RACINE, Wis. -- Western Publishing Co. here is taking computer software one step closer to consumer packaged goods with the launch this month of a group of educational titles for children under its Step Ahead logo.
Best known for its Golden Books series of children's stories, Western has chosen to introduce the new software titles through major mass merchandise chains, including Wal-Mart, Kmart and Fred Meyer. Initial shipments of the five-title line began in August, and the products are expected to reach store shelves on Oct. 1. All five "edutainment" titles are available in DOS computer format, and four are available for the Macintosh platform. They are expected to sell for between $19.95 and $24.95, Barbara Isaacson, Western Publishing marketing manager, told Brand Marketing. "We feel in that range they will perform for the retailer," she said.
The company has assembled an "aggressive" trade and consumer marketing campaign in support of the new line, which incorporates retail merchandising and promotion programs with a print advertising campaign.
Elements of the launch include a pair of corrugated displays, one designed for a countertop, the other freestanding, which are being made available to the trade. Co-op dollars are being made available, and company representatives will attend major toy and book shows.
Western is also supplying retailers with a CD-ROM sampler they can use to play five-minute demonstrations of each of the new titles. The offerings include alphabet and simple number
games for three- to six-year-olds, spelling and math programs for six- to eight-year-olds, and a "cognitive skills" game designed for four- to seven-year-olds.
Onscreen demos will be a must for retail customers such as Comp USA and Electronics Boutique, which specialize in computers, but, Isaacson noted, "A lot of our accounts will not have computers on premises."
To provide the all-important in-store demonstration in the mass, self-service retail environment, the company has also put together a point-of-purchase demonstration video.
Even the product packaging is designed to foster the unassisted purchase. Each is in a brightly colored slim-profile package to allow planograming at retail. The box has a book-like flap that folds open, revealing a 12-inch by 11-inch panel that fully describes the software's premise.
"We want to make this easy for our retail accounts," she said.
Bonnie Predd, senior vice president for planning and new business at the company, said Western Publishing is "the first to launch a high-quality, affordably priced educational software line to the mass market."
She added, "Our educational software marketing spending level to launch our line equals the total consumer advertising dollars spent last year on the entire educational software category."
Predd added that the company judged the product's sales prospects "merit a high level of promotional and advertising support to reach nontraditional and first-time software buyers."
Isaacson said Western Publishing is just completing plans for an account-specific promotion program with Fred Meyer, in which the retailer will feature the Step Ahead software in its Christmas circular.
"Our account people are working with retailers on an account-by-account basis," she said, adding that Western Publishing recently reorganized its sales force to devote a small portion to the supermarket trade. Entry of the software into food stores, while a company goal, may be many weeks away.
In recent years, Western Publishing has been known for its turnkey operation of Books 'R' Us, the book departments within Toys 'R' Us stores. The Step Ahead line will not be going into Toys 'R' Us, which is currently testing its own electronic learning centers, she added.
"We are now working with Wal-Mart to set up the same kind of store within a store called Just For Kids," she said.
Western also has a program of turnkey children's book departments called Golden Storyland, which it operates in more than 600 mass merchandise stores, she added.
Some 500 Wal-Mart and 500 Kmart children's book departments are expected to display the Step Ahead line by next month. The accompanying consumer ad campaign launches in the November and December issues of several magazines, including Parents, Parenting, Family Fun, Family PC and People's Holiday Gift Collection.
The price point, packaging, advertising and in-store approach are all designed to capture the attention and approval of mothers, said Isaacson, who noted that most software purchase decisions are considered purchases made by men.
"We know moms are the decision-makers on education products," she said, adding the intent is to leverage the existing retail distribution and brand recognition of Step Ahead and Golden Books.
Isaacson noted that the Step Ahead and Golden Books brands have "a heritage of high quality products at a popular price." Western judged that combining that reputation with wide availability will take away shopper doubts. Software, after all, is "usually not an impulse item," she said.
The self-service merchandising and moderate price point are also intended to "help lessen seasonality for our retailers for this product," she added.
"Software is most often a fourth-quarter item. On something as important as software, shoppers shouldn't have to wait for the holidays," she said.