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Selected Licensing Programs Inspired by Advertising Campaigns

From the California Raisins to Li'l Penny, sometimes companies get lucky and their commercials become their own licensing phenomena.

Following are some of the licensing efforts based on animated and live-action advertising campaigns over the last 20 years.

The California Raisins generated one of the biggest ad-related licensing campaigns ever. Image courtesy of Will Vinton Studios.

California Raisins

The California Raisins, the group of Motownesque, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"-singing, Claymation characters created by Foote, Cone & Belding and animated by Will Vinton Studios for the California Raisin Board, were a fad in 1987 and generated one of the biggest ad-related licensing campaigns ever, totaling an estimated $500 million in retail sales in about a year. Products included virtually every category and were popular with all ages; among the leading items were plush dolls, plastic figurines and other gifts and collectibles. A series of Hardee's promotions involving California Raisin premiums were among that fast-food chain's most successful ever. Where's the Beef? In 1984, the phrase "Where's the Beef?" permeated all facets of U.S. society, thanks to a commercial for the Wendy's quick-service restaurant chain starring octogenarian Clara Peller. The licensing effort lasted just four months--the amount of time that the commercials were on the air--but the merchandise managed to generate more than $70 million in retail sales in that short time, according to Seth Siegel, co-chairman of The Beanstalk Group, licensing agent for Wendy's. As soon as the tag-line had become a craze, Beanstalk was able to line up five licensing deals within a week and 15 more by the end of the second week. By the end of the program, nearly 40 licensees were on board. The agency had originally been hired to license the Wendy's logo for kitchen sets, apparel and other products. Taco Bell Chihuahua The ad icon of 1998 is the Mexican-accented Taco Bell Chihuahua. The campaign started in fall of 1997 with one commercial, created by advertising agency TBWA Chiat Day. That initial advertisement was followed by several more executions in late 1997 and early 1998. The first merchandise--t-shirts and sleepwear--appeared on retail shelves by March of 1998, followed by posters, a limited range of plush and several other products. As of mid-August, approximately 15 licensees were signed, with more pending, according to Bill O'Rourke, director of brand licensing at Taco Bell's licensing agency, Hakan & Associates. Retail sales for Chihuahua merchandise has exceeded $25 million in the first six months of the licensing program. (Taco Bell has also authorized products based on its core brand, such as kitchen electrics and serve-ware.) Li'l Penny Li'l Penny, the advertising spokespuppet that promotes a line of Nike athletic shoes endorsed by NBA (National Basketball Association) star Anfernee (Penny) Hardaway, has inspired a limited range of products. The main thrust of the program is a line of three dolls from Playmates Toys, including a 14-inch talking version with the voice of Chris Rock, who performs the role in the commercials as well. The spots, which were created by Wieden & Kennedy and feature both Li'l Penny and Hardaway, continue to air.

The Puttermans The Puttermans, the full-size, latex-costumed family (including a limbo-dancing granny!) powered by Duracell batteries, were a phenomenon for two years, peaking in 1995. T-shirts and other novelties were licensed at the time in an effort that endured as long as the commercials aired. "Our biggest success was the Halloween costumes with the big Duracell battery on the back," says Susan Eisner, vice president of licensing at Duracell's licensing agency Leisure Concepts. "It was so kitsch, but it tied the equity of the brand with something fun and different." Coca-Cola Polar Bears and Other Icons Coca-Cola has been advertising its brand since the turn of the century and all of its campaigns enter the archives of graphics available for licensing. They include classic images such as Norman Rockwell advertising art and the Coca-Cola Santa, which has been licensed since the early 1980s. In the 1990s, several campaigns have generated licensed products, notably the Coca-Cola Polar Bears, which have been featured in six commercials since 1993 and were first licensed in 1994. Other campaigns include King Coke, the Coca-Cola Ice Cubes and the Coca-Cola Sun, as well as sports-themed campaigns involving football (soccer), the NBA and the Monsters of the Gridiron, a series of ads supporting a National Football League promotion. Merchandising surrounding some commercial series, such as the Polar Bears and the Sun, are extensive, while other ads are licensed for just a few products; for instance, an "NBA Dancing Clothes" advertisement was authorized for animation cels only, according to Laurie Ann Goldman, director, worldwide licensing. Karen Raugust is the author of several books and reports on licensing and entertainment, including The Licensing Business Handbook,International Licensing: A Status Report (both available from EPM Communications, New York) and Merchandise Licensing for the Television Industry (available from Focal Press, Newton, Mass.). She also writes about licensing, animation and other topics for publications including The Hollywood Reporter, Publishers Weekly and Animation Magazine, and acts as a consultant to the licensing and entertainment industries. She is the former executive editor of The Licensing Letter.