It’s difficult to imagine how a competitor’s successful growth could be good for the competing company, but that’s just how it was for Saban Brands when it heard Disney had acquired Marvel Comics in 2009. In fact, it was almost music to the company’s ears as, eight years after selling the Power Rangers brand to Disney, Saban Brands now saw an opportunity to bring those Mighty Morphins back home.
A little more than a year later, Saban Brands introduced itself to the industry by announcing its acquisition of Power Rangers. Brand acquisitions aren’t always big news, even those the size of Power Rangers, but coupled with the formation of a transmedia brand management company and what’s transpired in the two months since the “Power Rangers Samurai” TV series was launched on Nickelodeon in February 2011, this brand acquisition is one for the books.
“The combination of the strategy that formed Saban Brands blended with the opportunity to reacquire Power Rangers was very much a one plus one equals five equation,” said Elie Dekel, president of Saban Brands. “It enabled us to launch Saban Brands with a strong brand we’re familiar with that plays to our strengths and our strategy. We hit the ground running.”
Prior to becoming president of Saban Brands, Dekel worked for other networks and studios. The lesson he’s learned is, when dealing with an emerging IPs focused on becoming lifestyle brands, the coordination of content, distribution, marketing, and licensing must be seamless, nimble, and virtuous in how they work together for the greater good of the brand. And this is exactly the premise upon which Saban Brands was developed.
“In the ecosystem of the entertainment business, it’s rare that the consumer products, home entertainment, and ancillary businesses such as development, production, and marketing would dictate the content or creative strategy of a property,” said Dekel. “But core to our model is an approach where those strategies are neither separated nor managed by different divisions or branches of the company. The combination of content, strategy, marketing, and licensing all exists in one place.”
From strategy and rights management to content, creative development, and distribution of the brand through TV, film, home entertainment, or licensing, Saban Brands handles every aspect of the Power Rangers brand—a model that worked for Saban Entertainment/Fox Kids when it owned and launched the property in 1993. Today, said Dekel, that combined strategy is even more important as the tools companies have available to reach consumer and fan bases are more complex today than even a few years ago.
“The barrier to entry in terms of establishing a link to your fan base is now non-existent,” said Dekel. “But that doesn’t mean re-launching even an evergreen brand is easier.”
In 1993, “Power Rangers” premiered on a Saturday morning on Fox Kids Network and instantly became the most watched children’s TV program in the US. The brand went on to be the number one boys’ brand in the world from 1993–97, supported by a publicity campaign comprising pieces on the evening news, in local papers, and in magazines and live events and appearances of costumed Rangers.
A new hero joined the fight against evil when the Gold Samurai Ranger made his debut on “Power Rangers Samurai! With the all-new Ranger came an all-new time slot. The Gold Ranger’s first appearance coincided with the show’s new time, moving from Sundays to premiering new episodes Saturdays at noon on Nickelodeon starting April 30. Immediately following the show, fans had the chance to play the Gold Ranger when he was unveiled on Power Rangers Samurai Battle Arena. Portrayed by Steven Skyler (who also appeared on a “Glee” as a Dalton Academy Warbler during their debut performance of “Teenage Dream”), the Gold Ranger/Antonio was a childhood friend of the Red Ranger/Jayden and became the tech whiz of the group, using his special skills to help his fellow Rangers as they protect the world from destruction.
The approach sounds antiquated today, but at a time when voicemail was just emerging, no email or Internet existed, and cellphones were more a novelty than a necessity, it was a straightforward, traditional, and rhythmic approach that did what it needed to. Today, however, the marketplace is much more fractured, said Dekel. To achieve a critical mass of viewership and awareness, partnering with the strongest players in the business is essential.
“Having Nickelodeon as a partner gives us tremendous frequency, and our strategy is built around the bedrock of this major partner’s ability to give the brand exposure and connection to the predominant audience in kid’s television in the US,” he said. “But beyond that, there is an expectation from young fans looking for a way to reach the brand in every medium they touch.”
Bringing visions to life
As such, it’s no longer enough for a brand to build its audience based solely on its TV platform. Saban Brands, as the producer, owner, and promoter of “Power Rangers Samurai,” needed to extend the Power Rangers’ brand experience into all forms of digital entertainment, connectivity, communication, and interaction.
Compared to when the show originally launched in 1993, today’s fans can be reached through numerous platforms, whether apps for a mobile device or games for consuls or handhelds. As a brand owner, on one hand, it’s an opportunity. On the other hand, it’s a challenge to engage these mediums and to ensure they are integrated and consistent in their messaging.
