Gundam goes cross-country

Marketer: Bandai America, Cypress, California-Bill Beebe, senior VP of sales and marketing; Shin Ueno, VP of marketing; Colleen Sherfey, director of marketing...
March 1, 2001

Marketer: Bandai America, Cypress, California-Bill Beebe, senior VP of sales and marketing; Shin Ueno, VP of marketing; Colleen Sherfey, director of marketing

Advertising agency: J. Walter Thompson, L.A.-Lori Golay, managing partner; Aimee Eiselstein, account supervisor

Public relations agency: Porter Novelli, L.A.-Wendy Watson, senior VP

Promotional agency: HWB Promotional Marketing, Irvine, California-Yvette Brown, managing partner; Shari Nomady, managing partner

Media: Mindshare, L.A.-Geraldine Pugongan, media director

Sponsors: Wal-Mart, Toys `R’ Us, Pioneer Entertainment

Market: North America

The campaign: A seven-month North American Mobile Suit Gundam Invasion Tour. The 52-foot Gundam tour vehicle will make stops at TRU and Wal-Mart stores in 25 markets from March to September 2001. The promo is supported by local radio and local/national print, on-air during Cartoon Network’s Toonami block, and on-line at, in addition to in-store awareness in the selected markets three to four weeks before the campaign starts. The tour targets the 12 to 17 core Gundam audience, in addition to a more general 15 to 25 demo. Total spend for the promotional tour is somewhere between US$1.5 million and US$2 million.

The strategy:

Despite a 20-year following born in Asia, the Gundam phenom has only just started cultivating State-side fanaticism. March 2000 saw Cartoon Network’s Toonami debut of Gundam Wing, one of seven series in a Gundam franchise that spans eight feature films and a licensing campaign that has pulled in over US$5 billion in sales in Japan alone. Approaching nation-wide acceptance, Bandai is making its multimillion-dollar North American Gundam push-taking the battle to the people in a 52-foot truck-based campaign, aiming to reward the current 12 to 17 fan base, and hoping to add both younger and older devotees to the Gundam ranks.

The idea at planning stage, says Bill Beebe, senior VP of sales and marketing for Bandai America, was to make the experience fun and informative, plus to create something that will have lasting effects.

Bandai’s Power Ranger tours (in conjunction with Fox and Saban) had been successful in the past, but were-in accordance with the younger target demo-geared more toward fun than information. This time around, a tour not only had to sate the detail-hungry fanatic, but also to interest-yet not overwhelm-the initiate.

In search of new Gundamites, Bandai research found a like-minded fan in the extreme sports arena, inclining the company to include the three Bs (boarders, bladers and bikers) to the list of anime, comic and Gundam collectors already on its roster of potential and current fans-additions that, in all likelihood, cater to a cool-by-association strategy rather than any guarantee that the extreme sports fanatic would be into Gundam. Dates and cities of extreme games events, anime expos and Comicons were included on the tour calendar.

The 52-foot Mobile Invasion truck simulates a space station mobile suit factory. As people enter the complex, a monitor-held in the hands of an actual mobile suit-introduces the world of Gundam. Other monitors play Gundam eps and battle scenes, while kiosks spotted throughout unfold Gundam history. Between the kiosks, fans can rifle through reference material, boning up on timelines and battles, as well as characters central to the saga. The tour is continually interrupted by sirens and battle effects, culminating in a massive attack with orders to evacuate the station. Outside, six PS2s feature Microsoft Gundam games for play.

The model kit seminars, arguably the most attractive tour feature (according to Beebe), target current fans. They not only cater to what has turned into one of the most popular elements of the property, but also encourage fans to purchase new kits featured on tour. This also marks the start of a Gundam ‘earn your rank’ promo, something that, Beebe explains, should build both sales for the property and self-esteem for the fans. There are 23 medals to collect in all, indicating rank and skill level for each grade of model-building ability. ‘You spend a week putting one of these models together,’ says Beebe, ‘and now you have a pin showing you have achieved that rank. . . like Boy Scout badges.’

Tour-specific tees, hats and model paint kits will be offered at every stop, and the first 7,000 tour entrants will receive a Gundam Battlefield Card. These collectible cards feature a Gundam mobile suit against a city-specific landmark (like the Statue of Liberty for the New York tour stop). The cards are coded for access to areas on that award limited-edition Gundam prizes (also providing a way to keep track of how many people have gone on the tour).

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