Engineering maximum magic

Sometimes it seems to happen all by its lonesome. Take Furby (as if you could find one). My son picked the Gremlin-esque Furbish-spouting furball out of the Christmas Wishbook (a Canadian Christmas tradition, a much-thumbed catalog of toys) before it was...
December 1, 1998

Sometimes it seems to happen all by its lonesome. Take Furby (as if you could find one). My son picked the Gremlin-esque Furbish-spouting furball out of the Christmas Wishbook (a Canadian Christmas tradition, a much-thumbed catalog of toys) before it was declared the ‘It’ toy for Christmas by the media. Promptly, we noticed the machine kick in, and prime-time ads consolidate the toy’s premium sold-out status.

No matter what got the ball rolling, it was the toy’s inherent kid-rightness-its sophisticated language-acquisition hook and the non-conformist element of its many-Furbys-to-choose-from, wide-eyed exteriors-that scored kid points. Furby’s toy value as the underlying trigger is directly attributable in the cause-of-hit forensic accounting.

Pokémon’s Pikachu and pals seem poised for a North American replication of their popularity in Japan, and while the rap that wraps each episode-’gotta get `em all’-is intended to cultivate the cult of collectibility, if the characters weren’t appealing, it would merely be amusing in a sow’s ear, ‘yeah, right’ kind of way.

The hype for the next iteration of a property has to be justified, or else it collapses on itself, sometimes with collateral damage to the franchise.

While some properties still seem to go a long way towards paving their own way into the kids psyche, increasingly more roadwork needs to be done by those plotting the outcome of the impact. With so many entertainment options available to kids, the stakes are higher in terms of how much noise you need to make to register a radar blip. And for it to be hyped right, you need to nail the right hype.

On a recent L.A. studio tour, it was very evident that the majors have responded to the challenge of breaking through this cone of background noise, which has often over-stimulated kids to the point of info-stupor, by orchestrating their kid-reaching efforts across all divisions. The Warner Bros. crowd is doing it, the folks on the Columbia TriStar/Sony lot are doing it, and in terms of defining the end goal of these concerted efforts, it’s similar to Coca-Cola’s mission to be more ‘relevant than red.’

The Warner Bros. consumer products group’s ‘starting to see how we can help each others brands’ mission plays out via holistic marketing efforts that could see anything from Looney Tunes and Batman teaming up promotionally, to the brand-strategic approach being adopted across the interactive entertainment division’s new ventures. The brand teams at Columbia TriStar have devised synergy flow between the kids production divisions through to global marketing initiatives and Sony Signatures worldwide licensing plans, efforts which are expected to culminate in more effective ways to extend the feature and TV franchises. With Godzilla, we’ve seen that a series can take a property to new heights. And like the new fleet of increasingly affordable smart toys being deployed on the market, there are other avenues to look towards for brand enhancement. With properties having multiple lives, all interdependent, successful cross-division marketing bonding and worldwide property building boils down to two words: only connect.

At EPM in L.A. last month we heard the trade is tired of hearing about the next hot property-’and then the markdowns happen’-and that partners are looking for longer-term relationships, ‘genuine partnerships.’ As well as at retail, the promo tie-in crowd is becoming more discerning and more adventurous, casting farther afield for ways to forge a compelling connection with their target demo. Every day a new and narrower niche opportunity opens up to reach your audience, like Fox’s Boyz and Girlz Channels or Target Market Concepts’ roller rink network. It’s not about scale, it’s about finding the key that works in a fractionated media environment. Or as Coca-Cola’s Steve Koonin, VP/director of presence marketing, puts it: ‘It’s not about hitting them over the head with a 40-foot Coke bottle. It’s about relevance; the days of being red are over.’

And with relevance, the getting-the-word-out-there efforts can go beyond promotion and take on a life of their own. Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group senior VP, global strategic marketing, Mark Workman, cites Godzilla’s Heeere Leezard… as an instance of ‘capturing something that becomes really memorable.’ I’m thinking chihuahua/box/lizard play sets.

Keying to the essence of the property potential could be as creative and collaborative an endeavor as its actual production. But once the expertise of the interdivisional-swath is pooled, where will I find the aisles of heavily-discounted action figures for loot bags?

cheers, mm

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