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 creation of Mummies Alive! and its licensing campaign began spontaneously one summer during DIC Entertainment president Andy Heyward’s family vacation in 1995. Heyward visited the Egyptian Mummy Collection at The British Museum in London, and his kids ‘went crazy over the mummies,’ says Joy Tashjian, president of worldwide merchandising and sales at DIC. Thanks to Heyward’s imagination working overtime, the idea for a kids series was born.
‘At that time, we had a tremendous relationship with [Ghostbusters producer] Ivan Reitman, going back 10 years to The Real Ghostbusters series, which ran for about four years on television and generated over US$500 million in toy sales,’ says Tashjian.
Seeking a repeat performance of that successful partnership, Heyward and his marketing team Michael Maliani, senior vice president of development, and Robby London, senior vice president of creative affairs searched for an idea to which Reitman would lend his name.
The process took some time. Rietman shot down every concept they had. ‘He’s very selective an active partner, not the kind of producer that just signs off on things,’ says Tashjian. Heyward finally found the perfect opening to pitch to the producer in January 1996, when the Mummy exhibit traveled to Los Angeles. Reitman and his kids accompanied Heyward to the exhibit, and Reitman showed ‘some real enthusiasm,’ says Tashjian.
The mummies concept has now evolved into a boys action-figure line and an action-adventure series for children age four to 10.
Currently, the team is growing the licensee list, but not too quickly. ‘We’re not looking to build it so large that each licensee is given fragments. We want the property to be well supported, but we want the licensees to reap the benefits of a good solid program,’ says Tashjian.
How the campaign started:
January 1996 to June 1996
From these early conceptual seeds, the show and licensing plans are fleshed out, and the early concept is presented for the first time at the Licensing Show.
The Hasbro Games Group comes on board as the master toy licensee in October 1996, 11 months ahead of the air date.
‘Once we had Hasbro in place, we selected our syndication company [Claster Syndication],’ says Tashjian. She notes that having the master toy license in place is vital, because without it, it’s difficult to get solid funding for a TV show. ‘Once you have the TV show and the syndicator in place, then you start to look at your ancillary licenses.’
Claster starts presenting Mummies Alive! to the various station groups for syndication sales, and between October 1996 and February 1997, a clearance ratio of over 85 percent is achieved. ‘This told us we were definitely ready for the full expanded launch into ancillary categories,’ says Tashjian. At press time, the show had cleared over 90 percent of the U.S. in over 197 markets.
From February 1997 to press time, several major licensing categories had been secured in deals with Hasbro, Buena Vista Home Video, Fruit of the Loom, Aladdin, H.H. Cutler Company, Hanover Associates, Impact, Disguise, Ero Industries and Leif J. Osterberg. Licenses encompass athletic footware, party goods and accessories, toiletries and related items, T-shirts, underwear and pajama sets, jewelry, articulated and non-articulated dolls and games. DIC’s licensing strategy is to pursue a lot of categories concurrently because it takes time to develop each licensee relationship.
The Promotional Campaign
DIC begins pitching to major fast-food restaurants and retailers in February 1997, seven months prior to the air date (though Disney-owned DIC, because of the deal between Disney and McDonald’s, is contractually obliged to give McDonald’s the first right of refusal of the property). Tashjian hopes that fast-food promotions will begin in April 1998, but it’s possible that no promotional deal will be signed until after air date.
‘In reality, in the promotional business, it’s so difficult to secure a partner because there’s so much competition to try and get a kids deal. You approach all of them and continue to approach them, because they really don’t want to [commit] until they see a solid station clearance list, an outline of what the toys are going to be and normally, in the television world, most of your promotional partners want to wait for the ratings,’ she says.
‘As you get into the other promotional products like candy, maybe ice cream and stuff like that, partners are willing to come on board sooner. But when you’re dealing with a big fast-food promotion and television media dollars are attached, their tendency is to want to review things for awhile.’
A Mummies Alive! mall tour will begin in September with approximately 20 malls. Kids will enter pyramids and see the mummies’ sarcophagi, which they will be able to open with a key to reveal a take-home treasure chest of Egyptian artifact toys. The visits will conclude with a photo of the children ‘on location.’
Leading up to the launch of the show, DIC will do on-air promotions telling kids that the countdown has begun for the Mummies to come to life. The 15-second spots will be tagged to promote a local Mummies Alive! mall tour.
‘By the time the show is into its second or third week, the top 20 malls and over 197 stations that will be carrying Mummies will all be exposed to the concept in two formats one via television and one via consumer retail outlets. So we’re really reaching the kids on lots of different levels,’ says Tashjian.
At the Licensing Show
At the Licensing Show this year, ‘our biggest concern is to get retail awareness, obviously building towards purchasing product, which, by June, will be very important,’ says Tashjian. Presentations for manufacturers and promotional companies will be held, as well as a licensing seminar for those licensees already on board.
Air date: September 15, 1997