Gumby and Pokey to tout ABC summer reruns

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Gumby and Pokey are making a comeback.

Walt Disney Co.-owned ABC Television Network is reviving the pair of classic animated characters to act as on-air hosts for an unusual $15 million to $20 million summer marketing push. It's believed that this marks the first time a broadcast network has done a fully integrated TV marketing campaign using animated characters-and there's a chance Gumby and his sidekick could have a longer, more permanent role at ABC.

Under the title "Gumby and Pokey's ABC Summer Adventure," the two clay-like characters will be integrated in ABC's now four-year-old "Yellow" brand campaign, including interstitial promos and show-specific promos. The flexible fellows also will use the unusual platform to make quick comments about ABC shows they have just seen. The creative, which was done in-house, breaks June 12.

The characters were licensed from Seattle-based Heat Licensing, which represents Alan Clokey, the animator/creator of Gumby, who started producing Gumby clay-style animation episodes in the '60s.

Though Disney owns a number of animated characters, Gumby and Pokey were instead chosen as the perfect fit, said Alan Cohen, executive VP-marketing, advertising and promotion for ABC Entertainment. "We were looking for something that had a retro feel that also had the style and feel similar to ours," said Mr. Cohen. "They are baby-boomer favorites."

Gumby and Pokey, who have been rarely seen on U.S. TV since the early '90s, are introduced in an ABC promo that shows them waking up after long winter sleep in their bunk beds. Realizing they have missed all the ABC shows, they want watch ABC shows during summer reruns.

"It is a perfect time to bring in new viewers," said Mike Benson, senior VP-marketing, advertising and promotion for ABC Entertainment. "It makes it easier for them to come back in the fall. It puts such a different creative spin on these shows."

ABC promos will update the pair in some spots, putting them on Razor scooters. In one, the green Gumby and red Pokey bump into a yellow wall, peek through an ABC logo, and realize they are in a world of ABC programs.

ABC's Gumby gambit aims to push rerun viewership of its comedies-especially its midseason efforts of this past year, such as "What about Joan" and "My Wife and Kids." ABC's current sitcoms, "The Drew Carey Show," "Dharma & Greg" and "Spin City," will also have promotions dressed up by Gumby and Pokey.

Cable networks, from time to time, have used animated characters as part of their on-air promotion. In recent years, the WB has sparingly used Warner Bros.' character Michigan J. Frog in some on-air promos, but ABC would seemingly be the first broadcast network to fully incorporate animated characters for use on its network.

ABC had a difficult year this past season, dropping 20% in the ages 18-to-49 demographic and 22% in 18-to-34 group. Even though ABC reached 12.51 million viewers for the 2001-1002 season, down 12% from the year before, ABC still rates high in total viewership. It was only narrowly beaten by Viacom's CBS, which reached 12.53 million viewers.

Typically, networks don't put much emphasis on marketing summer shows, and instead focus on mostly low-key efforts to get viewers to watch summer reruns.

But the emphasis on summer is accelerating, due to successful hits such as ABC's own "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and CBS's "Survivor," which both began their runs as summer shows.

Some entertainment-marketing executives believe networks need to shift marketing tactics, and, like ABC is proposing, have a closer, less-hyped marketing connection with viewers. "I have always thought it would seem suited for networks to be friendlier," said Peter Graves, an Los-Angeles-based entertainment marketing consultant. "This might do it."

Gumby's ABC engagement could be extended into the fall, possibly as a more permanent addition, according to Patrick Lauerman, president of Heat Licensing.

Because of the exposure from ABC, Mr. Lauerman expects substantial interest from other companies looking to make licensing deals for Gumby, especially during this week's Licensing Show in New York. Already, he has inked deals with Sony Creative Productions in Japan, and with Rhino Records in the U.S. for the rerelease of all 200 plus "Gumby" episodes on DVD and VHS.

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