How to pick an entertainment property

Retailer Toys 'R' Us recently announced the hiring of former Turner Home Entertainment executive Michael Tabakin as director of trend merchandising. Other retailers are expected to follow suit as more chains realize the need to better understand the intricacies of tying...
April 1, 1997

Retailer Toys ‘R’ Us recently announced the hiring of former Turner Home Entertainment executive Michael Tabakin as director of trend merchandising. Other retailers are expected to follow suit as more chains realize the need to better understand the intricacies of tying in to licensed properties. The following article provides some tips on what to look for when considering a new property, whether it’s retail, fast food or packaged goods.’

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We’ve all experienced it: a phone call from an enthusiastic tie-in partner pitching the next Power Rangers or Jurassic Park. The person claims to have the one property you need to boost sales, to cut through the clutter, to put your product in front of a new entertainment trend. (And by the way, they want your media, and in some cases, a licensing fee, too.)

So how do you respond? How do you know if your would-be partner has the next sizzling hot equity or just another of the countless properties littering the promotion landscape?

The proliferation of new movies, TV shows, video games and other entertainment products has made it almost impossible to predict how a new property will perform. When you consider the risks of dedicating a promotion to that unknown equity, it’s downright scary. Here are some basic questions you should ask yourself and potential partners as you evaluate new properties:

- D’es the property come from proven producers? Check the track records of those behind the property. If it’s a studio, check its history with similar properties. For example, Disney is king with animated movies, but rarely hits it big with live action.

- D’es the property come from proven source material or a proven genre? If you’re looking at a TV show based on a book, how did the book do? If it’s based on original material, evaluate the relevance of the genre. A few years ago, no one had a clue about Goosebumps, but the horror genre and kids have proven to be a natural fit.

- Is the launch date firm? This is important. Ask repeatedly if the project is on track. Ask others in the industry if they know about possible delays. Sad but true, studios will not always be upfront with partners. If it’s a new animated property, be doubly cautious. Animation can’t be rushed. A word to the wise: always have a backup when you partner with an emerging equity.

- Is there strong media support for the launch? You can gauge how much noise a property will make by the producers’ media budget. This number is also a good way to measure confidence in the property: in most cases, the bigger the budget, the more the producers believe in their product.

- Is the launch date uncluttered and well timed for your promotion? Tie in with a property that has room to thrive. If it’s a dinosaur-themed video game that’s being released right next to another dinosaur video game, get out fast. The news of your promotion will soon be extinct. Also, try to time your promotion so it hits right before the new property breaks. You’ll benefit from the prelaunch hype.

- Has the property attracted proven licensees? A strong property often has strong licensees. If a major company such as Mattel is doing toys around the equity you’re backing, you’ve probably picked a winner.

Still, some huge properties have hit without any licensed product. This is an area where you just never know for sure.

- Has the property attracted other promotional partners? Another good indication of success is the quality of partners the property has attracted. A fast-food tie-in, for example, can create a lot of excitement from which your promotion can benefit. Involving one of the other partners in your promotion is also a great way to add value and limit your liability.

- Is the property extendable? Evaluate the shelf life of the property. If it’s a TV show, will it extend well into toys? If it’s a book, will it extend to TV? Goosebumps is big because it works in so many areas: television, film, video, publishing, toys, school supplies, video games and more.

- D’es the property appeal to more than one target? Unless your product has an extremely narrow focus, avoid properties that are specific to one demographic. You risk alienating a large part of your potential market. The ideal property appeals to your primary and secondary targets.

- D’es the property have a strong creative hook? Evaluate the property’s promotion potential. Will premiums have consumer appeal? Will the visuals make sense on your packaging? D’es the tone of the property support your brand’s positioning? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ select another property.

- If the property bombs, is the promotion still strong? This is your final check. Don’t let your promotion be influenced by bad box-office performance or low television ratings. Protect yourself with relevant, compelling offers that won’t be shattered by poor reviews. If the property you are considering d’esn’t allow for meaningful, timeless offers, look elsewhere.

Unfortunately, no entertainment property is completely without risks. And there’s no absolute way to pick a winner. (If you could, you wouldn’t be reading this.) Often, it’s the magical, intangible aspects of a property that make it so appealing and its promotions so successful. Follow these guidelines, however, and you’ll be a lot closer to the next Jurassic Park than the next Ishtar.

Chris Lacroix is the director of entertainment marketing at Chicago-based Davidson Marketing, a promotional agency that specializes in marketing to children.

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