Joan Kim interviews David Bowers about Casper's Haunted Christmas' final challenge: finding shelf space and effective promotions.
Since the success of Harvey's made for video release Casper: A Spirited Beginning and the made for TV movie Casper Meets Wendy, the company that started as a comic book company in New York, has re-emerged and is aiming to become a staple in children's video collections. In 1999 a new management team headed by Roger A. Burlage (Chairman and CEO) and Rick Mischel (President and COO) redirected Harvey's trajectory and continues to re-position Harvey in today's market hoping to take advantage of new media channels. Maximizing the already established family branding associated with the Harvey classic characters, their marketing plan attempts to match itself to the new media age and secure its share of shelf space when Harvey's all CGI production Casper's Haunted Christmas comes to stores this fall. David Bowers, Harvey's senior VP marketing, shares some insight into the marketing and distribution of Harvey's classic character. First, however, let's get to know a little about David Bowers...
In addition to playing a key role at Harvey Entertainment, David founded The Bowers Group in 1998 providing full-service entertainment marketing and publicity for clients who include Artisan Entertainment, PM Entertainment, The Leslie Greif Company and Trimark Pictures.
Prior to joining Harvey, Bowers served as executive vice president of marketing services and publicity at Artisan Entertainment (formerly LIVE Entertainment) specializing in the development, implementation and supervision of their theatrical marketing and publicity campaigns. There he supervised and created all publicity and promotion campaigns for theatrical, home video, international and corporate divisions.
Bowers spent the mid to late '80s as the senior vice president at J2 Communications/National Lampoon responsible for all marketing and publicity of their home video product and was integral in the purchase of National Lampoon Magazine and its subsequent update and launch. The early '80s were spent at Quinn, Brein, Inc. as vice president of the Family Entertainment Division where he created and implemented publicity and marketing campaigns for major toy companies introducing product line-ups. Some of the companies include Mattel, Hallmark Properties, Coleco and Hasbro.
Joan Kim: How long have you been with Harvey Entertainment working on marketing and distribution?
David Bowers: I've been with Harvey for the last year.
JK: What are some of the challenges you've encountered this past year in marketing a classic character that has already been branded and recognized by the public?
DB: Well, there are a couple of challenges. The first one is that the marketplace is extremely glutted with product this Christmas season. You have everything from major theatrical releases like Chicken Run to home video releases like Aladdin 2 or Little Mermaid 2 or Land Before Time 7. There is so much sell through product coming out that the shelf space is very limited for a lot of the titles. One of the biggest challenges we have is making sure that the retailers and ultimately the public are excited enough about this title that they want to clear off space for us.
JK: There is an assortment of hot, new properties that have come out this year that are doing well. Are there any specific challenges you have in trying to update Casper to compete in today's market?
DB: That has not been a problem, because all of our research has indicated that children absolutely love this character. We have something that a lot of other products don't have, which is that the parents grew up watching it, so they are really familiar with the product. What we have done is completely updated the character and how it looks.
This film was all computer-animated, a là Antz or Toy Story. So, it's a whole different look. It's a very good look. It's an excellent quality film. Having said that, the retailers have jumped on this, because there is so much product out there that perhaps doesn't have quite the quality. Retailers are looking at something that they perceive as a great value.
At the same time, Casper is turning 60 this year. A large premier on the 20th of October celebrating his 60th birthday at the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences is planned followed by the kickoff of the video, which comes out on October 31st. To help celebrate Casper's birthday, Harvey and Sight for Students, a non-profit charity, have teamed up to distribute over 60,000 pairs of eyeglasses to kids across the country who are neither covered by insurance, or do not qualify for government assistance such as Medi-Care. Each participating child receives a free eye exam through a local ophthalmologist, free eyeglasses, free eye cases and free follow up exams. We're tying in with them and the slogan is, "Everyone deserves to see Casper." Under that umbrella, we'll be launching a huge marketing campaign starting in October.
The 60th birthday will segway straight into the home video release. We will also be putting Randy Travis on television shows. He sings the soundtrack for Casper and he'll be appearing on shows like Rosie O'Donnell targeting our moms. And then we have a pretty good Internet campaign set up. During the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November kids will be able to visit their favorite Web site and see behind-the-scenes footage of Casper's Haunted Christmas. We're also producing a Flash-based Internet game with Sarbakan Entertainment. The game will feature characters from the movie and will be freely distributed online.
JK: Are you guys going with any fast food chains or anything like that?
DB: We're not selling the video there, but we do have two major tie-ins. One is at Orange-Julius/Dairy Queen. They're giving away Casper product in all their kid's value meals. We also have a major tie-in with Baskin-Robbins nationwide. They're putting a coupon in the video for free ice cream sundaes. In all their stores they have counter cards promoting the video and they named a new ice cream flavor for three months called "Chiller Thriller" to promote Casper.
JK: "Chiller Thriller" going along with the Halloween theme.
DB: Right and it comes out the 31st. So Halloween will give us a great opportunity to promote the ghost. At the same time, the video comes out just shortly after that for Christmas and will be on the shelves for the next 2 and half months.
JK: With the direct to video and various promotions you've been focusing on, what are some of the promotions we'll see on television?
DB: We're spending about 2.5 million advertising dollars to advertise the video during the holiday season. In addition to that, as I've mentioned, we're tying in with all the local TV stations, one in each major market -- I think the top 50 markets -- where they'll be giving away Casper grand prizes to the Saturday morning children's viewing public. We're also going to be working with the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. So, we're doing a lot on TV.
JK: Will any of the Casper films, like Casper's Spirited Beginning, be airing this holiday season?
DB: No, but we will be airing the new video release Casper's Haunted Christmas on the USA Network, so that'll be a big boost for the video sales. We've created a lot of account specific promotions. For instance, with Wal-Mart if you buy the video there, you can get the soundtrack. One song from the soundtrack, "Deck the Halls" sung by Randy Travis, will be attached to the video. So we're doing a lot of account specific promotions as well.
JK: Is there anything else, you'd like to add about Casper?
DB: Well, we did a "Making of Casper" that will be on the DVD which is a 15 minute special that we're using a lot on the Internet. We also have a gentleman over here by the name of Sid Jacobsen who was the original editor and edited all the Casper comic books through the years and he also created the character Richie Rich. So he's been with Harvey forever and he's going to be doing interviews with the printed press and on the Internet to talk with people about the history here at Harvey and his experience with it. We're really excited and we're expecting well over a million units initially shipped for this holiday season.
Joan Kim received her B.A. in English Literature from UCLA and currently is the editorial administrator for Animation World Network. Previously as a graphics consultant she produced several company reports and manuals and continues to pursue an education in computer graphics.