TIGER STRIVING TO NURTURE GIGA PETS -ON A BUDGET: VIRTUAL PET CRAZE SPREADS AS MARKETERS FEAR $10 BITE COULD OUTSTRIP BARK

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Tiger Electronics is considering a TV campaign and lining up promotion partners for Giga Pets, the marketer's entry into virtual pets, the toy industry's latest phenomenon.

The sudden emergence of virtual pets as a hot toy item has taken even Tiger by surprise. The company's major summer marketing initiative had been-and continues to be-the launch of game.com, a port-able gaming system with touch-screen technology and speech and Internet-access capabilities.

Tiger will support that with a multimillion-dollar TV campaign slated for MTV, plus unspecified promotion support kicking off in July. Posnick & Kolker, New York, handles creative, while Summit Media, New York, buys media.

Game.com will be supported with various software titles, including "Wheel of Fortune" and "Batman & Robin," based on the Warner Bros. film coming in June. It also includes organizer functions with built-in phone book, calendar and calculator.

"Summer is usually our slowest season, so Giga Pets really represents an added home run for us this year," said Marc Rosenberg, Tiger's VP-marketing communications

AD SUPPORT UNDETERMINED

As for Giga Pets, "We have yet to determine what if any kind of ad support will be running," he said.

Storyboards have been drawn up, but Mr. Rosenberg said Tiger won't spend money on ads for now if it ends up driving up the cost of the product.

"Our biggest concern is keeping the price under $10. By adding TV ads, that could drive up the price. But word-of-mouth has created a huge groundswell. We haven't had a product that has generated so much interest so quickly," he said.

Tiger's Giga Pets-a palm-size digital game on a key chain that challenges its owners to raise a dog or cat to maturity-have hit New York and Los Angeles and will spread throughout the rest of the country this month.

Bandai America is marketing its own virtual pet products; the company didn't return calls for this story.

BIG IN JAPAN

Virtual pets are already big in Japan, appealing to kids and adults. Mr. Rosenberg expects the toy to be popular among college students.

Tiger is now finalizing fourth-quarter deals with several promotion partners that want to latch onto the emerging craze, Mr. Rosenberg said. Tiger has a marketing alliance with Nabisco Foods, whose cookie and cracker brands are likely tie-in candidates.

Tiger also been asked about product placement within the game's virtual environment, although Mr. Rosenberg said it's uncertain if Tiger will make such placements.

"It's not our intention to turn this into a premium for other brands but find ways to build awareness for the existing product," he said.

MILKING A CRAZE

The biggest marketing challenge ahead for Tiger and other virtual pet marketers is to milk this craze for as long as possible, if not nurture it for perpetuity.

"The way to sustain a business over a period of years is to be creative," said Mr. Rosenberg, saying that Tiger is looking to leverage its entertainment licenses, like Lucasfilm's "Star Wars," Universal Studios' "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and Walt Disney Co.'s "101 Dalmatians," to create new items.

"We're looking to make them into collectibles in order to spur repeat purchases."

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