As New Year’s Day 1999 was ushered in, the media used the occasion to scare the public with reports of the impending doom awaiting us 12 months hence when the calamitous Year 2000 computer glitch is going to stop the world. And while the prospect of no more junk e-mail jokes or cyber auctions for Luke Skywalker action figures is a bit daunting, what we should really fear is the onslaught of millennium marketing that is going to besiege the planet. Picture yourself hunkered down in a backwoods bunker a year from now, munching on M&Ms, which has dubbed itself the Official Candy of the New Millennium.
Be afraid – very afraid – because it won’t stop there.
M&M Mars has a natural connection with 2000, as Roman numeral freaks will attest, and took full advantage when it rolled out a series of offbeat promotions last year, highlighted by a $2 million prize for the finder of a single bag of candies all marked with double M’s. Likewise, Countdown Entertainment can’t resist selling Times Square 2000 in Manhattan next New Year’s Eve to sponsors and licensees. And for the makers of 2000 Flushes to let such a chance go down the drain would be downright crappy marketing.
Attempts to connect with the next millennium are far and wide and far-fetched, too. There’s a more esoteric numerical link called 01-01-00 (say “oh,” not “zero”), humorous wordplay with Warner Bros.’ Mil-Looney-um, and the quixotic Jerusalem-based philanthropist to raise money for children’s charities. By quadrennial coincidence, worldwide sponsors of the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, such as Panasonic, are conjoined as Team Millennium. Content with usurping just the past 100 years, ESPN is presenting the greatest athletes and sports moments of the 20th century. Still other marketers are simply riding 2000′s coattails, staking themselves to the Sir Edmond Hillary claim: Because it’s there.
Whether the association is obvious or not, and regardless if consumers are ready or not, the barrage of millennium or 20th century promotions over the next 12 months – and beyond – is going to be staggering. Marketers who have not already hit ground zero-zero-zero running, either with an actual promotion or at least plans for one, are sure to at least consider the possibility. Hey, this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event; it’s a once-in-a-thousand years phenomenon that everyone’s going to glom onto.
“Many companies are being secretive about their plans, or are still sorting things out,” suggests Peter Dugan, president of Dugan Valva Contess, a promotion agency in Morristown, New Jersey. “They can either do something by doing something or by abstentia. I think most of our clients are aware of the excess noise there’s going to be [in 2000]. Between the millennium, the Super Bowl, and the Olympics later in the year, it’s going to be a heavy promotion-oriented year.”
DVC, the agency of record for Times Square 2000, has steered a number of its clients to an annual gala that will go bonkers this year. Dugan asserts that when the public thinks about ringing in the hype-iest of New Years, Times Square and its iconographic dropping ball will rise above the clutter. “What distinguishes Times Square is tradition and numbers,” he says.
Jeff Straus, president of Countdown Entertainment, which, along with the Times Square Business Improvement District, produces the extravaganza every December 31, has plenty of ammunition to back up Dugan’s claim. “The 94-year-old Times Square New Year’s Eve tradition was watched by more than 94 million Americans and more than 300 million people worldwide last year,” says Straus, referring to the live satellite broadcast that Countdown and BID feed free to anyone. Nearly a half million revelers jammed into the midtown confluence in 1997, and a recent Yankelovich survey reports that 46% of all Americans want to be in New York in ’99. (Good thing Mayor Rudy Giuliani has cleared out most of the hookers and pickpockets. There probably wouldn’t be enough to properly service such a crowd, anyway.)
Times Square 2000 – which will culminate on New Year’s Eve with live broadcasts from around the world as the millennium dawns in all 24 time zones – introduced its sponsors, Discover Card, Panasonic, Korbel, and the Home Shopping Network, at a 500-day countdown event last August 19. Since then, Discover has been promoting its designation as the event’s official financial services card by stamping its name on the huge electronic billboard atop One Times Square, the one that counts down the days until you-know-when. Panasonic is doing the same with its Astrovision screen on the same building; three smaller mobile Astrovisions currently grace the neighborhood, with two more set to go up for New Year’s Eve 1999.
Korbel is uncorking all the stops with its sponsorship, including new packaging and bottles that display a Times Square 2000 shield, a millennium area on its Web site, and a promotional tour to 24 cities starring the world’s biggest bottle, a 44 6} tall hulk
Home Shopping Network will do a minimum of six shows themed around Times Square 2000 licensed merchandise, as well as its own branded items, and will run a sweepstakes to award trips to New York for the event. Public Relations Chief David Ender anticipates that the network will do other promotions, though cautiously, admitting that the whole millennium thing is “a delicate one to try to figure out. The public is sick enough already with hearing about it. We’re thinking carefully when we go out with this. We don’t want to do something too soon or too late.”
Among the 15 licensees whose wares will be offered not only on Home Shopping Network but also at retailers nationwide are The Original Time Capsule Co. (limited-edition Millennium Memories Time Capsules), Contempo Colours (party goods), and Media Drop-In Productions (state lotteries to win cash and prizes from other licensees). Dugan reports that he’s also in negotiations with a smoking-cessation company, an auto maker, and an airline. Plus, all of Times Square 2000 will be represented at stationary events set up in 25 upscale malls around the country.
