Scholastic Entertainment has partnered with catalogs and a marketer of educational products to offer merchandise from its popular The Magic School Bus book series and television program directly to children in classrooms, doctors' and dentists' offices and at home.
The partnerships are the latest phase of a marketing program that promotes the books and television show to children in malls, museums, fast-food chains and hotels, and through cross-marketing arrangements with packaged goods companies.
“We are looking at these properties as holistic franchises, so we look to create marketing plans that encompass as many opportunities as possible through not only our book clubs and fairs but many other distribution opportunities,” said Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president for marketing and consumer products at Scholastic, New York.
The Magic School Bus, which began as a book series more than a decade ago, features a science teacher named Ms. Frizzle who takes her students and her sidekick Liz the lizard on educational field trips in a magically transformable bus. The television series began four years ago and features Lily Tomlin as the voice of Ms. Frizzle. Tomlin won an Emmy for her work in the show's second year and was nominated for an award this year.
In one of the company's new partnerships, Birthday Express, Kirkland, WA, will sell The Magic School Bus plates, napkins, cups, table covers, centerpieces, invitations, and party bags in its catalog of children's birthday party accessories. The 4-year-old catalog has become the exclusive distributor of The Magic School Bus birthday items, said Jan Jewell, the catalog's co-founder. She declined to disclose the size of mail drops. The Magic School Bus was first featured in the catalog's winter issue, with a display on the cover and inside front cover.
Starting in the fall, The Magic School Bus stickers will be included in SmileMakers, primarily a business-to-business catalog that sells toys for use as rewards. The 24-year-old catalog sells to medical, dental and other professionals who deal with children. Officials at SmileMakers, Spartanburg, SC, declined to comment on the arrangement.
Scholastic also has contracted with educational products company Educational Insights, Carson, CA, to create The Magic School Bus classroom decorations and teaching aids. Scholastic offers books and curriculum guides to nine out of ten kindergarten-through-sixth-grade teachers through its book club catalogs, which now will include Educational Insights' merchandise.
“These are different types of products from the books we typically offer,” Schaefer said. “These fall more under the category of decorative and motivational teaching aids.”
Educational Insights also will sell its The Magic School Bus product line directly to teachers through trade shows.
Schaefer said that stiff competition in the children's market requires companies to reach out in many ways.
“There is so much competition in terms of brand, that to cut through the clutter it becomes important to form bonds with kids that speak at their level in many ways,” she said.
Audrey Guskey, associate professor of marketing at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, said the children's market has been growing not only more profitable but more complex.
“Children are a very important market. They're spending billions of dollars a year and influencing their parents — and marketers are well aware of this,” she said. “But they are also a savvy group. They are smarter as far as marketing than their parents were at that age and that's why companies have become more sophisticated in marketing to children and are going to more outlets to keep their attention.”
Scholastic's existing marketing programs include a back-to-school promotion with Colgate-Palmolive. Last year's promotion, advertised through free-standing inserts, allowed children to mail proof-of-purchase seals from participating Colgate-Palmolive products in exchange for The Magic School Bus books or videos. It is expected to take a similar form this year.
Another continuing marketing program is a “Kids Go HoJo” promotion with Howard Johnson hotels. The Magic School Bus banners and displays adorn the hotel's front desk area, and children receive The Magic School Bus fun packs when they check into hotels with their parents.
The company also runs cross-promotions with Long John Silver's and other restaurant chains, supports The Magic School Bus live touring companies that act out story lines in malls and small theaters and sponsors an interactive museum exhibition.