Special Report: Licensing International ’97: Men in Black dressed FOR success

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...
June 1, 1997

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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If Columbia/TriStar’s summer release Men in Black performs to expectations, its licensing, promotional and retail partners will experience out-of-this-world success.

Should these same partners sign on for the animated Men in Black: The Series, set to debut on Kids’ WB! in October, that success could be extended beyond the normal short-term shelf life of licensed movie merchandise. ‘Our strategy is to give our partners more bang for their buck, to give them more value to our properties,’ says Peter Dang, executive vice president of worldwide merchandising for Sony Signatures, the licensing arm of Columbia/TriStar Television and Film.

Men in Black is a sci-fi/action-comedy about a super-secret agency that monitors alien activity on Earth. Industry experts predict that it will be one of the top hits of a summer movie season that’s overloaded with action, sci-fi and sequels.

Sony Signatures has inked 30 domestic licensees covering all major categories, with Galoob as master toy licensee. Product rolls out in June in anticipation of the July 2 release.

As Sony eagerly anticipates sales results of Men in Black’s licensed product based on the movie, it is negotiating merchandising deals for product relating to the animated TV series.

‘The marquee value of the TV series has been increased based more on the buzz of the movie rather than the actual look of the animation,’ says Dang.

New licensed movie product will continue to be available into the fourth quarter. Licensed product from the TV series will become available by early 1998.

How the campaign started:

January 1996 (18 months ahead of release date)

Sony and Amblin Entertainment discuss a potential marketing strategy for a film in development called Men in Black.

In March 1996, when Sony announces the stars attached to the project, Sony Signatures establishes a time line to target licensing partners, with the knowledge that the film would be a summer 1997 release.

Serious discussions about an animated TV series based on the film begin in the second half of 1996. The series is green-lighted in February 1997.

First Licensee

In April 1996, a preliminary sales kit is mailed to potential partners.

‘At the time you start pitching licensees, it’s critical to have nice-looking materials from day one, because it shows them that the studio is behind the film,’ says Madelyn Hammond, vice president of marketing for Sony Signatures.

Galoob Toys is signed as master toy licensee.

‘Galoob was the first to understand the nuances of the movie and its cross-over appeal with kids and adults,’ says Hammond. Galoob’s enthusiastic support of the movie becomes a powerful resource to attract other licensees.

Other Licensees

In May 1996, Sony Signatures invites potential licensees, promotional partners and senior executives to the movie set to discuss the project with the film’s creative team. Of most interest to licensees is the design of the alien creatures by Oscar-winning makeup effects wiz Rick Baker.

At the 1996 Licensing Show, Sony zeros in on key licensees it needs to effectively market to the film’s demographic: boys eight to 12 years old.

A style guide and a second sales kit are delivered in August. ‘You have to constantly keep sending licensees whether they have already signed on or are potential partners new and interesting marketing materials to keep them enthusiastic,’ says Hammond.

By the fourth quarter of 1996, 30 domestic licensees have been signed. A few of the early ones are Aladdin Industries lunch kits (April 1996); Tiger Electronics electronic games (May 1996); Inkworks trading cards (May 1996); Disguise costumes (May 1996).

International licensees are signed up by the end of 1996.

Sony will give its movie licensees the option to license products for the TV series. Deals are expected to be finalized by the 1997 Licensing Show.

First Promotional Partner

Following negotiations that began at the 1996 Licensing Show, Ray-Ban signs on as a promotional partner in April 1997.

The partnership is an extension of a product placement deal Ray-Ban has for the film. Ray-Ban will sink over US$5 million in TV and create extensive point-of-purchase displays to support the program, which begins in May.

The Promotional Campaign

Hamilton Watches, creator of a watch featured in the film, becomes a second promotional partner. Sony is unable to find a suitable quick-service restaurant, as its choices are limited by existing strategic alliances.

The Men in Black promotional campaign begins in May 1996 when the studio starts leaking out information about the film at sci-fi conventions.

In November 1996, the Sony publicity department stages an event targeted to the key entertainment press.

In December, a teaser trailer appears in theaters, followed by a commercial that runs during the Super Bowl in January.

A regular trailer and a teaser one-sheet appear in theaters in March 1997, followed by a second trailer and one-sheet in May. The TV and radio ad campaign hits full stride at the end of May, as d’es the Ray-Ban promotion.

In June, a Will Smith video for a film-related song will debut. Men in Black popcorn bags and drink cups will be available in every major theater chain. Black Entertainment Television and MTV will conduct Men in Black promotions aimed at their respective demographics in July.

At the Licensing Show

Along with Men in Black: The Series, Sony will focus on upcoming films Starship Troopers, The Mask of Zorro and Godzilla, and on kids series Extreme Ghostbusters and Wheel 2000, a children’s Wheel of Fortune.

‘With all of the competition, retailers and potential licensees are taking a harder look at the marketing muscle and the strategy behind each property,’ says Dang. ‘Men in Black is an example of the type of property that Sony is targeting to extend beyond summer flash and build into a long-term franchise.’

Air Date: Film July 2, 1997; TV Series October 1997

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