Last year, monstrous dinosaurs were the thrust of Universal Studios Consumer Products Group’s licensing efforts. This year, a cute little pig scampers to the rescue.
With Babe: Pig in the City, the sequel to the surprise 1995 hit, scheduled for release in November, the company hopes to turn the spunky little hog into an evergreen (or maybe ever-pink) franchise.
The studio has developed two separate licensing programs for Babe. The Babe: The Sheep Pig brand will center on high-quality, infant-toddler merchandise available at department and specialty stores. The Babe & Friends line will target a slightly older demographic with products related to the new movie.
Babe: The Sheep Pig products will debut in the second quarter of this year. The strategy is to introduce Babe as a classic brand of high-end products at specialty stores and then carefully translate it to the mass market with the launch of the Babe & Friends line in the fourth quarter, according to NancyJane Goldston, senior vice president of marketing and merchandising for Universal Studios Consumer Products Group.
The original Babe film was a remarkable success story, earning over US$250 million worldwide since its release in 1995 and garnering seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Only a small licensing program had been put in place for the film, with no more than five licensees, but the new programs will cover a full range of key product categories.
Each licensing program will have its own set of licensees, with little crossover between the two. At press time, Babe: The Sheep Pig had 11 licensees, including Gund (plush), One In a Million (apparel), PCA Apparel (apparel), American Specialty Confections (gifts and stationery) and Dundee Mills (home furnishings). Babe & Friends has 32 licensees to date, headed by Equity Toys, the master toy licensee. Others include: Tiger Electronics and Toy Biz (toys); D. Glasgow & Sons, Everything Kids and S. Goldberg (apparel); and Anagram International and Creative Expressions (gifts and stationery). International licensing contracts are still under negotiation.
The launch of the Babe: The Sheep Pig line will be timed with the U.S. broadcast debut of Babe on ABC on Mother’s Day, May 10. That evening’s broadcast will also be the kickoff for the promotional campaign for the Babe sequel. Later in the summer, publishing licensee Random House will debut the first of 30 scheduled Babe books. Product from the Babe & Friends line will ship beginning in the summer, with the main thrust of product arriving in stores in October and November. A promotional partner and retail partners are expected to be announced shortly.
Babe products will reflect the wholesome, playful and adventurous nature of the character. That is most evident in Real Live Babe, the key toy product produced by Equity. Real Live Babe is an interactive plush toy with a computer chip that has eight play patterns, including eating, sleeping and storytelling, interacts with a child, and theoretically, can never be played with the same way twice, so children can interact with it as if it were real.
Goldston believes that Babe has the same upward curve as another Universal property, The Land Before Time, a 10-year-old franchise that has grown stronger with each successive direct-to-video release.
Universal is discussing further cross-divisional applications of Babe, such as multimedia and in its theme parks, to ensure that consumers have only heard the first oinks from a franchise it hopes will bring home the bacon for many years to come.