WHETHER IN CAR OR CARTOON, SENNA LAPS UP LICENSING DEALS

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SAO PAULO-Due to a contractual agreement, wildly popular Brazilian racecar driver Aryton Senna can't make commercials for any enterprise except a local bank. But that hasn't stopped the Formula 1 winner from blanketing the country with his image-in animated form-in comic books, a PepsiCo potato chip promotion and a planned full-length film.

In fact, although tied up since 1984 with an exclusive ad contract to Rio de Janeiro bank Banco Nacional, Mr. Senna's rapidly growing licensing empire is expanding this year to Argentina and Japan. In 1995, he plans to tackle Portugal, other parts of the Americas and Europe.

Ultimately, Mr. Senna hopes to take the licensing business in Brazil to new heights with his ambitious grand plan.

Formula 1 is a national obsession in Brazil, where the 33-year-old Mr. Senna has won the hearts of his countrymen by winning the race in 1988, 1989 and 1991. Coverage for the just-concluded race March 28 on TV Globo, where Mr. Senna spun out and didn't finish, was viewed by 46% of households watching TV in SÌo Paulo, a state with 35 million inhabitants. The race is an expensive sponsorship vehicle in Brazil, costing $7.5 million for yearlong mentions announcing upcoming races. Globo doesn't sell traditional advertising for the race.

Pundits are nominating Mr. Senna as the successor to soccer star Pele for the greatest Brazilian athlete title. Already, Mr. Senna is considered the best-loved and undoubtedly the highest-paid sportsman in residence.

To cash in on that popularity among Brazilians under age 14, which account for 50 million of the population, along with recent research showing a shortage of cartoon characters in Brazil, Aryton Senna Licensing spent $2 million to create and develop the animated character Senninha.

Senninha represents Mr. Senna as an eight-year-old speed freak and, along with his gang, made his debut last month in a 36-page every-other-weekly comic book published by Editora Abril, Latin America's largest printing and magazine publishing company. The comic book, sold at newsstands for $1.10, does not carry ads.

Ebril Jovem, Editora Abril's youth division, is also planning to introduce the comic book into Argentina in October to coincide with its Formula 1 race there.

"Argentina, on account of that country's prolonged economic crisis, has an even more acute shortage of new cartoon characters than Brazil," said Cecilia Yoshizawa, communications director and advisor at Senna Licensing. She added that the company was encouraged by positive comments from five ad agencies about how well Mr. Senna was known and whether there is room in the market for a new cartoon character.

The comic book will also get to Japan through another as yet unnamed publisher in November, timed to hit during the Formula 1 race there. Japan was selected both because it is the world's largest consumer of comics but also because of the driver's popularity there. "We talked to the three largest ad agencies in Japan and discovered that Aryton is among the 10 most popular figures with the Japanese public," claimed Ms. Yoshizawa.

To be sure, Mr. Senna is so popular that the Seibu department store paid him $100,000 last year to feature his photograph in an ad running only for a single day, Ms. Yoshizawa said.

In Brazil, the comic book is also the centerpiece of PepsiCo's Elma Chips promotion, which in March gave away copies of the book at 170,000 points of sale in exchange for two empty bags of Elma Chips. Another one million bags were given out free at 5,000 schools in Brazil.

In addition, the company is coming out with two line extensions based upon two dogs in Senninha's gang, Becao and Bicao. The chips are shaped like bones; Becao ham-flavored and Bicao cheese-flavored.

The character will also play a starring role in a weekly cartoon TV series planned for 1995 which Senna Licensing hopes to sell to TV Globo, said Ms. Yoshizawa. No producer has yet been named.

The company is also searching the Far East for a producer/animator for a full-length animated film for theatrical release in Brazil in 1996, she said.

Globo is also seeking to interest advertisers in a promotion for next year's Formula 1 race themed around an Aryton Senna fan club. The idea, said Arthur Henrique Carvalho, manager of Globo promotional products, is to run a TV spot sponsored by a major advertiser Senninha will overtake a number of competitors to win a race. Viewing children will send in a wrapper from the product sponsoring the ad along with a list of the number of competitors he beat. The cards collected will be part of an on-air drawing for prizes by participating children.

Mr. Carvalho added that Globo is also considering developing licensed products, such as T-shirts and school folders, with the fan club logo.

Interestingly, despite his fame, there is currently only one Senna licensed product on the market in Brazil: a speedboat. But capitalizing on Senna-mania, many more are in the pipeline. These include a book of multiple-choice questions about Formula 1 racing, plastic versions of the gang members, a personal stereo and another game, all from Tectoy Industria de Brinqjuedos and a new line of Senna wristwatches and bicycles still in the negotiating stage from other marketers.

Ms. Yoshizawa said Editora Abril's ties in the Portugal market make it a logical place for future comic book expansion, along with other Latin American countries and Europe, all of which have shown interest in Mr. Senna.

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