Bug wars

It looks like it's going to be a picnic for anyone marketing bug products in the coming year. As a result of the fall release of two films, Antz by DreamWorks and A Bug's Life by Disney, licensees have been quick...
October 1, 1998

It looks like it’s going to be a picnic for anyone marketing bug products in the coming year. As a result of the fall release of two films, Antz by DreamWorks and A Bug’s Life by Disney, licensees have been quick to get on board in anticipation of a swarm of insect interest from kids.

With most of the Antz merchandise making its way to stores in early October, and A Bug’s Life product following suit in early November, the inevitable question arises: Can the influx of licensed goods for both pics co-exist in the same marketplace, or will consumers feel overwhelmed by Hollywood’s sudden craze with creepy crawlies?

In fielding such questions, both DreamWorks and Disney have taken the high road, denying that each other’s films and licensing programs are in direct competition.

DreamWorks actions, however, might suggest otherwise. Its announcement last June that it planned to bump up the release date for Antz from spring 1999 to October 2 of this year, went a long way to creating the semblance of a box-office showdown with Disney. Advanced word from DreamWorks is that Antz-a film that looks at life from the perspective a nebbishy ant, voiced by Woody Allen-will skew to an older audience. Antz will also likely be rated PG, whereas A Bug’s Life has already garnered a G rating. To further deflect comparisons, DreamWorks has taken a deliberately low-key approach to promoting its licensing program, which, at 20 or so licensees thus far, is much smaller than A Bug’s Life’s 60 licensees, which will cover all major categories. According to one source, moving the release date for Antz up six months meant DreamWorks didn’t have enough time to assemble more licensees. Regardless of distinct demo intentions, by dint of being an animated feature about insects, comparisons become a matter of course, as does speculation on how the licensed merchandise for both films will fare at retail.

Sara Rosales, a communications spokesperson for Mattel, master toy licensee for A Bug’s Life, says she envisions no bug-eat-bug battles at stores. ‘It’s a completely different film,’ says Rosales. ‘For one thing, A Bug’s Life has way more insect characters [than Antz does].’ Mattel is producing 22 skus based on the film, targeted to boys and girls ages three and up, including the animatronic-like action figure Deluxe Flik and plush Talking Princess Dot. Both toys can recite key snippets of dialogue from the movie when you press their hands or feet.

Antz master toy licensee Playmates, is creating a line of four-and-half-inch action figures based on the computer-generated ants. The highly detailed toys are suitable for boys and girls ages six and up. Playmates is also in negotiations with DreamWorks to create 14-inch talking figurines, which will utilize the voices of characters from the film.

‘There will always be some cannibalization,’ says Rick Busby, VP of marketing and licensing at Landoll Inc., which is publishing a line of coloring books, sticker books and boxed activity kits based on Antz, ‘but I think the bug genre will be so elevated by the release of both films that they may end up complementing each other.’

Sean McGowan, a toy manufacturing and retail analyst at Gerard Klauer and Mattison, posits another scenario. ‘The fear is that Antz might be a little less kid-friendly, and that might cut into interest for A Bug’s Life,’ he says. ‘One licensee I spoke to was concerned that if Antz flops at the box office, retailers could be reluctant to throw their support behind product for A Bug’s Life,’ says McGowan. But by that time, McGowan adds, such a possibility will be rendered academic, since retailers would have already put in their orders for Bug’s merchandise.

Antecedents in the film and TV business shed no light on what to expect, either. McGowan cites the example of last summer’s dueling disaster blockbusters, Deep Impact and Armageddon. Both pictures did well, says McGowan, and the fact that Armageddon came out shortly after Deep Impact did not hinder its climb to the number one position at the box office. Neither picture, however, had a huge licensing program.

‘Obviously, when we do a post-mortem on December 26, we’ll be in a better situation to say who won,’ says McGowan. ‘There’s no doubt that Disney wishes Antz was not out there a month and a half before them.’

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