At first glance, kid merch applications for NBC prime-time series Fear Factor and Weakest Link may not be glaringly obvious, but the network–which will launch a five-property licensing and merchandising campaign this quarter–is set on breaking from the traditional mold.
Initiating kid-targeted merch programs without toy components for TV-driven properties is a notable first step. Joy Tashjian, president of California-based agency JTMG, simply doesn’t envision an action figure or doll line for either property. Instead, her group, which is developing the NBC program (covering all properties, but initially focusing on Fear Factor, Weakest Link, teen soap Passions, home and garden series Rebecca’s Garden and prime-time comedy Will & Grace) in tandem with Charles Mamiye, CEO of New York-based apparel manufacturer Mamiye Brothers, and Vancouver-based Mainframe Entertainment, will focus on gaming in an effort to stay true to the properties’ original formats.
Hasbro (board game), Activision (interactive) and Tiger Electronics (handheld electronic games) have already released Weakest Link gaming product, and JTMG et al. were pursuing similar partners for Fear Factor at press time. ‘Fear Factor and Weakest Link will be broad-based, mass-market licensing programs that would appeal to any type of trend-driven concept program,’ says Tashjian. To that end, she’s looking to sign between 10 and 15 licensees on each, working towards a summer 2002 product launch, with the exception of Weakest Link apparel (from three licensees that were unconfirmed at press time), which Wal-Mart will test this spring.
Capitalizing on Fear Factor’s gross-out stunt segments, Mainframe (which is lending product development, legal and art support to the project) has developed a number of bug-centric product concepts for licensee pitch presentations. Open categories include candy, baseball caps, T-shirts, mugs, key chains, backpacks, wallets, tote bags, playing cards, skateboards, snowboards, water bottles and back-to-school stationery sets. Weakest Link concepts include school supplies, ties, T-shirts, electronic cookie jars, coasters, place mats, bobble-head figures and fridge magnets.
With NBC recently selling off its Saturday morning kids block (formerly home to Teen NBC series Just Deal and City Guys) to Discovery Networks, daytime soap Passions rounds out the kid-centric portion of the NBC licensing initiative–although Tashjian claims tNBC was never part of the initial plan, given the state of flux the block was in when the two agencies of record were signed last October.
And while broad-based programs make sense for Fear Factor and Weakest Link, the fickle eight to 14 demo to which Tashjian has chosen to tailor the Passions program requires a more sophisticated strategy. Thus, the group will be looking to create a direct-to-retail program with a teen retailer at the mid-tier level, and while initial conversations were underway at press time, Tashjian expected formal presentations to begin as early as this month. No word yet on what kind of window the exclusive will have, but don’t expect to see the brand at mass any time soon: ‘We are not looking to create a licensing program with product you can find in any store,’ says Tashjian, who is aiming to build Passions as a long-term brand in line with NBC’s commitment to the property. With style guides already completed by Mainframe, Passions will be presented as a fashion-driven program targeted for a Q4 launch and encompassing cosmetics, apparel, diaries, jewelry and accessories.
Beyond offering licensees the keys to some of the hottest series in its portfolio, NBC is seeking to drive interest by creating multi-level opportunities for manufacturers that, Tashjian argues, have not really existed before. ‘Most licensees buy a TV license, make the product, and hope the show stays on the air,’ says Tashjian. ‘In this case, we’re trying to weave them in as an integral part of the show.’
Because NBC is promotionally-driven, licensees have access to a plethora of cross-promotional opportunities, including product tags, a presence in the Shop NBC and NBC Experience stores and on-air product placement. ‘We may be able to have the manufacturer dress the talent, basically getting a five-hour commercial,’ says Tashjian. ‘And from a licensee’s standpoint…well, they could never buy this amount of advertising time.’ Retailer incentives include in-store signage, in-store TV monitors screening the show, cross-promotional contests offering the chance to win a part on Passions, and opportunities to host in-store autograph sessions or have Passions make-up artists perform in-store makeovers.