Hip hop/Dancehall act Major Lazer with the video for their song "Hold the Line". The film is a mostly animated adventure featuring a Lazer-armed superhero fighting vampires, cut with footage of kids playing with Major Lazer action figures. Even down to the video quality it looks exactly like an '80s toy ad for He-Man or similar. Sadly the toys are unavailable, made for the promo only - especially irritating because they look beautiful.
Garfield, as its creator Jim Davis would eventually reveal, was created specifically with this kind of marketability in mind. Maybe not as a toy per se (the character was dramatically less toyetic in appearance in the beginning), but definitely as a line of merchandise.
Robotman, created by United Feature Syndicate in the '80s to be a marketing icon — a rare instance of a character actually being created by a syndicate and handed over to a cartoonist instead of the other way around, and an excellent example of how Merchandise Driven the comic strip industry in general had become by this point. After looking over a comic submitted for syndication by a young Bill Watterson and recommending that he spin off two of its minor characters into their own strip, they asked him to incorporate Robotman into the resulting product. Watterson, unsurprisingly, refused, and wound up not getting the gig. He moved on to rival Universal Press Syndicate, and the rest is history. And what became of Robotman, you ask? He eventually did get his own comic strip, but it never became the marketing boom the syndicate hoped, and was eventually renamed Monty after the eponymous character was written out at the syndicate's own recommendation when they discovered it was hard to market a strip called Robotman.
Homaged with the Cartoon Action Hour role-playing game. The first version even suggested players think of gimmicks for a corresponding action figure when creating characters.
What once started as a joke among the fanbase became less of a joke in light of the more obnoxious army rules sets that come out. In the memorable case of the 5th edition Codex Tyranids, the iconic Carnifex, which was once a staple of any Tyranid list worth using for decades on end, was nerfed into near oblivion. But fear not, for Games Workshop's new Tyranid model range is full of winning units, such as the Trygon / Mawloc kit, and the now-ubiquitous Hive Guard. Have fun buying new models, kiddies!
Some players think that Games Workshop is steering away from this due to the increasing number of units with complete rules developed long before the models come out. Former examples include the Space Marine Drop Pod, Ork Battlewagon, Tyranid Gargoyles and Tervigon, Chaos Daemons' Seekers of Slaaneesh and Dark Eldar Razorwing, while current examples (as of October 2012) include various special characters like Old Zogwort, Justicar Thawn and Baron Sathonyx and a vast number of Tyranid units including the Harpy, Shrike Brood, Doom of Malan'tai, and Parasite of Mortrex. Forge World, a separate modeling company specializing in resin kits, will sometimes sell kits for these units, but crack is not only cheaper, but has an infinitely simpler assembly.
Oddly enough, the company has almost no merch beyond the models and books themselves. Given the rabid fanbase, including many who love the setting but don't play the main tabletop game, this seems an odd choice in an age where even every webcomic sells T-shirts.
There is a whole genre of Video Games that only exist to promote a product. They are called Advergames.
Darkened Skye is probably the weirdest case. When you look at it, it could have probably be an RPG on its very own (even the title doesn't look any Advergame-ish), but it's a game to promote the Skittles candies. Since the makers had freedom (no Executive Meddling), they decided to do it in a parodied way.
In the early 2000s, Wonka.com had a plethora of "Wonkanized" (and quite good) remakes of arcade games—Pac-Man, for example, became "Gobstopper Gobbler;" there were also several original games such as "Oompas Wild Rush."
Urban Rivals manages to do this without a tangible product. The Web Comics promote characters on the cards, often with gang team-ups, sometimes with what appears to be a Crack Pairing that actually hints as to how the cards could work together in a hand. The showcased character cards enjoy a boost in popularity and price, and purchasable booster packs tout the inclusion of the characters.
Skylanders is Activision's foray into this area: An Action Game with collectible physical figurines and a device through which they can unlock virtual versions of themselves for player use. To date, consumer response has been positive due to the surprisingly high quality of the game component. You get three figures for free with the purchase of a game, and they're great characters, but in order to fully explore the game, you need a character from the other five elements. Of course, nothing's stopping the completionist from collecting all the characters. And their variants, if you're so inclined.
