NEW YORK -- Appealing to children with popular licensed products appears to be a natural, but for supermarkets that go after the cash-flush teen segment with licensed goods it could be a detriment, according to licensed-products marketers speaking here at the Licensing 2000 International trade show, June 13 to 15.
Although there isn't a consumer-products marketer who wouldn't like to find the magical licensed property that could attract and hold the attention of teenagers, much less adults, the fact remains that young kids, eight and under, are the primary target for most successful merchandising efforts. "Twelve to 16-year-olds just don't want to be marketed to," said Rob Gruen, executive vice president for worldwide marketing and retail business development at Warner Bros. Consumer Products division, Burbank, Calif.
According to Neil Vogel, chief corporate development officer at Alloy, a New York-based site and e-tailer that targets the 12- to 16-year-old demographic exclusively, media-based properties including television series such as Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and, for most of its 10-year run, Beverly Hills 90210, may be very popular with teens, but that does not translate into desirable licensed merchandise. "Just because they like to watch it doesn't mean they want to wear it," he noted.
Not only do teens tend to be allergic to licensed merchandise based on popular properties; they are sensitive to the class of retail at which their products are sold. According to Vogel, teens avoid mass merchants, family-oriented catalogs and supermarkets. Jim Byrne, senior vice president of marketing at WWF Entertainment, Stamford, Conn., producers and licensers of WWF wrestling noted that overexposure is as deadly to a teen property as underexposure is to a property aimed at toddlers. "At supermarkets and mass merchants the frequency model may be too high. Too many impressions."
At a seminar presented by Licensing 2000 International on marketing to the teenage demographic, at which Vogel was a panelist, he noted that the very act of aiming a merchandising effort at this demographic can render a property hopelessly unattractive to teens. Teens, he said, need to feel as if they are discovering a property, rather than having it foist upon them. Before age 11 or 12, said Vogel, moms make the purchasing decisions and kids approve, so marketers reach out primarily to mothers, making supermarkets a likely class of retail. But after that age kids make the purchasing decisions and moms approve.
But in spite of the warnings of marketers who specialize in the teen market, and with racks of remaindered merchandise from past efforts, a number of studios and other content providers are aiming their marketing efforts at this hard-to-reach demographic.
According to Byrne, WWF is actively reaching out to teens. The WWF boasts the highest-rated show in Thursday prime time among male teens, ages 12 to 17, with its TV-14-rated WWF Smackdown! And among the program's more than 100 sponsors are such teen-friendly companies as Burger King, America Online, Artisan, Chef Boyardee, DreamWorks, Hasbro, Quaker, Sega, Sony Music, Tiger Electronics, Trendmasters, Universal, Warner Bros. and Wendy's.
Byrne credits the property's teen popularity to a change in strategy, shifting from a family-oriented property to something much edgier. "We're constantly in the business of educating our constituency," he said. WWF licensees are encouraged to use the content-rating codes on packaging to reinforce the violent, cutting-edge nature of the source material.
Sony Pictures Consumer Products, Culver City, Calif., has teamed with Marvel Enterprises, New York, to form Spider-Man Merchandising L.P. to support the release of the studio's film "Spider-Man: The Movie," due out for fall 2001. Teens will be a prime target in the licensing program, according to Peter Dang, president of SPCP, and, to that end, the company has begun reaching out to teens through the Internet. "Chat rooms go crazy anytime a new rumor about who will be in the film surfaces," said Dang.
And Warner Bros. Consumer Products hopes to appeal to the teenage demographic with licensed merchandise based on what may have been the quirkiest entertainment-based property on the Licensing Show floor. The Farrelly Bros.-produced "Osmosis Jones," due in theaters in the spring of 2001, will combine live action, 2D animation and computer-generated images to tell the story of a man named Frank whose body becomes the City of Frank. The cast includes Chris Rock, David Hyde Pierce, Laurence Fishburne, Brandy and William Shatner.
In other show news, Warner Home Video began staking out territory for what promises to be a marketing juggernaut of Jurassic-sized proportions: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Licensed goods based on the enormously popular books will begin appearing in Warner Bros. Studio Stores in the fall and become more widely available during the holidays.
According to Warner's Gruen, the new products will refer both back to the books and forward to the upcoming movie, due in theaters Nov. 16, 2001. Gruen said that the company anticipates awarding a number of supermarket-friendly licenses for Harry Potter products. "As we get closer to the movie, there will be a number of product categories that make sense for supermarkets, including branded packaged food and applicable categories in nonfoods."
Golden Books has announced a slice-and-bake cookie promotion to support the annual release of the home videos "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Mitch Fried, senior vice president of marketing for Golden Book Entertainment Group, New York, said that the promotions will involve not only the videos and cookies but also additional licensed merchandise, including books and small toys from Goodtimes Entertainment, New York, which licenses Rudolph merchandise. According to Fried, there will be a freestanding insert that will allow consumers purchasing the video to get $1 off two packages of cookies. Shoppers who purchase two packages of cookies also receive $1 off the video.
Fried noted that Golden Books also would extend its Read In program, which it orchestrated in 1999. The program consists of a one-day children's read-in at 6,000 locations, many of them supermarkets, where children converge to hear local celebrities, sports figures and politicians read aloud.
This year's Read-In will feature costumed performers. Kroger Co., Harris Teeter, H.E. Butt Grocery Co. and Wegmans Food Markets have all expressed interest in hosting the events, said Fried.