Since his July 1999 debut, aquatic personality SpongeBob Squarepants has been making waves on TV screens. The Nickelodeon show netted itself 1.7 million viewers ages two to 11 during the launch period of July 12, 1999 to August 8, 1999 and went on the attract 12.1 million viewers in February, according to Nielsen Media research. Twenty new episodes created by Nicktoons by Steve Hillenburg were picked up by Nick this year, bringing the total to 40 half hours. Now, Nickelodeon is focused on creating merchandise based on the character with an emphasis on the whimsical hoping to attract teens as well as kids.
In order to introduce the character into the retail market, the initial soft-launch will be concentrated at specialty and novelty level, then move to the big box stores ‘once his appeal becomes broader,’ says Nick’s Leigh Anne Brodsky, senior VP of consumer products. Brodsky says the spongeboy will hit mass retail by the second half of 2001.
Although the official series’ demo is ages six to 11, Brodsky says teens and college-age kids are also eyeballing the show, hence the specialty push. ‘I think humor is a key component of it. It’s a sophisticated show in style and writing.’ Mattel has thus developed the Talking SpongeBob, hitting stores like Hot Topics, Zany Brainy and other U.S. specialty retailers by holiday 2000 and will develop more electronic-type products for 2001. The plush toy utters humorous Bob-isms like ‘Let’s bring it around town.’
Brodsky says specialty retailers like Hot Topics told her kids were asking for SpongeBob items even before they available.
Novelty toys will be the first items to hit specialty. Beginning this month, merch including water-filled keychains, water-filled stationery items, dancing can figures that move to music and a sand-and-water game, all by Michigan-based Color Bok, will hit specialty and mid-tier stores. For fall 2000, Flying Colors of Michigan is doing sand art-craft kits and SpongeBob sleepwear by New York-based AME will debut, along with a line of T-shirts by New York’s Giant and mid-tier beach and bath items by J. Franco in Q4. Inevitably, swimwear from New York-based Haddad Apparel is planned for summer 2000 and backpacks and pocketbooks from New York’s Holiday Fair will hit stores in spring 2001. In the publishing realm, books by Simon & Schuster for the six to 12 set launch in September 2000. S&S plans four books in total, including two chapter, one trivia and one joke title. A promotional alternative rock CD is in the works, containing songs from bands featured on the series, to be shipped to U.S. radio stations.
The 2001 mass launch will add home furnishings, packaged foods and possibly playsets to the mix based on Bob’s hangouts such as his pineapple pad or the Krusty Krab burger joint. New York’s Rubies will be producing Halloween costumes for an autumn launch.
A major packaged goods promotion will launch in conjunction with a Nicktoons on-air event this fall. As well, food promos with a pineapple or bubblegum company are also being considered along with SpongeBob fruit snacks from the Nick Universe Line.