Special Report: Licensing International ’97: The Crayon Box g’es bananas on licensing strategy

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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Random House and PolyGram have teamed up to develop The Crayon Box, a preschool TV series that debuts this September, and the partners hope it will color them successful.

The 15-minute Crayon Box series is being packaged with Bananas in Pajamas at the suggestion of Sachs Family Entertainment, syndicator of both shows, to create a half-hour block. This pairing is possible, explains Harold Clarke, president of Random House Children’s Publishing, because the two programs target the same age group and have similar formats and editorial content.

In addition, Random House and PolyGram will be working with many of the key players from the Bananas project including Sachs, master toy licensee TOMY America and Total Licensing Services to develop the Crayon Box property.

Product categories in the licensing program, says Clarke, will also follow the Bananas model by including toys plus educational and layette items ‘a traditional preschool merchandising program.’

But The Crayon Box is not just piggybacking on the success of Bananas in Pajamas. Much of the licensing and promotional strategy is taking its shape from the unique content of The Crayon Box.

The show is based on a p’em by Shane DeRolf, president of Random House Entertainment, about a box of discordant crayons who come to appreciate each other’s differences and learn how to get along. ‘In all candor, [the p'em] touched a nerve in me as a parent more than as a studio executive,’ says Bill Sondheim, president of PolyGram Video. ‘There has been so much racial discord and disharmony over the last few years. . . . I don’t want my child to see that. And here was such a clever, thoughtful, and yet subtle way for us all to recognize and accept each other’s differences.’

The p’em’s subject matter lent itself to the creation of an anti-discrimination public-service announcement (PSA), which was produced in conjunction with The Ad Council. By the time the show (currently in production) airs in September, parents and children will already be familiar with the Crayon Box name through the 30- and 90-second PSAs. The PSA was also used to help pitch the property to potential licensees.

Producer Random House Entertainment developed the idea into a TV show by adding characters such as Dotty, the connect-the-dots cat, big-hearted Donkey-otee, the paper-doll Cut-up Sisters, and Lump, the tough-guy dot-to-dot dog. Together, they explore themes such as friendship, imagination, courage and helping others.

The FCC-friendly program ‘is less about ABC and counting, and more about good behavior in kids and how to deal with issues,’ says Clarke.

Based on the feedback they’ve received, executives at Random House and PolyGram expect a positive response to both the show and the licensing program. ‘We found there was never an adult who Shane read the p’em to who wasn’t fundamentally moved by the power of it,’ says Clarke.

How the campaign started:

February 1997 (19 months before the show’s air date)

Random House Children’s Publishing begins by enlisting Sachs Family Entertainment as the TV syndicator. Sachs is among the first to get excited about The Crayon Box, says Clarke.

Plans for the licensing program evolve when Sachs suggests launching it on TV with Bananas in Pajamas. Sachs pitches the idea to PolyGram, who loves it.

The licensors began talking to Total Licensing Services in fall 1996. TLS seemed the logical choice to represent the merchandising interests, says Clarke, because they also worked with PolyGram on Bananas in Pajamas. The deal is concluded at Toy Fair ’97 in February.

Random House and PolyGram are looking for a controlled rollout, Sondheim explains. ‘We want to build demand. We want to be careful and nurture this product and have a long-term view of it.’

First Licence

In February 1996, Sachs shows the property to one of its major clients, TOMY America. By early summer, TOMY has signed on as master toy licensee for the U.S. Says Diane Teigiser, director of marketing for TOMY, ‘we very much liked the values that [DeRolf's] p’em spoke to. . . . But we felt that this was first and foremost entertaining. And we thought that preschoolers would absolutely fall in love with these characters.’

TOMY unveils some prototypes at Toy Fair ’97, which include plush, puzzles and other preschool products. Because the show is still in production, finalizing the line is difficult. ‘Until now [press time],’ says Teigiser, ‘we didn’t have a firm feel of who these characters are, what they do, where they live. . . . So we are really moving with speed right now.’ With a target date of January 1, 1998 for U.S. rollout, the line will be distributed through toy chains, mass merchandisers and specialty outlets.

Other Licensees

PolyGram and Random House have contracted TLS to develop and manage the full licensed merchandise program beyond toy product.

Not surprisingly, some of the major products to tie in with the show come from its key partners. This fall, Random House will publish the original p’em as an illustrated book.

In early spring ’98, PolyGram will begin its home video program. ‘We find it very important to allow a property to build a consumer audience, to build a loyalty, before you start reaching toward them collecting and owning the videos,’ says Sondheim, ‘which is why we typically like to wait anywhere from four to six months after it starts airing.’ PolyGram is aiming for half-hour programming on the videos, with a price point still to be determined, but definitely under US$15.

Coinciding with the video launch, says Clarke, will be further book publishing and licensee activity, with books based on characters and subjects from the show.

The Promotional Campaign

Because of the nature of the show, Random House and PolyGram are building both licensing and promotional campaigns carefully. ‘It’s very important, because of the underlying nature of the content, that we are sensitive to avoid appearing cavalier in the type of promotions we do,’ explains Sondheim.

Sondheim says the initial phase will focus on the educational and socially oriented content of the show. Promotions during this stage will likely target educators and schools. The second phase will broaden out by moving into the more commercial aspect of the property high-end toy licensing, involving high-quality products going to small and specialty retailers.

The major promotional tool by far has been the public-service announcements, which have received donations of more than US$15 million worth of television and other media exposure. Sondheim expects to see several public relations events with celebrity involvement grow from the PSA spots. These will launch closer to the September air date.

In addition, Random House’s Clarke plans to build on the success of Bananas in Pajamas and to use similar marketing efforts, such as mall tours.

At the Licensing Show

The Licensing Show is the third key show in the U.S. rollout of the product, explains Sondheim. At NATPE, they built and secured ‘the most important foundation: the TV platform.’ Toy Fair provided an opportunity ‘to test and see the enthusiasm of toys and toy-related licenses.’ Finally, ‘The Licensing Show is when it all kind of officially comes together.’

At press time, specific plans for the Licensing Show were in discussion, but a series of awareness-advertising promotion techniques, including banners, and guerrilla marketing techniques on the floor are planned by the partners, says Sondheim.

‘And then starting this fall, we’ll begin a similar process in the international market with MIPCOM.’

Air Date: September 15, 1997

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