Founded in 1954 by D. David Abrams, the Mego Corporation was a family-run business that originally churned out cheap, no-name toys for sale in dime stores. That all changed in 1971, when Abrams’ son Martin took over Mego and switched the company’s focus to eight-inch-tall action figures, many based on licensed franchises from film and television, including (but not limited to) Star Trek, Planet Of The Apes, The Waltons, Happy Days, The Wizard Of Oz, Starsky And Hutch, The Little Rascals, Logan’s Run, King Kong, and an assortment of DC and Marvel superheroes, including Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and Hulk. By the end of the decade, Mego was one of America’s largest toy manufacturers.
Part of the company’s success came from its aggressive television advertising campaigns, which were focused directly at kids instead of their parents and included open-ended fantasy scenarios that children could reenact at home. A YouTube channel called wirthwhilemusic has assembled a very entertaining, hour-long compilation of vintage Mego ads from the company’s heyday. The ads show a great deal of inventiveness and wit. An ad for a Fonzie figure begins with mock testimonials from Wonder Woman, Farrah Fawcett, Cher, and Golda Meir. (“He’s a regular pussycat!”)
The hour begins with ads showcasing one of Mego’s first big triumphs: Action Jackson, an all-purpose adventurer who had his own extremely catchy theme song (“Action Jackson is my name! Bold adventure is my game!”) as well as plenty of outfits and accessories. The DC and Marvel characters appear after about 21 minutes, and the Star Trek stuff kicks in at the 27-minute mark. Part of Mego’s business plan was working directly with retailers such as Kmart, tailoring their products and packaging directly to the needs of the stores. So this compilation includes some of Mego’s messages to retailers, bragging about the success of Action Jackson and other lines and promising months of relentless TV commercials leading up to Christmas. In one such appeal, an announcer makes this odd-sounding statement: “And Mego has something for the little, little kids, too. Woodies!” He’s referring to one of the company’s flops, a line of baby toys made out of wood. (They had nails in them and had to be recalled.)
The 1980s were not kind to Mego. Burned by the failure of its other sci-fi movie toy lines, the company unwisely passed on Star Wars. A latter-day shift toward electronic toys proved disastrous, and Martin Abrams did four months in prison for tax evasion and fraud before the company bit the dust in 1983. Today, however, Mego toys remain popular on the collector market, and several companies still manufacture eight-inch figures in the Mego tradition. Some of the most amazing commercials Mego ever did, however, weren’t even for those famous figures. Take this 1975 ad for one of Mego’s bizarre board games. It’s tough to believe it’s true, and yet, there it is.