Film studios can often be secretive about their licensing plans so it is refreshing to hear Universal say that a key part of its strategy with Kong has been to keep information flowing to retailers and licensees the moment it becomes available. This is not least, says Steve Manners, because Kong has its very own set of challenges.
Kong opens on December 14th but product will filter into shops from October and the computer game is released on November 15th. 'We can't stick to the usual month before opening because of Christmas,' says Steve. 'So we have to put a stake in the ground earlier to get retail space.'
Consumer Products is one of the first divisions to be involved with the plans for a film like this. Director, Peter Jackson, is keen that ancilliary products are absolutely right and the team has been working on them since late in 2003. Ubisoft and Playmates (with Vivid and Giochi Prezziozi in the UK and Italy) were in place as partners by June last year. Then the promotional partners, including Burger King, Kelloggs and Pringles were appointed. Covering 40 territories, this is the biggest promotion Pringles has ever done. Theatrical and consumer products teams worked closely. 'We can't work in isolation,' says Steve. 'The different divisions work together so things that are specific to different territories can be accommodated.'
This film isn't about the monster, so the look of Kong has already been revealed in the trailers. And it isn't a love story. 'But it is a film about love. There's a big heart to the story,' says Steve. Universal anticipates a wide family appeal for the film, with a core market of boys aged 5-12 and an additional market comprising fans of Jackson and of the classic story. 'With Lord of the Rings there was a collectors' programme with mass market elements. Kong will have a mass market programme with collectors' elements,' says Steve.
One of the challenges lies in coming third in a year of great boys' movies. Harry Potter and Narnia add to the fervour at the end of the year. The other challenge is in securing retail space in the middle of the Christmas season. 'Fortunately, retailers are comfortable with Jackson and with Kong,' says Steve. 'We started retail conversations in summer last year and these led to more detailed discussions throughout this year.'
The key to success will be managing the three months from October and a strong uplift in December. Each retailer will have different requirements. 'We will use tried and tested ways to get the consumer interested at retail. We're not re-inventing the wheel. But we've recognised the challenges and opportunities of the time of year and are making the most of it all,' says Steve, who, naturally, can't yet reveal the specifics of any of these retail initiatives.
A GQ feature in August, two successive trailers in cinemas, outdoor advertising, and press and marketing stunts start the theatrical marketing machine rolling. Hopefully, consumers will already be aware of the film when the products launch in October. The DVD follows, at Easter 2006, so popular product can remain on shelf, with additional products for boys being launched.
In terms of the look of merchandise, we can expect the sheer scale of the 25ft Kong to feature strongly in product and design. In terms of the mood of the piece, Steve reminds us that Kong isn't the villain, he's the hero and that the dinosaurs are the villains. In terms of the magic of the movie, Steve says Jackson is 'inspirational'. He has seen him at work, filming Skull Island and says you believe you're there. 'Jackson takes you beyond the special effects to emotionally engaged in the movie.'