FISHER-PRICE WISHES FOR EARLY HOLIDAY SHOPPING: CONSUMER PROMO AIMS TO EXTEND CRUCIAL FOURTH-QUARTER TOY SEASON

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Mattel's Fisher-Price next month launches its first-ever brandwide consumer promotion, a push intended to spur earlier purchases of toys during the fourth quarter.

The promotion anchors a fourth-quarter marketing program that includes a cross-promotion with ConAgra's Kid Cuisine frozen food line, an expanded Web site and TV ad campaigns for its Rescue Heroes action figures for pre-schoolers and the new Power Wheels Extreme Machine.

The unit, the leader in the infant and pre-school toys market, saw its 1997 sales fall 15%.

60% OF BUYING IN 4TH QUARTER

More than 60% of the toy industry's sales occur in the fourth quarter, said Jerry Perez, exec VP-marketing, Fisher-Price. And increas- ingly, holiday gift-buying is occurring later.

"The promotion is driven by how late the season is getting [to be]. We want to pull it forward," said Mr. Perez. "It's not realistic to depend on the last six weeks of the season."

TV spots for all Fisher-Price toys except Power Wheels use the "It's a great age for Fisher-Price" tagline and jingle launched in February, from Y&R Advertising, New York. Gardner, Geary, Coll & Young, San Francisco, handles Power Wheels.

The unit wouldn't break out fourth-quarter ad spending, but said it will be 25% greater than last year.

PROMOTION LASTS 6 WEEKS

Fisher-Price's 1998 budget is an estimated $45 million. The brand-wide promotion runs Oct. 8 to Nov. 20. Consumers who buy $50 worth of toys get a $10 shopping certificate from the retailer they use, and those who buy $100 of product get a $25 check.

The offer will first be touted in TV spots for Robin Hood's Forest, Shop & Cook Kitchen and Nature Campsite.

Shop & Cook Kitchen and Shop & Cook Shopping Cart will benefit from a tie-in with Kid Cuisine. The brand will offer two different coupons on packages, either $7 for the former or $3 for the latter.

Fisher-Price also is putting its own muscle behind its burgeoning Rescue Heroes franchise. This line of action figures for pre-schoolers has sold well since its introduction last spring.

TV spots now tout a new vehicle and new Rescue Heroes, all of which are macho civil servants of some sort, led by the fireman Billy Blazes. The first female Rescue Hero, the firefighter Wendy Waters, hits the market in December.

BUILDING CHARACTER

To give what could be rather generic characters some true character, Fisher-Price is offering a 30-minute animated video, "Lava Alarm," to consumers who send in two proofs-of-purchase, or one proof-of-purchase and $2.99.

Fisher-Price and the video's producer, Alliance Multimedia, are developing a "Rescue Heroes" animated TV series. The company hopes for a fall '99 launch.

The marketer will introduce new sections to its Web site (www.fisher-price.com) this fall. As Fisher-Price targets parents of pre-school-age children, the site's content is tailored to them, with one new section offering tips and guidance on playing with children.

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