Kid Stuffed: Toy Fair overflows with products and promotions.

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Name the hot new animated kids’ series about an extreme-sports athlete who moonlights as a crime fighter, battling evil-doers around the globe.

If you said Max Steel, you’re right. But if you said Action Man, you’re also right, because when it comes to toy trends, one product line is never enough.

While waiting on line for elevators and coat checks, attendees of February’s American International Toy Fair in New York City could be heard debating the various merits of Max and Action as part of their endless efforts to identify the next big thing in children’s entertainment.

Whatever that next big thing is, chances are better than not that it won’t just be a toy but an entire “entertainment franchise.” Because it’s a rare toy these days that sits quietly on store shelves waiting for children to find it. And it’s just as rare when there isn’t a very similar toy a few spaces away.


Max Steel is produced in 3-D CGI animation by Sony Pictures Family Entertainment in conjunction with toy giant Mattel Inc. Action Man is owned by the other toy giant, Hasbro Inc. (it has been Europe’s version of G.I. Joe for nearly 40 years), and is getting that all-important entertainment connection via Fox Kids Network.

Max Steel (his “real” name is Josh McGrath) debuted Feb. 26 on the Kids WB Network and has been getting strong ratings with boys two to 11 and kids six to 11 in its Saturday morning time slot. But the property was scoring tie-in deals before the first episode aired: Pizza Hut has already signed on for a kids’ meal premium effort later this year. Mattel, El Segundo, CA, is planning advertising to coincide with periodic product rollouts and will host extreme sports events.

Pawtucket, RI-based Hasbro is putting its biggest push of 2000 behind Action Man (“real” name, Alex Man), which debuts as a CGI series on Fox Kids this fall (Fox and Hasbro have a two-year commitment for the show.) A direct-mail drop this summer will send three million CD-ROM samplers to households with kids. The marketing slate also includes advertising, an interactive Web site, retail promotions, events, and joint work with Fox Kids.


Think Pokemania is fading? Nobody at Toy Fair did. Hasbro has added a Pokemon SKU to just about every product line. And promotional licensing partners for Nintendo’s super property are still knocking: H. J. Heinz and Kraft Foods are currently running on-pack efforts to coincide with the video release of Pokemon: The First Movie (March promo); Kellogg reportedly will keep the grocery fire burning this fall with Pokemon cereal, and the summer release of the second movie should bring a wave of new tie-ins.

Digimon, the rival battling-monsters property from Saban Entertainment, isn’t trapped in Pokemon’s shadow by any means. The property will get into Taco Bell for a kids’ meal effort later in 2000; Jel-Serts spruces up 10 million packages of freezer pops and powdered drinks with an instant-win effort beginning this month. TV spots, P-O-P displays, and a national FSI support. Digimon will also be part of a November-through-January in-theater promotion Fox has lined up with Loews Cineplex Entertainment featuring on-screen ads and refreshment-stand packaging.


It’s a Battle Royale within the toys-that-turn-into-other-toys segment, with still-strong Power Rangers being joined by other properties including Gundam Wing and DinoZaurs. Cypress, CA-based Bandai America supplies the products for all three properties.

DinoZaurs, which centers around mild-mannered dinos who turn into evil-battling dinos, debuted at retail last fall and hits the Fox Kids Network this fall. Twenty-year-old Japanese import Gundam Wing, about futuristic teenagers who turn into evil-battling futuristic teenagers, premiered on Cartoon Network last month.

Power Rangers is still the transformer to beat in terms of promotional deals, as evidenced by the McDonald’s Happy Meal program breaking later this month. The effort will include the sale of an exclusive Power Rangers video. (Distribution through McD’s gives the franchise its largest video distribution channel to date, notes Saban Consumer Products president Elie Dekel.) Account-specific work with such retailers as Party City, Kmart, and Toys “R” Us are spread throughout the year, and Bandai will join Fox on a sweeps this fall.


For those who think giant extinct life forms vs. humans isn’t a fair fight, DinoZaurs can be pitted against Dinosaur, a PG-rated CGI film from Walt Disney Co. opening May 19.


Toy Island, New York City, this spring offers an electronic Clifford the Big Red Dog plush who growls and struggles when you pull the bone out of his mouth. Ditto Playmates Toys, Inc. with Max, the Grinch’s best friend (see story, below).

Forget the best-toy debate. The hands-down winner for best Toy Fair party went to Universal Studios, which turned Manhattan’s 26th Street Armory into Whoville for a blowout celebrating Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The film is being touted as the most-likely blockbuster of the holiday 2000 season. Universal certainly spared no expense on the party, hiring acrobats and actors to portray the citizens of Whoville and flying in director Ron Howard, producer Brian Glazer, star Jim Carrey, and the rest of the cast.

Then again, the party budget is miniscule compared with a marketing plan that reportedly has already lined up more than $100 million in worldwide support and features such heavy U.S. marketing hitters as Visa USA, Kellogg Co., Hershey Foods, and Nabisco. Toys “R” Us has reportedly signed on as a retail partner (see story, pg. 84). The only blight on plans are reports that Universal will have to settle for a second-tier QSR now that Burger King has committed to a Thanksgiving tie-in with Paramount’s Rugrats in Paris.

The buzz surrounding the Grinch overshadowed publicity for Universal’s spring blockbuster contender, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle – despite the fact that the film has attracted a pretty impressive partner list of its own.

Leading the effort is M&M/Mars, Hackettstown, NJ, which is devoting 500 million units of its Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Twix brands in a May-through-August sweeps that kicks off a full two months before the film’s June 30 release. M&M is using the tie-in as part of an overall campaign to pitch its chocolates as frozen treats. “It’s not just a promotion supporting the movie,” but an effort to help Universal revitalize the Rocky & Bullwinkle franchise, says Jill Jones, executive vp-marketing and creative for Universal Consumer Products.

Rounding out an eclectic mix of other partners are BAMA Foods, which puts R&B designs on one million jelly tumblers; Weaver Chicken, which will offer a movie ticket with proofs-of-purchase and a self-liquidating watch offer on two million-plus boxes; and PetsMart, which will run an online/off-line sweeps.

Drug chain CVS got the ball rolling in March with an exclusive two-month merchandise program in its 4,200 stores. The chain supports with TV and radio spots and print ads via its 35 million-copy circular program. Universal also made a late-breaking deal with Travelodge hotels.

After all that planning and partying, the Universal folks need a place to rest.


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