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Special Report: Focus on Feature Films: Saban learns from its mistakes

Promotional partnerships have become crucial to the success of any mass-market film today. Our special report on feature films looks at the role that marketing and promotional support programs play in the successful launch of kids and family-oriented movies. We outline...
March 1, 1997

Promotional partnerships have become crucial to the success of any mass-market film today. Our special report on feature films looks at the role that marketing and promotional support programs play in the successful launch of kids and family-oriented movies. We outline the extensive cross-promotional programs, the licensing and merchandising activities and the host of related spin-off products that are supporting upcoming features.

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While Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie grossed over US$180 million worldwide, it came with a hefty marketing price tag. So, as Saban Entertainment readies to launch TURBO: A Power Rangers Movie, it’s taking a new tack. The film, with a marketing budget of US$20 million, is distributed by Twentieth Century Fox, and will be released in the U.S. on March 26. And compared to the first Power Rangers film, this one will target a narrow audience, explains Susanne Lee, senior vice president of licensing and merchandising at Saban.

‘Last time [with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie], we probably shot too broadly,’ admits Lee. Saban has learned that the best audience to go after is the one that has already been won over by Power Rangers, she says, explaining the plan is patterned after the successful launch of the Beavis and Butt-head movie, which targeted primarily MTV viewers. ‘Not everyone heard about [the Beavis and Butt-head film], but the right people heard about it,’ says Lee. ‘Why waste the money against the broader audience?’ Saban is relying on the 120 local Fox affiliates to spread the word about the film through a dense marketing effort, which will include hosting Power Rangers character appearances and participation in a Power Rangers sweepstakes.

The stations have also committed to run 20 promos a week, which Lee estimates will result in reaching 89 percent of the target audience a minimum of 14 times during the month of March. ‘The amount of advertising support from the stations will be tremendous,’ says Lee.

The other thing Saban is doing differently with TURBO is consolidating licensees for the TV and the movie properties. There will be a continuity between the merchandise, Lee explains, because the movie and the series both focus on TURBO Zords, custom-designed cars. Bandai America is the master toy licensee and the toy line will be promoted with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign.

‘On the licensing side, we have an opportunity to make sure our licensees see the Power Rangers as a brand,’ says Lee, ‘whether it’s the movie or the TV show. Last time, we tried to split hairs and it confused the whole issue.’ This effort will also make it easier for retailers to sell merchandise over a season rather than during a film’s potentially brief showing in the theaters. ‘As soon as the movie is over, there will be another Power Rangers series. Retailers will have that comfort.’ The new series, called Power Rangers TURBO, kicks off in April on the Fox Children’s Network.

And while McDonald’s, which played a big part in promoting Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, isn’t participating in any licensing efforts for TURBO, seeing that it’s tied up in a Disney deal, enthusiasm over the movie has helped bring on some key licensees in the last six months, says Lee. Gemini Apparel Group, for instance, has come on board as a major apparel licensee, manufacturing children’s tops and bottoms in sizes 0 to 7 that will brandish TURBO patches and screen printing. Another new partner, Freeze, a T-shirt manufacturer, is known for its strong design. It’s an important sign-on, explains Lee, because retailers use T-shirts as a test category. Another significant deal is with USA Laboratories, which has climbed on board to license Power Rangers vitamins. Not only d’es a vitamin deal provide a high profile and positive image for the brand, but, Lee adds, with a packaged-goods deal comes heightened awareness through major print advertising dollars.

And while Power Rangers remains a popular show for the third consecutive season and the action-figure line is still strong, Saban isn’t waiting for the popularity to wane. One of the things they’ve recognized is the need to keep excitement going with new characters and themes, says Lee. ‘We’ve found that it really builds the ratings on TV because kids are reinvigorated about the property.’ The movie will also introduce new costumes, new villains (an evil space pirate) and new challenges (saving planet Earth).

And while some industry analysts might argue that the brand is losing its momentum, Lee believes it’s already proven its staying power. As kids grow out of Power Rangers, she says, ‘younger kids are coming into it, so it’s a regenerating property. We’ve gotten over that hurdle of bringing new kids into the franchise.’

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