“Whether it’s building a PowerRangers.com website and making sure we have gains on the site or establishing Power Rangers on Facebook, all these elements are underway,” said Dekel. “What’s difficult about doing it successfully is it’s a whole new stream of content we need to provide.”
That content, he said, goes beyond putting episodes online. It’s about games, a lot of new copy, and engagement. Diving in from this perspective has required Saban Brands to create a new team of talent focused on social media and the real time administration, management, and interaction with the Power Rangers fan base, which is a new dimension to IP management and one that is becoming increasingly important.
“We added another layer of commitment financially and resource-wise to ensure there would be an effective application of the brand,” Dekel said. “But we receive something in return: immediate feedback, which is enlightening and has added another set of data points to how we move forward with the brand.”
Although television continues to be the predominant medium to reach the masses, with so many more touch points now to work with, Dekel said it’s imperative that Saban Brands has a strategy that looks across the media landscape and integrates as many platforms as possible into its brand vision. “Our model enables efficiencies in that regard because we’re compact and centralized.”
That’s not to say the TV launch of “Power Rangers Samurai” this February wasn’t a tremendous success. The show’s cumulative rating for the first week was 16.8 million viewers, making it the number one kids’ action series on television. The only show that beat it that week was “American Idol,” and after that, nothing else came close. In addition, the show continues to rank number one in its time slot each and every week.
But given the work Saban Brands and Nickelodeon put behind the launch, it’s actually no surprise. Starting during the 2010 Thanksgiving weekend, Nickelodeon premiered the first Power Rangers on-air spot. The Power Rangers also appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and did a series of appearances around the country after.
“This approach created a little pop in the media that the Power Rangers were coming back, were coming back to Nickelodeon, and had a new look with ‘Power Rangers Samurai,’” said Dekel. From that point on, Nickelodeon put new spots on air every few weeks not only on its main station but also across all of its networks.
In addition, Saban Brands began running similar campaigns, running Power Rangers spots on local cable stations and competing networks during children’s prime time. The affect, said Dekel, was that the Internet lit up with chats and discussions about Power Rangers, which he said spoke to the legacy of almost 20 years of fans who had since grown up in a digital age and new how to effectively share their excitement.
“We got an early indication that there’s a latent love for this property, which we had hoped and expected was there. But until you launch, you don’t really know,” said Dekel. “We awakened a pop-culture awareness that the brand was back. We’ve had great ratings performance with its premier episodes, and the ratings have been getting better ever since.”
A retail comeback
The show’s success immediately translated into retail success as well, partly because of Dekel’s initial trip to Bentonville, Ark. within a week of Saban Brands making its acquisition announcement. He then continued his trip by heading to Wayne, NJ, thereby successfully tackling the two biggest retailers for kids toys: Walmart and Toys R Us.
Dekel said among the company’s initial retail partners, which also included Target, he consistently found a belief that the brand had the potential to come back. He also found pent up frustration from the years when the brand didn’t have the attention they felt it deserved. “There was a guarded optimism that with the brand being back in our hands it could succeed again. But that being said, retail hasn’t been a slam-dunk,” he said
“The market is so competitive between licensors and retailers for a share of consumers’ dollars that there is a need as a brand owner to not only have a great brand but also an aggressive strategy in terms of marketing, promotion, and support.”
One of Power Rangers’ key differentiators against its competition is that it’s not a movie-driven brand; it’s based on TV and is a lifestyle brand many consider almost a rite of passage for young boys. “It’s often been referred to as the boys’ Barbie, and with that in mind, the Power Rangers’ brand differentiation is meaningful,” said Dekel.
Now that the TV show’s ratings are steady and growing stronger, Saban Brands sees sell-through rates that are north of 30% a week. Along the way, it’s been selective in what products it introduces to the marketplace, limiting it licensing partnership to Bandai Toys—a proven strategic partner.
In the next year, other categories will be phased in. As summer and back-to-school approaches, it will introduce lunch kits and backpacks as well as basic apparel and sleepwear. As September and October approach, Halloween (still an important holiday for Power Rangers) will be a major event. And as Saban Brands approaches its first Christmas holiday, it will introduce an expanded toy line from Bandai as well as video games from Namco Bandai Games.
In some respects, Dekel said bringing Power Rangers back to life has been a great challenge because Saban Brands has so many more moving parts to address, including writing, shooting, producing, and delivering 40 new episodes in the midst of the launch planning. But the company has held the key with its integrated platform.
“Our approach has proven to be successful, but it’s uniquely complex because we have to maintain a culture of collaboration, transparency, and constant communication to support it,” Dekel said. “Re-launching Power Rangers been challenging but also hugely rewarding because the benefits of our approach are manifesting now in the results.”