MY BIG MISTAKE was in turning down the opportunity in 1989 to bid for the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hasbro International asked me whether I was interested, but I looked at them and thought: 'Mutant turtles? Out of a sewer? You must be joking.'
There was a round robin of all the European country managers who were asked if they were interested in this project, and I must say that I was part of a chorus of silence; it wasn't just me. I don't know how much that mistake must have cost us - but many millions, I suppose.
The mistake was taking a middle-aged adult view of the world. Children are fascinated by the battle between good and evil, and it never goes away. And the turtles were wacky and modern (they craved pizza), which appealed to the rebellious side of children. The turtles had a nice mix of being outsiders but essentially good.
But in this business you get offered a lot of wacky ideas and you have to try to predict the market a couple of years in advance. I must say in my defence that I also turned down Barnyard Commandos at the same time - and they bombed.
I have children of my own but they are in their twenties and haven't had children of their own, so I'm still waiting for the day when I can do some easy kitchen research.
We do attempt to sieve through the many options we have on new products, particularly in the action figure area, by looking for a solid publishing or programming background. And there is often sufficient market information to make a decision on whether to take up a product or not. Additionally, we do put product in front of test panels and in play situations.
We have had some big hits since I turned down the turtles, including the World Wrestling Federation, which sold pounds 30m worth of products over the last three years, and the re-launch of Action Man, which sold pounds 10m in 1993 and should do better this year.
What we try to do is buy the total package rather than just the product. With Jurassic Park, for example, where we have worldwide rights, the products were riding on the back of a book by a leading author and a film with a top name producer - and the whole thing was backed by a big studio. A lot of good toys start out as good published properties. Thomas the Tank Engine is an example.
With a film you get a second bite at the cherry when the video comes out. Jurassic Park is planned for release in the autumn, so the toys should get another boost for Christmas.
The proliferation of TV channels makes picking toy winners even more difficult. There is so much competition in the fashion toy market. Things just zoom in, then fade away. But longer term, I think established brands will have less competition because of rising entry costs for new products in terms of research, development and advertising. This makes it more effective and profitable to develop and defend existing franchises. The return of Action Man is one example and I think other doll ranges will do very well this year. There is no hot film in the works, so there will be nothing to rival Jurassic Park.
People have stopped giving me a hard time about the turtles thing. And, after all, I'm still here.
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