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Licensing Diary: Lassie

For over 50 years, Lassie has stood as an icon that represents loyalty, courage and Americana. Today, the world's favorite collie has been enjoying a renaissance. TV Guide recently ranked the canine as the eleventh biggest TV star of all time,...
September 1, 1997

For over 50 years, Lassie has stood as an icon that represents loyalty, courage and Americana. Today, the world’s favorite collie has been enjoying a renaissance. TV Guide recently ranked the canine as the eleventh biggest TV star of all time, and Lassie’s Q Scores, indicating the ratio of popularity to familiarity, exceed that of Looney Tunes.

Building on the launch of a new Lassie series on Animal Planet, Golden Books Family Entertainment is expecting to expand its roster of Lassie licensees with a more comprehensive line of toys, gifts, apparel and collectibles planned for fall 1998. The property currently has 10 licensees.

‘We’re hoping to have a full array of merchandise that represents the nature of the character and conjures up a wonderful image of the outdoors, action-adventure and nostalgia,’ says Leigh Anne Brodsky, senior vice president of marketing for Golden Books Family Entertainment.

Brodsky says that Lassie appeals to children because the stories are, in essence, about empowering children. ‘Lassie always exposes her master to many different adventures that ordinary kids probably wouldn’t find themselves in.’ While girls are attracted to the sweetness, companionship and loyalty that Lassie represents, the action-adventure element is critical to marketing the property to young boys. ‘Without the action aspect, I think we would lose them,’ says Brodsky. She envisions licensed products that will incorporate and reflect these elements.

Golden Books Family Entertainment acquired the licensing rights to Lassie when the company purchased the family library of Broadway Video in 1996. Golden Books’ publishing division has been a longtime licensee of Lassie stories, and will repackage many of its classic Lassie tales in new collections.

Additionally, Golden Books will target pet owners and animal lovers with a line of Lassie collectibles from American Greetings, available in the fourth quarter of 1997.

Here are some highlights of Lassie’s long history:

* 1938: Eric Knight writes original short story ‘Lassie Come Home,’ printed in The Saturday Evening Post. It’s expanded into a best-selling novel.

* 1941: MGM purchases film rights for US$10,000; Lassie Come Home features Roddy MacDowell and introduces Elizabeth Taylor. Nine films would follow, the last made by Paramount in 1994.

* 1949: A typical MGM promotion for a new Lassie film includes partnering with Redheart Dogfood to place full-page ads in major magazines, giveaways of free Lassie comic books in theaters; and the implementation of an 11-part publicity plan that includes such things as Lassie look-alike contests and a ‘Be kind to animals’ week.

* 1954: Lassie makes her television debut and runs on Sunday nights for the next 17 years.

* 1950s: Lassie earns US$1,500 per appearance at events such as carnivals, store openings, fairs and dog shows.

* 1969: Campbell Soup introduces a canned dog food featuring Lassie on the packaging.

* 1978: Carter-Wallace debuts a successful line of Lassie pet products that continue to outsell Hartz and Sergeant’s lines to this day.

* 1994: A new Lassie movie earns modest box-office success, but its video sales soar to over a half-million in 1995.

* 1996: Golden Books Family Entertainment acquires the licensing rights to Lassie when it acquires Broadway Video.

* Lassie becomes a spokescharacter for the pharmaceutical company Merck and its Heartgard product. The company is nominated for the LIMA Promotion of the Year award.

* 1997: TV Guide ranks Lassie eleventh on a list of the 50 greatest TV stars of all time.

* A new Lassie series and classic Lassie episodes airs on Animal Planet.

* Word Publishing plans to publish a new Lassie Christmas Story written by the creators of The Waltons.

* Lassie will be a spokescharacter for the American Library Association’s READ promotion in the fall.

* American Greetings is launching a Lassie collectibles line this holiday season.

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