News Column

Firms play the 'Games' for archery toys

November 22, 2013


HACKENSACK, N.J. _ A Portland, Ore., toy company and a Totowa, N.J., marketing agency with a track record for promoting hit toys this weekend will be testing a new way to reach their target audience for a foam-tipped bow and arrow set _ in movie theaters showing "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."

Last year, Zing Toys, makers of archery-themed products for kids, noticed that its sales surged following the March release of the first "Hunger Games'' movie, which took in $152.5 million on its opening weekend, making it the third-best opening weekend in movie history. This year, Zing, and its Totowa marketing and promotions partner, Freeman Public Relations, decided to go directly to fans of the movie series, with a 30-second commercial for the Z-Tek Bow that will air on about 3,500 movie screens where the film is being shown.

"Catching Fire" opens Friday. The Imax version of the film opened Thursday night.

"For a movie that hot like that, everyone's getting to the theater early to get a good seat, so you've got an excellent captive audience right there," said Josh Loerzel, North American sales manager for Zing.

Toy industry expert Jim Silver, editor of toy review website and other industry publications, said advertising before the "Catching Fire" screenings is a good idea for Zing. "Their bows were really hot last year after 'Hunger Games' opened," he said. Silver said there have been other toy ads in movie theaters, but they still are rare.

With the movie theater ads, Zing is putting a new spin on the concept of movie tie-in toys. Movie toys traditionally have been images taken from a hit kids' movie, such as "Cars" or "Despicable Me." Zing's bows and arrows are not licensed products and pre-date the first "Hunger Games" movie. However, the company is piggy-backing on the boost the films give to archery, with its heroine and ace-archer Katniss.

Zing, formed six years ago, is a relatively young toy company, and it hadn't yet developed the kind of marketing budget to support a national television ad campaign. So after discussions with Freeman _ the marketing company that made Tickle Me Elmo red-hot in 1996 _ and its media buying firm in January, Zing decided it could get more sales lift by buying what are called "two-week flights" of commercial spots at movie theaters.

The company only had the budget for flights at 3,500 screens _ to be shown at about 30 percent of the movie theaters in the country, Loerzel said. The commercial will air between Friday and Dec. 5.

That two-week period includes Thanksgiving weekend, typically one of the busiest weekends of the year at movie theaters. In March 2012, the first "Hunger Games" movie was the top box office draw for four consecutive weeks, the first movie to do that since "Avatar." The movie grossed $691.2 million in the 24 weeks it was in theaters around the world.

To measure the effectiveness of the ads, which air before the movie starts, Zing is promoting a "text to win" toy giveaway at the end of the commercial. The number of texts it receives will indicate how many people were paying attention to the pre-movie ads.

Loerzel said Zing, unlike other toy companies that rushed to make "Hunger Games"-licensed bow-and-arrow toys to connect with movie fans, decided against producing a "Hunger Games" set because its products were already selling well in stores. "At the point when we were offered the license, we were already on the shelves," he said, "so there wasn't an incremental upside to adding the license."

License fees are expensive and have to be paid up front, before the toys sell, so Zing decided to build its own brand identity. The mechanism on the Zing toys "works like a real bow and arrow, so you get a more genuine archery feel," Loerzel said.


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