With about 90 million books in print, a top-rated TV show, prime-time specials and a movie in development, Scholastic’s Goosebumps is a merchandising dream.
But consider that this dream is based on a series of books with no visual elements, save the covers, and a television show with no regular characters and that dream becomes a bit of a merchandising challenge.
The books, first published in July 1992 with a new one each month, not only lack illustrations, but have the added challenge of an existing identity that, according to Deborah Forte, head of Scholastic Productions, already exists in the minds and imaginations of children.
The job of giving potential Goosebumps licensees something to work with without tampering with that identity fell to Sharon Lisman, director of product development for Scholastic Productions. ‘I needed to make sure that our licensees,’ says Lisman, ‘could take the essence of the Goosebumps property and somehow portray it on product across all categories.’
Lisman’s first step was the daunting task of reading all the books in the series, which now number more than 40. ‘I really emphasize that you have to read the books to understand the property thoroughly. They have a tremendous sense of humor. They’re very edgy and they reach an older kid, which is one of its great appeals. It really fills a niche.’
Interviewing informal focus groups of Goosebumps readers, checking out Scholastic’s Web site, and surveying the thousands of fan club letters sent to Scholastic weekly, Lisman gleaned insights into what turns kids on and armed with that information started the Goosebumps style guide a guide that gives very clear boundaries for licensees on everything from color to packaging.
The first thing Lisman designed as part of the guide was the distinctive and creepy-looking G in the Goosebumps logo. ‘That was one thing I did to unify the product and give it a brand look,’ says Lisman.
An important part of the Goosebumps book phenomena, Lisman discovered, was the series number of each title. During interviews, she found that kids referred to the books, not by their titles, but by their series numbers, so that became part of the style guide, as did an entire section devoted to foreboding slogans such as ‘Beware, you’re in for a scare’ and ‘Enter if you dare.’
A very specific packaging program with guidelines for POP displays, blister packs, signage, and advertising was incorporated into the guide, so that consistency extends beyond the actual product. To eliminate any mysteries as to how her mandate would translate at the retail level, Lisman and her team photographed the interior of stores, input the images into their computers and then draped their designs over the shelving.
True to Scholastic and Goosebumps’ book publishing roots, the trademarked logo ‘Reading is a Scream’ is mandatory on all Goosebumps packaging. ‘Because we are a book company and our origins with Goosebumps are books and Goosebumps makes kids read,’ says Lisman, ‘in every way shape and form we remind people in a subliminal way that reading is a scream.’
Scholastic maintains very close relationships with all its licensees and ultimately it’s a partnership, but Scholastic and Lisman still carry veto power. Nevertheless, Lisman fully expects licensees to understand what works best for their product. If style restrictions cause problems, solutions are found within the boundaries of the guide. ‘For example, green might be the worst color to sell on boys’ pajamas, if that’s the case, then we’ll work with something else,’ she says.
As for the long-term outlook of this fairly young license, Forte notes that the television show has been ‘a wonderful catalyst’ and now quality and longevity are priorities. ‘We have a good product mix now and a good distribution mix that will make this a strong brand in the marketplace,’ says Forte.
To date, there are approximately 20 licenses with more partnerships in the works. Companies on board so far include: DreamWorks Interactive for computer software, Happiness Express for school supplies, Giant Merchandising for T-shirts and sweatshirts, and Fox Home Video for videos.