By now, it’s become industry gospel: If you want to secure shelf space for your movie-based toy lines, you’d better be offering retailers more than the six-week selling period that attends the one-off movie. And in 2002, more than any other time during the past five years, that fact was borne out repeatedly, as toy lines based on multi-pic franchises such as Spider-Man, Star Wars and Harry Potter were well represented on top-selling U.S. toy charts.
‘Retailers are confident that there will be enough marketing exposure behind franchise concepts, so they’re willing to support them,’ says U.K. toy analyst Jon Salisbury. The promise of additional entertainment rollout, he says, lowers the risk for retailers that consumers will lose interest in the related toy merchandise.
For better or worse, though, that strategy is squeezing out any lines tied to pics that don’t adhere to the franchise formula and take a chance with a one-pic big event release. ‘[As a retailer], why would you support something like that? You get a couple of weeks [exposure] and that’s it,’ says Salisbury.
Above and beyond having the requisite equity points – namely, that each of 2002′s franchise movies was based on a pedigreed property – there was also little fat to any of the lines. ‘[For Spider-Man and Star Wars], I think both Sony and Lucas did a much tighter job of controlling the products that were available,’ says Warren Kornblum, chief marketing officer at Toys ‘R’ Us. That both properties boasted large collectible components also allowed the master toy licensees to stretch out the selling period beyond the standard four to six weeks, he adds.
Notwithstanding the advantages of supporting toys based on franchise pics, Kornblum feels that there are opportunities for retailers, licensors and toycos to make better use of the DVD/video release windows of kid-targeted films, which have assumed a greater event status in the last few years. ‘We in the licensing and retail business need to pay closer attention to the rhythm of film and product releases,’ says Kornblum, noting that on properties like Harry Potter, there’s a chance to build merch sales momentum around a book release.
‘For us,’ says Kornblum, ‘it’s about building intellectual properties, so the longer time you have, the more opportunity you have to bring things to life.’ Despite the sales heft that the elongated windows of franchise pics garnered in 2002, they did not mark a return to the golden era of three years ago, when retailers could make their year on entertainment properties like Pokémon, says David Niggli, president of FAO Schwarz and chief merchandising officer for FAO Inc.
‘As good as [Spider-Man, Harry Potter and Star Wars] were, it wasn’t enough to carry the toy industry into a tremendously successful year,’ says Niggli. The problem, he claims, is that carefully calibrated movie-based toy programs have yielded careful hits, but no surprise hits. As a result, a kind of risk atrophy has set in at retail where movies like Shrek (2001) are slipping by without getting the proper support. ‘No one thought Shrek was going to be what it was. The product wasn’t there, and it was one of the biggest films that year. Those are the opportunities we have to look for,’ says Niggli.