With many Marvel characters mutating into film franchises over the next few years, beginning with the May 2002 release of Spider-Man: The Movie, Marvel plans to spin out non-movie-related licensing, promotional and marketing programs based on the webslinger and the rest of the comic crew. Russ Brown, senior VP of consumer products, promotions and media sales, says Marvel’s overall strategy is to keep its characters drenched in constant limelight via an ongoing effort to reinvent the look of Marvel characters and lay a foundation for programs in every demo.
Considering that the usual three-month window of exposure for film releases is cause for licensees, promo partners and retailers to regard properties with a wary eye, Marvel is seeking to have non-movie deals in place one year prior to the release of a film. On a property-by-property basis, the company is looking over licensee lists to determine where the property does not have a presence. ‘In anticipation of the films, we want to fill the void early,’ says Brown. ‘If we have product in the marketplace, there’s a predisposition to the characters for a bigger licensing program as movies get greenlit.’
As Marvel weaves a web of anticipation for the May 2002 release of Spider-Man: The Movie, current non-film manifestations of the character are providing constant exposure. Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man comic book series, released September 2000, provides a modern publishing foundation for the classic character. A broadcast presence was anchored last December, when Fox began re-airing Spider-Man Unlimited, the Saban-produced series it cancelled after three episodes in October 1999. And Marvel recently announced a slew of new non-movie Spidey licenses. Initial retail rollout began in January with Canadian licensee NTD Apparel (activewear) and U.S. licensee Sports Fun (skateboards, scooters), and will continue throughout the year. Additional licensees include Artbox (collector cards), Brown Shoes (footwear), C-Life (activewear), Calego (backpacks), Factory X (prop replicas), The Homegame (cold weather accessories), Numo Manufacturing (foam-insulated cup holders), Pyramid Accessories, Thermos (lunchboxes) and Trudeau (dinnerware).
In addition to traditional licensing programs, Marvel is also testing the waters on nontraditional licenses for its slate of upcoming film properties. Spider-Man, The X-Men and The Hulk will wreak havoc on the US Hot Rod Association Monster Jam circuit during the 2001/2002 season, under terms of a multiyear deal with SFX Motor Sports Group announced in January. ‘The monster truck program exposes the characters in these funky vehicles to millions of kids through the media coverage it gets, in addition to the people who go on-site to see these races,’ says Brown. Additional exposure will be gleaned from the Monster Jam licensing program currently boasting over 20 licensees. Master toy licensee Mattel will create toy replicas of the Spider-Man and Wolverine trucks, with Pyramid Accessories, Play-by-Play and JEM Sportswear creating additional product featuring Marvel truck images.
Brown also points to an absence of tie-in promos for Marvel characters in the past couple of years, and plans to begin filling the void over the coming months. Brown anticipates nontraditional licensing and new promos will boost character visibility in between movies and make it easier to get licensees and retailers on-board when asking them to commit to a movie a year, 18 months and, in some cases, 24 months ahead of the release.
Also of benefit to licensees and retailers is Marvel’s attempt to create the best of both worlds by standing behind its classic characters while constantly updating them to attract new demos. In the classic Marvel Universe, Spider-Man alter-ego Peter Parker is a freelance photographer for the Daily Bugle with a chemistry set in his basement. In an effort to bring the character into the 21st century and offer teen appeal, the Ultimate comic series morphs Parker into the e-bugle webmaster with a T-1 home Net connection. Marvel’s advantage is that the reinvention of its characters doesn’t stray too far or take away from their classic incarnations. ‘The character personalities and styles are consistent, and that’s true whether it’s a PG-13 movie, animation for six- to 11-year-olds or Marvel Ultimates comics targeting 17-year-olds,’ Brown emphasizes. ‘Wolverine is Wolverine is Wolverine, regardless of which venue or product he ends up on.’
Thus Marvel, whose business is mutants, ensures that its characters-personalities intact-manifest themselves into the appropriate target demo, doubling the exposure and the benefits. ‘You get the edginess that everyone is looking for, and you also get the classic appeal,’ says Brown. ‘It’s a little bit safer, and makes it easier to develop
licensing or tie-in programs.’