Licensing Diary: The Simpsons

Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising is repositioning its classic brand The Simpsons domestically while expanding the licensing activity for the series internationally....
May 1, 1997

Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising is repositioning its classic brand The Simpsons domestically while expanding the licensing activity for the series internationally.

The Simpsons, now in its eighth season, recently surpassed The Flintstones as the longest-running prime-time animated series. The irreverently skewed slice of suburban life has been renewed for an additional two years.

Licensing of Simpsons product in the U.S. will most likely never reach the giddy heights of the early 1990s, when Bart Simpson T-shirts reached a clip of over one million sold a day. Domestic licensees have dwindled from over 100 to 12, focusing on such areas as greeting cards, collector plates, CD-ROMs and original animation cels.

Rosanna McCollough, executive director of marketing at Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising, reports that there is ‘cautious optimism’ among retailers for a new wave of Simpsons-related product. ‘The onus is on Fox to come up with the right mix of product, the right target audience and the right retail outlets to create a successful campaign,’ she says.

Domestically, Fox is developing a new strategy that expands licensing activity to target a younger audience beyond its primary 18 to 35 demographic. It has developed a new line of Simpsons T-shirts, which will be available by June, in an exclusive partnership with Kids ‘R’ Us. Expansion of the line depends on the results of this program.

‘We think there is a huge opportunity to take it a little bit younger,’ says McCollough. ‘We want to dip our t’es in before we expand it broadly.’

The growth of Simpsons licensed product internationally proves that America’s favorite dysfunctional family has become a worldwide sensation. Internationally, The Simpsons has over 150 licensees. The show is proving to be a big hit in the United Kingdom, Europe and Australia. As demand for Simpsons products increases, Fox draws on its American licensing experience to avoid glutting the market with product.

‘You can’t be everything to everyone or you risk diluting the equity of the brand,’ says McCollough. ‘We’re able to apply our experience in the U.S. to those markets that are newer.’

Fox views The Simpsons as a classic brand. As a new classic, the property retains flexibility. ‘There’s a certain freedom to working on The Simpsons as opposed to traditional classic properties,’ says Maury McIntyre, associate brand manager for The Simpsons.

Don’t have a cow, man. Here are some Simpsons highlights:

- Fall 1987: The Simpsons premieres as part of The Tracey Ullman Show.

- December 1989: First full-length prime-time episode airs.

- Fall-Winter 1990: Bart Simpson-mania hits. T-shirts sell at a million a day; the Bart Simpson Butterfinger campaign is launched; a Bart balloon debuts at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

- Christmas 1992: Bart’s Nightmare from Acclaim becomes the best-selling video game during the ’92 holiday season.

- April 1994: 100th episode of The Simpsons airs.

- Fall 1994: The show premieres in syndication.

- Summer 1995: Fox Licensing launches In the Dark product design.

- August 1995: MCI runs promotion around ‘Who Shot Mr. Burns’ season premiere.

- February 1997: The Simpsons surpasses The Flintstones as the longest running prime-time animated series.

- Summer 1997: Fox Licensing partners with Kids ‘R’ Us for a line of T-shirts aimed at children.

- Winter 1997/Spring 1998: Fox and upscale U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer will develop an exclusive menswear clothing line, with plans to expand into children’s clothing and accessories.

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