The Powerpuff Girls' Phenomenal
Merchandising Mantra

by Rick DeMott

The Powerpuff Girls. © Cartoon Network.

The Powerpuff Girls presence is undeniable. Every store, from Toys 'R Us to Linens 'N Things, across the U.S. has some sort of Powerpuff merchandise. From T-shirts to plastic dishware, Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup could be the most widely seen cartoon faces in America. It is estimated that by January 2001 the merchandise will have made US$300 million.

Here's some facts. The Powerpuff's TV debut in 1998 was the highest rated premiere in Cartoon Network history. The series has consistently scored the highest rating each week for the network across a wide range of demographics -- young and old, male and female. For, ranks in the top five locations and the Powerpuff games rank #1. In February 2000, the girls were featured on the Cartoon Network sponsored NASCAR racing car and are also featured on the sides of Delta planes. The Powerpuff "Heroes and Villains" CD spent 7 weeks at #1 on the Soundscan Kids Chart; hit the Billboard Top 200 chart twice; hit #1 on the College Radio Chart (CMJ Top 200) and is still in the top 15. Plus, The Powerpuff Girls fanzine is selling so well it has gone back to press for a second printing.

Taking up the larger store-fronts at Warner Bros. Stores worldwide. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network.
The Powerpuff Girls are making it onto the runway. Photo courtesy of Cartoon Network.

What a phenomenon! So I decided to find out, how a show ends up in almost every store in America and who decides what gets made. These questions were answered by Bob Bryant, Cartoon Network's vice president of off-channel commerce -- the man behind the development of the Cartoon Network brand and related character properties. "It always goes back to the show," Bryant simply says. "We're not going to have the girls do anything that they wouldn't in the show."

According to series creator Craig McCraken, he talked to Cartoon Network about the marketing and said, "'When you're making these products you should always keep in mind that these are little girls who are superheroes. They aren't just some kind of pop icons that you can plaster onto anything and combine them with...whatever girls or kids are into right now.' [Cartoon Network has] been great at keeping the fact that they're superheroes and that they're little kids in with all the products."

Craig McCraken with his Powerpuff Girls in action. © Cartoon Network.

Before The Toy There Was A Student Film
To better understand the marketing of the series, one needs to understand from where the series came. McCraken originally created the Powerpuff Girls as characters in his second year student film at CalArts. "I've always been a fan of superhero films," McCraken says. "I wanted to do a superhero film, but I didn't want to have the same typical strong guy. I'd drawn these three little girls and I liked that initial contrast of these cute little innocent looking things being really tough. And so that was the core of the idea and it's still the core of the show -- it's that contrast between cute and toughness." Originally The Whoop-Ass Girls -- Chemical X, which gave the girls their super powers, was originally a can of whoop-ass -- McCraken showed his short to Hanna-Barbera and Cartoon Network in 1992 with great response.

While The Powerpuff Girls wasn't the first short to go to series when Cartoon Network was looking for new programming (Dexter's Laboratory, Johnny Bravo and Cow and Chicken took the lead), it certainly pulled ahead once it got the greenlight. Obviously, the subsequent response to the series has been stellar. The show attracts a viewership from adults to teens to young kids. Everyone seems to be caught up in the little cute girls who can play dolls one moment and break the bones of a villain the next. Regarding the phenomenal reach of the series, McCraken says, "I thought it would get on Cartoon Network and college kids would watch it and there would be a few random T-shirts out there in the rave scene or in record shops. But I had no idea that it would take off to this extent."


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