New Line is smokin’

With his huge flashing white teeth, green head and demonic energy, the star of the The Mask has taken kids TV by storm....
July 1, 1996

With his huge flashing white teeth, green head and demonic energy, the star of the The Mask has taken kids TV by storm.

The success of the animated series is due in part to the work of Chris Russo, senior vice president, marketing, for New Line Television, and Dave Imhoff, senior vice president, worldwide licensing and merchandising, for New Line Cinema.

‘I think the way to build a great marketing program is to first understand your brand and the essence of your character and property,’ says Russo. ‘The way you do that is to look at it yourself and look at the research and response from the marketplace. For The Mask, one of the ways we’re developing the marketing is to look at what appeals to kids about the movie and home video and use those elements.’

The second part of the success equation is ‘finding the right marketing partners-the people that have the same sensibility and passion for the brand that you do,’ Imhoff adds. New Line has found those partnerships with companies that include Quaker Oats, Target and Taco Bell. ‘They embrace The Mask and the way the character transforms and combines action and comedy.’ At Taco Bell, a kids meal promotion had The Mask interpreted in a variety of different toys. This coincided with the launching of the series. Through Quaker Oats, 27 million cereal boxes-both kid and adult brands-carried images from The Mask. This leveraged the property’s appeal to more than one generation.

You can’t underestimate the importance of communicating with your partners, says Imhoff. ‘You have to make sure licensees are well aware of what’s happening and keep them in the loop. Your partners have to feel comfortable with the continuation of the brand.’

In order to maximize promotional efforts, the players have to ‘be creative in the ways they approach the partnership, and invent new executions and concepts instead of doing the same old thing,’ says Russo.

One such innovation, in keeping with the transformational nature of the character, is a T-shirt that changes color when worn outdoors.

‘The Mask is a colorful property,’ observes Imhoff. ‘There’s a fun element, and its premium promotions should bring a smile to kids’ faces. We want to make our promotions and marketing programs kids-friendly. We want kids to participate.’ Kids got into the act with a tie-in involving Disney Adventures magazine. A contest invited kids to write about what they would do if they wore the mask. The winner will appear as an animated character on an episode of the series.

The last thing you think of when you look at the character of The Mask is restraint. But that’s what New Line has used in order to prevent overhyping the property. ‘We haven’t done every possible promotion we could have done with The Mask,’ Russo notes. ‘We had to find the right partners and attitudes that speak to the brand and reflect the character.’ Over-promotion would cause a brand to ultimately self-destruct, and that’s the opposite of New Line’s philosophy. ‘We look at these as long-term franchises,’ says Imhoff. ‘One or two years is nothing. We’re looking to create classic properties.’ (New Line is banking on future success with a 1997 movie sequel to The Mask, with Jim Carrey set to reprise the title role, and a movie version of the TV series Lost in Space in 1998.)

Finding the right animation company to translate the manic character from a live-action film to a TV cartoon was essential in making the character work in another medium. In this case, Film Roman ‘really captured the inspired elements of The Mask so it’s not just an exploitative Saturday morning cartoon series,’ says Imhoff. Russo observes that New Line’s corporate culture has also made that task simpler: ‘We’re a very open organization in terms of communication and working together. That makes it easier to leverage the brand.’ Making sure time was on their side was another way to leverage the character. The TV series was already in development by the time the movie was released in July 1994.

Imhoff and Russo agree that the biggest challenge in the industry today is the increasing amount of competition. ‘One of the most difficult issues on the TV side is launching a property and getting it sampled,’ says Russo. ‘There’s so much intense competition. There’s a lot of product out there. As a result, marketers are turning more and more to new ways of licensing.’

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