In the early 90s, a bunch of Amiga games were released that advertised certain products (mostly fromn Germany). Examples are
"Bi Fi - The Snack Zone" (promoting a popular sausage-like snack food)
"Das Schmutzige Erbe" (The Dirty Heritage) 1 and 2, promoting the German Ministry of Environment and "living green"
"Das Telekommando" promoting phone company Tele Kom
"Helikopter Mission" promoting the German Armed Forces and specifically service as a Helicopter pilot. Gameplay and graphics were similar to Desert Strike, but no enemies, weapons or violence was involved and missions consisted of dropping paratroopers and supplies.
With the incredible number of shirts, hoodies, pins, calenders, posters, books, and music for sale, Homestuck itself is this too.
Parodied in the Cheat Commandos in Homestar Runner. The show is not only blatantly market-driven, it doesn't even attempt to hide this fact. Buildings are routinely referred to as "playsets," and one of the toys is called the "action figure storage vehicle" within the show. "Cheap as Free" (the name of the fictional toy manufacturer) appears every time a new object appears, and the show's theme song includes "Buy all our playsets and toys!" In one episode, they even go through the battery compartment of the Headquarters Playset, where the batteries have been left in too long and have leaked.
Silent Rip: No wonder the electronic lights and sounds stopped working. These batteries haven't been changed since Donnie's twelfth birthday!
This is particularly ironic since Homestarrunner.com is, itself, entirely supported by merchandise. In fact, they sell an actual set of Cheat Commando figures in the shop, and papercraft playsets are downloadable for free.
Mattel recently created Monster High just for this reason. They also planned a book series and a movie from the get-go.
Deconstructed in Sailor Nothing, when Himei notes that "I'm very tired." wouldn't sell any action figures. Nor would her second catch phrase, "I want to live."
This ended up being one of the reasons for the cancellation of the Mega Man cartoon show, due to strife between Bandai and Capcom about the sales of the toys based on it. It also overlaps with What Could Have Been, as the cancelled action figures included Proto Man in his Break Man outfit and Bass, suggesting these would have been status quo changes for the third season.
Maxies World: Hasbro introduced a line of dolls in 1988, and there also was an animated series that aired during the 1989-1990 season.
Captain Simian And The Space Monkeys was intended to be this trope but the action figures didn't sell, which led to its cancellation despite the fact that the show itself was pretty damn clever and well received.
G.I. Joe. This is most blatant with scenes where the plot stops to have the team's bridge layer tank, piloted by Toll-Booth, appear out of nowhere to lay a hinged two-piece bridge down, extending the size of the bridge to fit larger gaps. Of course, real-life armored vehicle-launched bridges can't extend their length like that, nor can the toy.
Transformers. An odd instance of the fandom embracing this. Toy reviews abound, fanfic tends to feature toy characters who weren't on the show, etc. Most notably, if a character doesn't have a toy made, you'll often hear fans clamoring for it... the Rule Of Cool applies here, and the Rule of Fun even more so, but they're double-edged swords: a sub-standard figure tends to garner far more backlash than a sub-par episode. The Transformers Wiki has a whole page about this.
Thing about bad toy backlash is that a bad episode, or even a bad season, isn't the end of the world - the next can always be better. But if a character isn't one of the top four (Optimus, Megatron, Starscream and Bumblebee are most common), he's probably only getting one or two toys, and if it only vaguely resembles the character or has all the poseability of a cinderblock, that's just tough luck. It's about wanting your favorite character on your desk and finding out that you never will because Hasbro (the toy company) somehow thinks this figure◊ looks like this guy◊. Not that it's not subject to Fan Dumb, too.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Interestingly, it was originallyan indy comic created by two guys who were trying to push the genre as far as it would go, in order to make a not-entirely-serious point. Hence Comic Book Raphael calling his 1987 counterparts "sellouts" in Turtles Forever.
Jayce And The Wheeled Warriors, which was cancelled after the first season because the toys didn't sell well. That's why the show has No Ending—the plot would have been resolved in a movie that died along with the series.
Ben 10: The original series didn't start out this way, as the first toyline didn't sell all that well and the network had more faith in The Secret Saturdays as their toy-selling cash-cow, but then the Ben 10 Alien Force line was a much bigger hit, outselling the Power Rangers line, which is a big accomplishment. The third season of Alien Force and pretty much all of Ben 10 Ultimate Alien and Ben 10 Omniverse became much more toyetic as a result.
