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A Playmobil figure with a red jacket and green hat
Source: Unsplash

Which object is being described here?

Nearly eight centimeters tall. Considered a toy classic all over the world. The 50th birthday was celebrated in style a few weeks ago.

Well? Any ideas?

Ding, Ding, Ding! That’s right – it’s the Playmobil figure!

The 7.5 centimeter tall figure has been in our children’s rooms for 5 decades. Hardly any other toy in the world captures children’s hearts the way Playmobil does. But what exactly makes the brand so unique? And how did a seemingly simple idea become a global phenomenon? Immerse yourself in the fascinating hero’s journey of Playmobil:

Heldenreise englisch - 50 Years of Playmobil - The Hero's Journey from 3 to 3 Billion Figures

A familiar World: The Birth of a Dream

Let’s go back to the beginning of the hero’s journey, to Bavaria in the early 1970s. In a laboratory at Geobra Brandstätter GmbH & Co. KG, in the midst of experiments and ideas, the trained cabinetmaker Hans Beck worked. He worked diligently on various toy concepts there. Although the industry was already considered very diverse at the time, Beck was convinced that something was missing – he dreamed of creating something that would transport children to new worlds, adventures and magical stories! This dream and the strong will to make it come true finally gave the inventor the courage to turn the spark of his idea into a fire!

Call of Adventure: The Vision comes to Life

Hans Beck made a final decision: he was going to turn his vision into reality! He decided to develop a new kind of toy that would encourage children to invent stories.

Refusal: Risk over Risk, over Risk

However, the realization was a bold step both for Beck himself and for Brandstätter GmbH & Co – the Playmobil concept was very different from conventional products in the industry at the time. Introducing a new type of toy involved a certain amount of risk, as there was no guarantee that consumers would accept this innovative idea.

Horst Brandstätter takes on the Role of Mentor

But Beck was not the only one firmly convinced of his idea – he received a lot of support from his colleagues and his supervisor Horst Brandstätter. He began to create prototypes to find the ideal shape for his toy. Hans Beck worked on the development for several years until he finally presented the world’s first three Playmobil figures in February 1974 – and was initially rebuffed.

First Threshold: From Flop to Success

“The reaction was disappointing because the buyers didn’t think much of the product. I was very shocked”.

Horst Brandstätter admitted this in an interview a few years before his death in 2015. The flop of the figures was very worrying for the company boss – his company mainly produced children’s furniture made of plastic, which was very expensive and valuable at the time due to the oil crisis. That’s why Hans Beck and Brandstätter planned a toy that required less plastic in production. In the same year, they had developed an improved version of the figure: movable limbs, removable hairstyles and the unmistakable Playmobil smile.

The initial disappointment did not last long, as the first big success was celebrated in 1974: a Dutch buyer thought the Playmobil figures were so great that he ordered a huge quantity from Geobra Brandstätter GmbH & Co. KG immediately ordered a huge quantity. The order was so large that it even exceeded the Bavarian company’s capacity! From one day to the next, Brandstätter turned everything upside down and produced Playmobil figures instead of children’s furniture.

Trials, Enemies, Allies: Despite Challenges, Playmobil remains a steady Toy Trend

Although Playmobil initially enjoyed plenty of fame, the company faced many challenges on the road to its current success: competing toys and skeptical opinions were obstacles, while supporters and loyal customers became valuable allies. The brand had to assert itself and prove to the world that it was more than just a passing trend! But with the help of constant further development and the introduction of further new theme worlds, Playmobil conquered more and more children’s hearts all over the world.

Playmobil set with a riding stable theme
Source: pixabay

The Reward: Expansion of the Playmobil Universe

In this hero’s journey, every hour of work and every second of doubt was richly rewarded: with every new character, a new door opened into another world – two years after the great success, not only the marketing of the first female characters followed, but also of animals, vehicles and houses. The variety of characters in the Playmobil universe grew rapidly in a short space of time – and continues to do so today! Brandstätter and Beck thus gave children something magical: the opportunity to find themselves in numerous adventures and stories.

After just three years, Playmobil’s turnover was already over 100 million marks (equivalent to around 51 million euros) and continued to rise rapidly: according to statistics, the German company generated an incredible 614 million euros in turnover in 2022 alone!

A Playmobil family on the playground
Source: pixabay

The averting of a Crisis is followed by an even stronger Return

Even in the most successful times, Playmobil fell into a crisis in the 1990s. Changes in the toy market and a decline in demand presented the company with major challenges – it had to adapt and reinvent itself in order to survive on the market. In this hero’s journey, the “advance to the deepest cave” step can be skipped, as the Bavarian toy manufacturer has had to deal with crises, but never a final boss!

But even after setbacks, Playmobil remained steadfast and fought (to this day) to assert itself in a highly competitive industry. Due to clever marketing, strategic partnerships and the development of innovative products, the toy company managed to overcome the crisis. At the beginning of the 2000s, they returned to the top of the market stronger than ever before.
New themed worlds, improved technologies and a constant focus on quality kept the brand fresh and relevant for many more generations of children. Playmobil’s products are often inspired by the wishes of their most loyal companions – the children themselves! Despite the challenges, Playmobil remains a permanent fixture in the world of toys and is always synonymous with creativity and boundless imagination.

A Playmobil figure with a surfboard next to a camping bus
Source: pixabay

Resurrection: A Bridge between Tradition and Innovation

The introduction of digital concepts and the use of new technologies marked a new era for Playmobil. By combining tradition and innovation, the company has succeeded in reinventing itself time and again and meeting the changing needs of its customers. Playmobil has released over 6,000 different figures since its market launch in 1974. In recent years, the company has taken the next step and even turned the little toys into YouTube stars: the Playmobil characters experience exciting adventures in funny, entertaining cartoons.

The true Elixir for 50 Years of Playmobil: Zeal, Courage and Adaptability

The true elixir of Playmobil’s success lies not only in the products themselves, but in the vision and passion of its creators and employees. Their unending commitment to quality, innovation and fun has made Playmobil a timeless brand that has changed the world of play forever. Today, it is the largest production facility for children’s toys in Germany!

Despite many risks, Hans Beck decided to realize his dream. The brand still plays in the top league today – a remarkable achievement when you consider how many millions of options children have today. This unique hero’s journey shows us just how much the company has changed over the last 50 years. It is also proof that setbacks can never stop someone from realizing real dreams!

How did a health sandal make it to the Oscars? You can find Birkenstock’s exciting hero’s journey here: Enjoy reading!