In that number Yet with so many more malls of varying scale to fill with millennium stuff in the coming months, it’s no surprise that Times Square 2000 is not the only mark competing for licensing and retail attention. An intriguing contender is 01-01-00, the binary code that will read out when the millennial calendar changes on computers (we hope and pray), as well as the trademarked brainchild of New York retail designer Ken Walker, who says he first pursued the idea in 1994 because he liked the way the numbers looked in an article he read on the Y2K glitch. Walker has signed up more than 50 licensees to date, ranging from Commonwealth Toy (plush toys) to Nutmeg Mills (sportswear).
Much of the merchandise has been available since last summer in exclusive 01-01-00 Millennium Shops at all 23 Bloomingdale’s outlets, and Walker is gaining mass-retail presence in Sears and Wal-Mart. To promote the 01-01-00 mark and concept, Walker has put together his own deal with Home Shopping Network for at least 40 hours of programming, has a book coming out, has a song that he promises “will be recorded by someone famous,” and is looking to form a motor racing team.
Ultimately, Walker envisions 01-01-00 carrying beyond just this year, becoming a brand unto itself. “We’re not focused only on New Year’s 1999,” he says. “Beyond January 1st, 01-01-00 is very abstract, it doesn’t say ‘Happy New Year, 2000.’”
Quite contrarily, that’s pretty much what Smiley Licensing Corp. is saying with its marketing campaign, Have a Nice 2000 Millennium. But similarly to Walker’s numeric scheme, Smiley has created an arsenal of dimensional art that “transcends just a New Year’s opportunity,” says vp – entertainment and marketing Nicholas Loufrani. Developed in France more than 30 years ago and trademarked in Europe and Asia – though not in the U.S., where generic smileys have proliferated in the public domain – there are now Smiley 2000s for Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, and other occasions. Beyond the millennium, Smiley has also created Smiley Babies, Smiley Sports, Smiley for Kids, and so on.
“Our objective is to talk to consumer product and service companies about integrating our characters into their promotions,” says Smiley vp – promotions Tim Heath. “We’re also looking to launch consumer promotions, potentially educational books, an animated cartoon series, and even a movie.” Anyone for Have A Nice Day cereal?
We don’t know if At-A-Glance, the nation’s largest calendar maker, has included a smiley face among the icons in its year-long traveling Millennium Museum. But we are sure that the national tour is aboard an incredible 48-foot tractor-trailer bound for more than 50 cities, 35 major events, and at least 150 schools. Inside are interactive displays that document major events, people, and accomplishments of the past 1,000 years. Another component is the Millennium Hopes and Dreams Journal, in which celebrities, politicians, students, and other notable people will record their insights during the tour.
Partners with At-A-Glance are The History Channel and Sanford, whose Sharpie markers and uni-ball pens will be used to sign the journal. The History Channel will promote its development of content for the tour in an upcoming series, The Century: America’s Time, while At-A-Glance will run a sweepstakes on its millennium-themed calendars, date books, and planners.
Another historical tour is being presented by ESPN to promote Sports Century, an ambitious series of programs looking back at the last 100 years of games and people who play them. The all-sports network has been airing 30-second Classic Moments for a while, and on January 22 will kick off its weekly countdown of the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century. Also beginning this month is a series of special two-hour SportsCenters, each one highlighting a different decade. Other Sports Century theme shows include greatest games, greatest people off the field, and greatest dynasties.
Next month, ESPN and the series’ sponsors – General Motors, Nike, Burger King, Anheuser-Busch, Lincoln Financial Group, Wheaties, and MasterCard – will launch a 30-market mall tour in Tampa. “There will be two major components,” explains ESPN vp – integrated sales and marketing Tom Hagel. “One is exhibits that will engage consumers in the history of sports, including photo montages and a trivia area where they can interact with touch-screen technology. The other is Sports Century Theater, which will provide five to eight minutes of video looking back, in a Surround Sound, big-screen environment.”
ESPN worked with Lou Gehrig’s estate to create an animatronic look-alike of the late Yankees great delivering his famous “luckiest man on the face of the earth” farewell speech. Expect GM, Sports Century’s presenting sponsor, to develop its own promotions.
Thankfully, not every marketer is taking the millennium quite so reverently. Leave it to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other smart-alecky Warner Bros. cartoon characters to poke fun with Mil-Looney-um, a fourth-quarter promotion that will veer into other Time Warner entities and pull in sponsors such as Subway, Kraft, and Best Foods. That means Six Flags theme parks, Warner Bros. studio stores, and various TimeWarner and Turner TV properties are likely to participate.
For now, at least, as Porky Pig would say, th- th- that’s all, folks. Rest assured, however, that there are probably a thousand more millennium promotions in the works.
Who knows, maybe Mazda will even use the event to finally correct the spelling of its Millenia model?
Smiley(tm) has 150 partners worldwide in Asia, Europe and the U.S. , developing licensed consumer products for the year long Millennium Celebration.
We invite you to capitalize on the Millennium Celebration by offering:
* Rights to utilize the Have A Nice 2000 Millennium ™ logo in promotions and advertising.
* Direct access to 50 US based licensees that can provide consu-mer oriented premium products that will serve as timely gifts and promotional items for 2000.
* Support from Smiley(tm) in putting together themed products and promotions for Millennium Celebrations throughout the year 2000.