Winky Dink: You are incapable of watching the show to its full interactive potential without the kit. Literally.
The producers of Batman Beyond later confessed that they were ordered by their bosses to produce this series as simply a means to selling more Batman toys. However, the producers, creators of the Diniverse franchise, worked their talent and created a dynamite television series after all. Ironically you would've been hard pressed to find any Batman Beyond toys even when the show was still on the air.
The same thing occurred with Spider Man The Animated Series and its story editor John Semper, who managed to sneak in compelling plot Story Arcs into the limited animation cartoon, which was specifically supposed to be designed to sell a line of action figures.
My Little Pony, of course, to the point where, because there were costumes and accessories as well as the Ponies in the toy line, there are entire episodes where the Ponies are dressed as cheerleaders and in bathing suits, apropos of nothing.
Given the massive Periphery Demographic for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Hasbro has switched gears extremely quickly (by toyline standards), rapidly introducing new/recoloured/retooled ponies and minifigs over the course of 2012. The growing sales can only encourage them.
Two words: The Batman. There was even a toy that responded to the on screen appearance of the Batwave, which popped up at least Once per Episode. Thankfully, it got a lot better with each passing season.
An excellent example would be the Dino Riders cartoon, designed specifically to sell a line of Tyco dinosaur toys. The Home Video VHS tapes even had commercials during the show.
The Bratz doll line has managed to launch several straight-to-DVD disasters and a major motion picture, and a short-lived animated TV series that was actually pretty entertaining.
Barbie dolls have been the basis for a series of direct-to-DVD (or VHS) films. Because they are based on the idea of Barbie and the rest "playing" characters, each film (including those in the ongoing Fairytopia series) has its own line of tie-in products.
They even sold plush doll of a cat from the Barbie movie "The Prince and the Pauper" that interacted to said film via a special box-like object.
Parodied in Peanuts, with a short-lived character named Tapioca Pudding. Her father is a merchandiser who's determined to license her image on an infinite number of knickknacks, including lunch boxes.
A more recent example, the Canadian cartoon Ruby Gloom, despite its charm, was created to promote a line of clothing and stationery; given which, you'd think said clothing and stationery would be a lot easier to find.
Care Bears: Originally created to appear on greeting cards, according to The Other Wiki, it was spun off into a toyline, with the main reason of existence of the cartoons and movies being a shill to market the toys.
The Merrie Melodies cartoons were originally designed to promote music owned by Warner Bros. Eventually, however, that distinction was dropped, with the names Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes basically becoming interchangeable.
There was to be an Incredible Crash Dummies CGI animated series. The pilot was free with several action figures for sale. Sadly it never quite took off. Which is a pity, the show was fairly humorous, Product Placement aside. And as they were crash dummies, dismemberment was not unheard of, and in fact was quite frequent, showing just how bad a crash could in fact be.
The toyline originally spun off from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Crash Dummy PSAs, starring dummies Vince and Larry. They were licensed to Tyco for the toyline, which was initially known as "Vince & Larry, the Crash Dummies", and the packaging included a U.S. Department of Transportaiton trademark for their names (as well as the PSA slogan, "You could learn a lot from a dummy; buckle your safety belt!"). However, the PSAs ended up getting pulled for fear of being misconstrued as toy commercials (even though neither the toyline nor Tyco were mentioned). At that time, Tyco rebranded the line as "The Incredible Crash Dummies", and Vince and Larry were replaced with original characters Slick and Spin.
Visionaries: The main characters in the show could undergo Voluntary Shapeshifting by projecting an image of their totem animal from their chest. The action figures had 1980s hologram stickers on their chests where you could sort of make out the animal if you already knew what it was.
Parodied in an episode of Garfield and Friends in which Garfield wakes up in the wrong cartoon, one with giant robots. At one point, when Garfield is wreaking havoc with the giant robots, one of the robots says "The toy company will not like this."
