You never know...
William Goldman's mantra in his book Adventures in the Screen Trade is "No one knows anything." And indeed this holds true for not only the feature film industry but also the fickle tastes of little tykes. Since the dawn of commercial animation the medium has been tied to selling toys. This is such a well-known fact that laws have been passed monitoring the situation. Vast resources and hours of manpower are invested in launching shows with "multi-platform advertising and marketing reach" all in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle and creating one of those consumer must-have properties. Marketing execs openly talk of "owning" children, i.e. earning their brand loyalty by a young, young age. All this planning and plotting however is frequently for naught as something inconceivable and unsuspecting catches the attention of the masses.
"Catching lightning in a bottle" is just how Shelly Hirsch from Summit Media Group, a division of 4Kids Entertainment, explained it when I sat down with him back at NATPE in 1998. I remember him saying that the next big thing wouldn't come from one of the majors but rather a smaller company that found and distributed a property from outside the U.S. system. Smart man. One year later, Pokémon, a 4Kids property, has become one of these super-phenomenons. In "Give Us Your Money: 4Kids Entertainment Attains Poké-Momentum," Brett Rogers takes a deeper look at 4Kids and the impact Pokémon has had on the company.
I have received a lot of frustrated email from producers and directors of domestic shows. They strive for quality, meaningful scripts, challenging plots and characters that children can identify with...when suddenly, a group of pocket monsters hit the shores reciting their names in various incarnations. 'And this is what the kids flock to?!' they cry. Their disbelief and incredulity comes through loud and clear...just as it did I am sure when Mutant Ninja Turtles were all the rage.
For a long time, "girls" shows were considered the kiss of death. It had been statistically proven said the network execs that while girls will watch boys shows, boys will not watch girls shows and boys control the remote controls of Saturday morning. Are girls really born that passive? Have we been trained to be submissive by that early of an age? Thank God the Powerpuff Girls are here! Not only have the Girls proven to be a tremendous success, they have also caught the attention and fancy of boys everywhere. I recently heard a story of two little boys fighting over who was going to be Blossom and who was going to be Buttercup. Now really could those naysaying industry executives ever had guessed such a thing would happen? Rick DeMott sheds some light on this amazing trend in, "The Powerpuff Girls' Phenomenal Merchandising Mantra."
And while some properties seemingly become a hit overnight others take time to gather steam. Michael Hurwicz outlines several of these types of properties in "Toy Stories: Merchandising Success Without TV or Movie Exposure." Really...talking vegetables that teach moral values? Who would have said that would be a success? Kids hate vegetables and can smell a "lesson" in their entertainment faster than they can smell cookies in the oven. But so far Big Ideas has sold over 20 million videos without major retail backing.
I guess the only rule we can follow is: make what you think, put it out there and wait, because no one knows what these audiences are going to gravitate to next. And while Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman couldn't pick one specific item to become the must-have-or-die gift...by December 24th it will be something. And if you could guess what the crowds are going to want correctly and consistently, then you'd be one of the richest people on earth and have a very special talent indeed.
Until Next Time, Heather