Special Report: Licensing International ’97: Hearst plans to put

Eerie, Indiana on the licensing map...
June 1, 1997

Eerie, Indiana on the licensing map

The term ‘licensing partnerships’ has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job functions.

In our special report on licensing and merchandising, we trace the evolution of a number of licensing programs as they developed within leading studios. Each story begins when the licensing and merchandising departments first became involved in a property and then tracks the campaign as licensing and promotional partners join in culminating in the presentation of the property at Licensing ’97 International in New York.

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The success of Hearst Entertainment’s Eerie, Indiana reads like a storyline from the popular Saturday morning Fox series.

After sitting on the shelf for six years, the short-lived 1991 NBC live-action fantasy-adventure series, about a kid who lives in a seemingly ideal town with a weird dark side, has found its niche.

Since it launched on Fox in January, the show has joined with Goosebumps to form a formidable block of spooky fun that has consistently ranked as a ratings winner.

Now Hearst hopes to put Eerie, Indiana on the licensing map.

With series renewal secured for the fall, Hearst has moved quickly and aggressively into developing a licensing campaign to turn Eerie’s mid-season success into long-term brand equity. Eerie products are poised to reach retail in conjunction with the 1997 fall season.

Russell Brown, vice president of licensing at Hearst, admits that the company has been ‘scrambling’ to put together a licensing program because the show’s success came out of the blue. ‘There was no time to think about a licensing and merchandising program prior to its airing, because we were never really sure it was going to be on air,’ he says.

He first shopped the property around at Toy Fair, armed with weeks of solid Saturday morning ratings numbers as firepower. Key categories are in the contract stage.

By the time Eerie merchandise becomes available, the property will have had more than half a year of exposure to build awareness and demand for products, which Brown believes will be advantageous for licensees. Merchandise will be rolled out slowly. Hearst hopes that early retail success will evolve into a more diversified program.

Hearst has translated Eerie’s live-action elements into a cartoony, animated look that captures the flavor and spirit of the show and will be consistent on all products.

While the series has a strong following among kids age six to 11, Hearst’s licensing strategy targets teens and tweens. ‘We don’t want to give the current fan the impression that the property is a younger property,’ says Brown. ‘We want to maintain the integrity of the teen, tween and young adult viewership.’

As a result, Brown will not be seeking licensees in such traditional kids areas as underwear or domestics.

Hearst wants to control the growth and exposure of Eerie products at retail because it believes the property will be around for the long haul. ‘In retail these days, if you have a failure, the mind-set is that the property is dead, when in reality, you may have just made a bad product,’ he says.

How the campaign started:

February 1997 (seven months ahead of the show’s fall 1997 air date)

One month earlier, Fox picks up Hearst Entertainment’s Eerie, Indiana as a mid-season replacement series for its Saturday morning schedule. High ratings ensure renewal.

The show’s immediate success catches Fox and Hearst by surprise. ‘It took a couple of weeks to convince us and Fox that we had a ratings success and a show that would have long-term potential,’ says Brown.

Brown scrambles to put together a licensing program to coincide with the fall season. Talks begin at Toy Fair.

First Licensee

The first licensing category Hearst seeks is publishing. Hearst wants to capitalize on and emulate the success that Goosebumps had in that category.

Hearst signs on Avon in February 1997, and Avon agrees to create four to six novelizations for back to school 1997. The novelizations will have new storylines, but will be consistent with the style and tone of the series. Hearst sees these novelizations as source material for future episodes, which is another reason Hearst sought a publishing license first.

Other Licensees

At press time, Hearst was writing contracts with licensees in several key product categories, including publishing (other than novelization), toys (games), apparel (T-shirts), home video and interactive.

‘My preference is to work with people that we have a relationship with, and to offer them extended relationships in newer categories that they are interested in expanding into,’ says Brown. Brown prefers not to slice categories among many companies, because fewer partners make it easier to develop bigger programs.

Hearst is unsure whether it will seek a master toy licensee because the show d’esn’t lend itself to traditional toys. ‘We want to keep focused on the demographic [teens and tweens],’ says Brown. ‘We’ve been in conversation with several toy companies to help us determine what makes for good toys relevant to that audience.’

First Promotional Partner

Baskin-Robbins approaches Hearst at Toy Fair in February 1997 about a possible Eerie promotion. Within weeks, the companies agree on a Labor Day promotion for a new Baskin-Robbins ‘Eerie’ Fro-Zone flavor.

‘Their Fro-Zone section is targeted to the same demographic as Eerie, so I thought it would be a great fit,’ says Brown.

Baskin-Robbins will provide in-store and point-of-sale displays. Hearst may cross-promote with other Eerie product available in the marketplace at that time.

The Promotional Campaign

Hearst has deals pending for fast-food, non-carbonated beverage, confection and baked-goods promotional partners.

These will be stand-alone campaigns, rolled out over the course of the season. ‘Because we are a TV series, we can be more careful about how and when we plan our promotional campaigns,’ he says. ‘Strategically, we’ll have fewer but bigger programs, [and they] will be very interactive, involving several elements.’

On another front, Hearst plans to fully participate in Fox-based promotions. ‘The best place to sell or promote the relationship between licensed product and Eerie is on other Fox Kids media,’ he says. ‘I don’t want to be conspicuously absent from any separate Fox Kids [promotional] program that may be developed.’

At the Licensing Show

Hearst Entertainment plans to share its strategy on how Eerie, Indiana will evolve from a property to a brand. ‘Eerie is not just a mid-season replacement wonder. We have a plan in place to make it a five-year-plus brand.’

Air Date: Fall 1997

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