Parodied in The Simpsons when Bart and Lisa's news show gets canceled in favor of the "Mattel and Mars Bar Quick-Energy Choc-O-Bot Hour", a Super SentaiSuper Robot show designed to sell action figures, chocolate, and "Entertaining Mattel Products" (ironically, said show was mentioned in the beginning of the episode as being "barely legal"). And again, with Trans-Clown-O-Morphs.
The creators of Batman The Brave And The Bold stated that the entire Starro storyline was pushed upon them by Mattel in order to sell toys. The writers were also usually forbidden from doing solo episodes about female heroes, as they did not have figures in the tie-in toyline.
Lampshaded in-story when Booster Gold sarcastically remarks that "The toy company" won't like the idea of him fighting crime without a costume.
It also gets parodied in "Mitefall!": Reality Warper Bat-Mite tries to ruin the show itself, one of the things he does is insert obvious toy product placements, such as the "Neon-talking Super-Street Bat Luge".
Hot Wheels has had three series (World Race, AcceleRacers, and Hot Wheels Battle Force 5) under this trope, all in the same overall storyline.
In it's final season, Super Friends was renamed The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians in order to tie-in to Kenner's popular Super Powers Collection line of toys. Accordingly, Cyborg and Firestorm were added to the cast due to their prominence in the toy line.
Freakazoid! did a famous parody of this trope in an episode that showcased the Freakmobile, even lampshading the goings on by using and defining the term "toyeticnote The suitability of a vehicle, character, or franchise to be merchandised as toys" onscreen. Series producer Steven Spielberg popularized the term "toyetic" after a Kenner Toys executive warned him that Close Encounters of the Third Kind wasn't suitable for merchandising. Spielberg told the executive to license Star Wars instead...
Although it never was made, in the early 90s Mattel planned to make a Wonder Woman toyline and cartoon. The popularity of Sailor Moon in Japan at the time inspired them to create a similar series for America called Wonder Woman and the Star Riders. The series would have been about the exploits of a teenage Wonder Woman as she fought evil alongside four Magical Girls. Then suddenly the plan was dropped without a word. The only material that ever reached the public was a tie-in comic DC wrote as part of a promotional deal with Kelloggs.
The Nicktoons series Zevo-3, as the show's shoe-themed superhero premise arises from a series of Sketchers commercials. It got to the point that parent groups tried to have the show taken off the air for what they viewed as such blatant marketing towards children.
Robotix. Strangely, the animated series entry on Wikipedia is many times bigger than the toyline entry, while in other countries (such as France) the animated series is totally unknown (while the toyline is merely "obscure").
When you get down to it Captain N The Game Master was more or less a vehicle for advertising Nintendo games, even though the show rarely portrayed the games accurately. Frequently they would actually name the game world after the game it came from, even when that was very wrong, (e.g., apparently Metroid is a place instead of a energy sucking jellyfish creature,) possibly just for the sake of this trope.
Street Sharks, plus being a (good-hearted) ripoff of a few then-popular cartoons.
In an inversion, the series Thundercats was created before the toy line but due to issues wasn't aired until after the first wave of toys were released.
Sadly not the case with Thundercats 2011, which is officially "in the air" because while the show was massively popular, the toys didn't sell as well as expected.
This was also the reason Sym-Bionic Titan was cancelled as Cartoon Network were trying to get a toy deal for it. No company was willing however and they pulled the plug on the show despite a small dedicated fan base, a growing story arc and none of the loose ends being tied up.
MASK, which was created to sell a toyline of the same name by Kenner, which combined elements of the aforementioned Transformers and G.I. Joe.
In the early 1960s, many tv cartoon shows were tied in with a cereal company sponsor (Jay Ward with General Mills, Hanna Barbera with Kellogg's, Looney Tunes with Post), often with said characters in cereal ads and on boxes. Post then had new mascots created for their cereals, and they all became characters on the Linus the Lion-Hearted show. This proved too much of a blur between programming and commercials to regulators, and the show was canned. The only current remnant of the series is Sugar Bear for Sugar/Super/Golden Crisps.
Rescue Heroes, both the show and the accompanying Fisher-Price toyline.
Ultimate Spider-Man is infamous formanyreasons, but this trope is in good place amongst them: a lot of fans complained about how the toy promotion was obvious and sometimes illogical (such as the Spider-Cycle).