It’s hard to imagine a better match for Animorphs than Transformers-style toys.
The property piqued Hasbro’s interest when the books launched in print, says Lisa MacEachen, director of marketing at Cincinnati, Ohio-based Hasbro Toy Group, but Animorphs really became attractive to the toy giant when Scholastic confirmed the production of a TV series (by Scholastic Productions in association with Canadian-based Protocol Entertainment) for Nickelodeon, giving the broader exposure needed to support a toy line.
Positioning the Animorphs action figures under the Transformers brand will give the toys the benefit of the brand’s high consumer recognition. This year, the brand (relaunched as Beast Wars-Transformers in 1996) will be 15 years old. During that time, it has become the number-two-selling toy line for Hasbro, with worldwide sales totaling in excess of US$1.25 billion. And consumers who buy Transformers toys tend to ‘buy deeply,’ says MacEachen-the average owner has six products.
Plus, says MacEachen, Hasbro is devoting plenty of resources to make a big statement at retail. Endcap displays will showcase the new products at major retailers this spring. Nickelodeon and Hasbro are teaming up for a two-week on-air promotion in which kids can win a walk-on appearance on the Animorphs show by completing an entry form that will be available at retail. The promotion kicks off at the end of this month. TV and print ads will begin in early March and run through April. In March, Wal-Mart will host a contest challenging kids to transform the toys the fastest. Toys `R’ Us will offer a free lenticular keychain with purchase for four weeks starting at the end of March, with a new keychain available each week. Hasbro is also planning fall promotions with Target, Kmart and KayBee Toys.
Despite these advantages behind the Animorphs toys, Leslye Schaefer, senior VP of marketing and consumer products at Scholastic Entertainment in New York, is mindful of the competition. ‘I think everybody is concerned about Star Wars,’ she says, and licensors appear to be holding back on product launches to avoid losing sales to this ‘Goliath’ (Hasbro is also the master toy licensee for Star Wars). But MacEachen is confident that there is room for a different kind of action figure line to compete with Star Wars and other products in the category, and she believes that Transformers toys are the only products with this type of play.
* Strong awareness for the Animorphs franchise, which began with the release of the first book in June 1996 and has grown to a 26-title series (as of this month) with more than 24 million copies in print worldwide.
* The TV show on Nickelodeon, which kicked off in September, exposes the
property to a wider audience.
* The property’s Web site (www.scholastic.com/animorphs) registers about 500,000 hits per month.
* The morphing action in the book and TV series is a natural fit for an Animorphs toy line positioned under Hasbro’s Transformers brand.
* Billion-dollar equity behind the Transformers action figure lines.
* Hasbro’s advertising, promotion and distribution muscle, with US$7 million to US$10 million in advertising and US$1 million to US$1.5 million in promotional support planned for the line in 1999.
* Ongoing plot with continuing characters.
* Depth of and mystery in the stories keep kids intrigued.
* Complex transformational play of the toys.
* Hasbro: master toy licensee; divisions creating toys are:
Hasbro Toy Group: producing 15 action figures for 1999, including the five kids in different sizes, plus Ax, Visser 3 and H’Ork-Bajir, and a package with three kid characters that together transform into a giant dinosaur
Hasbro Game Group: puzzles, board games
Tiger Electronics: handheld electronic toys
for the Toys:
Same as the target audience for the book and TV series-kids ages seven to 12-although the toys will skew towards boys, while the books and TV show draw a fairly even split of boys and girls.
Mass-market launch in February, with new products available every couple months until the holiday season.
Suggested Retail Price:
Action figures ranging from US$10 each to
US$30 for the dinosaur bundle; puzzles
for less than US$10.
To date, nearly 20 licensees, including:
* Columbia TriStar: videos * GT Interactive:
CD-ROM games * Decipher: card game
* Disguise: costumes * Fun 4 All: keychains
* Hallmark: party goods * Antioch Publishing: stationery * AME: boxer shorts
* Toys should be age-appropriate for the target audience of the books and TV show.
* Animorphs, not Transformers, should be the most important logo.
* Pay particular attention to the use of the word ‘morph’ and the way the property is described in order to emphasize that the property and the toys are not just about morphing.
* Focus on the property as a whole, as opposed to the stars of the TV show.