The Cyber Space: How the competition is staking its turf down at the e-mall

Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and...
September 1, 1998

Greg Skinner is the director of Mina, a market intelligence company with expertise in the youth market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked him to do some browsing on our behalf and report on the latest developments in new media and how these innovations are having an impact on the kids entertainment industry. He is still at it. If you have any suggestions or ideas for topics you’d like to see in ‘The Cyber Space,’ please contact

Greg Skinner at 416-504-6800 (phone), 416-504-4054 (fax) or (e-mail).

Consumer spending is off the charts these days, which is a boon for media companies trying to hawk their wares on-line and off. This month, we take a look at three such attempts to see just how far some corporations are willing to go.

Retailing at its pinnacle involves just the right blend of variety, awareness and appeal, and for a long time companies have put their names on products to boost attractiveness-remember Pierre Cardin plumbing? Today, media companies have the advantage of both excellent reach and offerings which have often already proven to be successful; the Internet is helping to increase brand presence and provide another way for these media giants to distribute their products.

Comedy Central (, host of shows like The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy and Saturday Night Live, offers quite a range goodies for purchase on-line-wind-up toys, magnets, pens, stickers, notepads, glassware, Kenny figurines, Kenny wrist rests, clothing and, this month’s special, watches (8 to choose from)! And this barely scratches the surface of products related to the TV show South Park.

Obviously, selection is at the forefront of this on-line emporium; the more you have to offer, the greater the likelihood of buyer interest. In this case, the connection to sales success is as linear as it can possibly get. The formula of splashing images of highly popular shows and characters onto everyday items works quite well for the most part.

Comedy Central has a good-looking little shopping area, but of the three on-line markets we checked out, this one’s merchandise has the weakest branding link to its content provider. Without overt on-line logo usage on merchandise (touting the shopping site via logo-laden consumers acting as free sandwich boards), the only way other Web consumers will learn where to find Comedy Central’s cool gear is through a very uninteractive method called word-of-mouth.

Warner Bros. ( is intent on taking retailing to a whole other level. Like it’s on-line counterparts, the site carries a vast selection, but there are a couple of noteworthy differences. WB goes beyond the typical T-shirts and hats, to incorporate `quasi-lifestyle’ items such as housewares (cookie jars, clocks, pillows), sports items (golf jackets, towels and balls), as well as authentic art in the form of limited edition cels. The value of what WB has to offer is tied to the fact that its associated characters (Daffy et. al.) have loads of equity, longevity and they’re just so inoffensively cute (‘I tawt a taw a putty tat’ is far more mainstream-appealing than ‘You bastard, you killed Kenny’).

Undoubtedly it’s the strength of these characters that helps move the product off the virtual shelf. As far as the WB brand goes, Warner Bros. takes steps to bolster its position by placing good old Bugs Bunny front and center; the other equally recognizable characters have supporting roles.

Finally, Yahoo! (formerly the ‘search engine,’ now the well-integrated lifestyle consultant) is entering the retail game. Check out, and you’ll find Yahoo! T-shirts, pullovers, and watches. What, no coffee mugs? Soon, you’ll also see snowboards and skateboards, and following that, school supplies, music paraphernalia, textiles and housewares.

Visually, it’s a bland array, but what is interesting is that Yahoo! does it all without popular icons like Tweety and Sylvester to help capture retail sales. Their licensing program depends on products that truly reflect the user’s lifestyle-fun, functional and slightly irreverent (so they say).

There are a few things we like about this approach:

- The fact that Yahoo!’s corporate persona is still maturing (in contrast, WB and CC are already well-defined entities), could potentially be a huge advantage in terms of adapting to the constant ebb and flow of the market.

- The Net giant holds on-line trump cards-its well-renowned magazine Yahoo! Internet Life, and direct access to over 33 million users in the U.S. alone.

- Finally, Yahoo!’s got balls. Whereas most companies are moving more of their product from traditional retail outlets onto the Net, Yahoo!, after a lengthy on-line sales stint, is attempting its first foray into major retail chains. The company hopes that its recognizable logo and hip reputation will be enough to keep people spending both on- and off-line.

So there you have it, three sites with quite subtle differences. Do they make shopping on-line an ‘experience’ or simply a ‘point and click convenience?’ Right now, it’s the latter. Most Web sites need to become far more focused on making the products exciting. If you really want to see what works in Net retail, check out Archie McPhee (the definitive source for rubber chickens, weird overstock and disgusting novelties) or Club Monaco (the how-to-wear-it section). It remains to be seen whether any on-line retail formula will yield a sustainable result, but until then, there’s always the mall.

Next month, ‘The Cyber Space’ looks at on-line series, and checks out their virtual kid-appeal quotient.

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