All’s Fair

By Feb 01, 1999

Star Wars is the odds-on bet to conquer this month’s Toy Fair. NEW YORK Last year, one of the biggest buzz-generators at Toy Fair was what you couldn’t find out about Godzilla. And mum might be the word once again in 1999, as those cagey folks at LucasFilm and Twentieth Century Fox keep at least some of their Star Wars I – The Phantom Menace cards close to the vest.

Rest assured, there is always plenty to see and hear when the toy industry convenes in New York City for its annual product-launch and deal-making orgy. This year’s event runs Feb. 8-15, with the first four days devoted exclusively to the massive show rooms manufacturers set up at locations along Fifth Avenue and Broadway. The more traditional trade show kicks off at the Jacob Javits Convention Center Feb. 12.

“Toy Fair has really become a huge barometer” of the interest a new property can expect to generate, says George Leon, vp-consumer promotions at Fox Family Worldwide, who uses the show to promote both established properties and future launches. “I do a lot of my selling there.”

“It’s a great place to make announcements and start having discussions” with potential partners, says Pam Newton, vp-marketing for Viacom Consumer Products, who like Leon brings a whole bag of licensing and promotion plans to the show. Newton uses Toy Fair to meet with established and potential licensees, but says she also likes the broader view the show provides.

“It gives you an intense overview of what’s happening in the toy industry,” she says. “Sometimes we find manufacturers doing really great things that we didn’t even know existed.”

Power Rangers get lost Among the topics Fox Family wants people talking about at Toy Fair are two properties in development at production arm Saban Entertainment – Cyber 9, which is slated for a late 1999 debut, and NascaRacers, set to premiere in February 2000. Master toy licensee Bandai America will unveil new Cyber 9 toys at the show, while Hasbro will offer a few of its concepts for NascaRacers.

Saban is still developing plans for Mystic May, a major marketing push for the sophomore season of sword and sorcery series Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog. Highlighting the program will be a premium giveaway at McDonald’s (a rare live-action tie-in for the fast feeder), and the distribution of 10 million Knights-branded pasta cans by Campbell Soup Co. beginning this quarter. The schedule also includes an on-air sweeps and a home video release. Bandai is again Master Toy Licensee.

“We’re timing all of our promotions for everything to come out at once,” says Leon. “It’s really inspired our licensees to act at the same time, too.”

Finding retail partners is also an integral part of Fox Family’s strategy, which is why Leon is ecstatic that Wal-Mart has returned for a second Power Rangers road show. Last year’s Power Rangers in Space Rocket Tour attracted 2,000 daily visitors and spiked sales of Bandai’s Power Rangers line by 400 percent. On the heels of that success, Wal-Mart this year has “committed to big buys” from a variety of licensees, says Leon.

The Power Rangers Intergalactic Encounter runs February through September, bringing a 5,000-square-foot “moon bounce” to the parking lot outside a different Wal-Mart every weekend. With a couple thousand kids expected to doff their sneakers and enter the attraction daily, “the sock guy is very happy right now,” notes Leon. (That would be New York-based hosiery licensee High Point Knitting.)

Wal-Mart runs an in-store collateral program, complete with product boutiques that in some locations are placed outside the store.

Promotion begins this month with a three-week on-air sweeps. The winner gets a visit from the Intergalactic Encounter and a party with the Power Rangers in the fall. The tour adds local market overlays at each stop, and usually picks up a local charity tie-in, too.

Never one to miss a promo gimmick, Leon has contacted the Guiness Book of World Records to see if the attraction qualifies for “world’s largest inflatable theme park” status.

Entering its sixth season – this year’s show is called Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy – the series “is still our franchise,” says Leon. “We’re trying to do a fully comprehensive program that helps the show and the licensed goods.”

Bewitched, bottled, bejeweled On Viacom’s Toy Fair plate is the official unveiling of an animated Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, which extends the franchise launched three years ago with the eponymous live-action sitcom on ABC. The series is being produced in conjunction with Disney’s Buena Vista, and has already landed a Saturday morning gig on ABC starting in September and a syndicated weekday run on UPN. “That gives us seven impressions per week, which is pretty phenomenal,” boasts Newton.

The three-year-old Friday night sitcom has attracted licensees including Tiger Electronics, Pocket Books, Pastime Industries (craft kits), Cosrich (makeup, fragrances), and Honey Fashions (backpacks, wallets). The animated program is open.

On the movie front, Viacom will be pitching Sleepy Hollow, a film based loosely on the Washington Irving classic directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci. Scheduled for a late summer/early fall release, the film should bring “a wonderful niche program for us,” says Newton.