Special Report: Fall TV: Casper

The Show...
September 1, 1996

The Show

After scaring up millions at the box office last summer, Casper reappeared as an animated series on Fox Children’s Network in February. Long a cartoon staple, the Friendly Ghost was given a 1990s makeover for the series, which features the latest computer-generated effects and characters from the movie. Look for even more new characters as Casper the animated series begins its second season this month.

The Marketing Concept

Ever since Universal Pictures gave the green light to the live-action version of the popular cartoon, Casper’s success has been a priority for the MCA entertainment conglomerate. When it became a hit, merchandising and television tie-ins got the fast-track treatment.

‘The February release of the television show following the movie’s success in the summer was faster than it would normally be,’ says John Dumbacher, vice president, licensing sales and retail for Universal Consumer Products. ‘Because we were aware it was being fast-tracked, we were able to get shipments out following the release of the show.’

Sister divisions have now had a chance to catch up with the show, which won its Saturday morning time slot last year. Their marketing campaigns will pack more punch into the show’s second season launch.

The Plot

‘Our strategy right now about Casper,’ Dumbacher says, ‘is really about creating a seamless program around the television show and merchandising.’ To that end, his division meets regularly with the show’s creative staff. ‘I think now more than ever, we’re working more closely with the television producers to make sure merchandise reflects the direction of the show,’ he says.

That means keeping abreast of new characters and storylines and applying the strategies that make the show a success to the licensing campaign. The key, he adds, ‘is understanding what makes Casper unique. He can be scary, but he can also be fun.’

Last season, Dumbacher notes, glow-in-the-dark tie-ins-whether on bandages, bedding or pajamas-proved popular.

This fall, the merchandising assault will focus on seasonal tie-ins for Halloween. That’s a natural, given a ghost as the central character, says Dumbacher. So Universal has worked with Trendmaster to create a line of merchandise for Halloween parties.

‘One item is a carved totem pole with all the characters’ faces carved in it,’ he says. ‘It’s an incredible alternative to actually carving a pumpkin.’

MCA/Universal Home Video plans to release two more titles in its Spooktacular New Adventures of Casper series on September 29. Each title will contain two episodes in glow-in-the-dark clamshell packaging. Priced at $12.98 each, the releases will be backed by cross-promotions with Tyco Toys (coupons for select Tyco products are contained in each Casper videocassette) and Lifetouch Portrait Studios (a coupon for a free 8 x 10 photo). A direct-to-video sequel is also in the works. ‘New television shows and a new video, obviously, all that helps,’ Dumbacher says. ‘It’s all about keeping the entertainment alive.’

Youth Marketing International will run an in-school promotion-a four-page teacher’s guide mailed to 20,000 schools-to support the latest video releases from the television series, along with several other MCA/Universal kidvid lines.

As this issue went to press, Universal Consumer Products was finalizing agreements with several partners to cross-promote Casper merchandising lines. ‘There are a number of players we’re in negotiations with,’ says Dumbacher. ‘A variety of people both on the packaged-goods side as well as quick-service restaurants.’

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