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TOY CARS, MULTIMEDIA MAKE FOR A POOR FIT FAILED CD-ROM SERIES LEAVES MODEL MARKETER ASKING WHAT WENT WRONG

By Published on .

Interactive media and plastic models weren't a snap-together fit for Revell-Monogram, a model marketer now retrenching after its first multimedia venture.

Early last year, Morton Grove, Ill.-based Revell-Monogram introduced the Power Modeler line of cars and accompanying CD-ROMs. The eight-product line, featuring exotic European auto models and classic U.S. cars, was sold through software retailers like Egghead Software.

Each kit contained a plastic model and a CD-ROM featuring assembly instructions and a car racing game with full-motion video and sound. The four cars in each model series competed in the race, and Revell hoped buyers of one car model would purchase the others.

But things quickly spun out of control.

"Our idea was the model makes the game better and vice versa. In this particular case, the experiment didn't quite work the way we hoped it would," said Theodore J. Eischeid, the company's chairman-CEO. "It was not well communicated to the public. Was it an educational product, a model building product or a game?"

After devoting between $3 million and $4 million to the venture, the company took a $1.7 million charge at the end of its last fiscal year. Fewer than 50,000 units were sold, not enough to break even, and Revell decided last March to scrap the project.

Revell had projected a retail price of between $60 and $70 for the product, but retailers cut the price to as low as $34.99.

A third product line, Operation Airstorm, was to be sold with airplane models but was never released.

Revell envisioned moving all three games from personal computers to Sega or Nintendo CD-based game platforms by late 1993, but those plans also were halted. Revell also hoped to move the line into broader distribution in mass marketers and hobbyist stores.

"One of the things that competes for a boy's attention ... is videogames, so we married the two," Mr. Eischeid said. "But we beat the market a little in terms of the installed CD base. I guess there's no replacement for research. We thought we'd done that."

Revell's marketing plan for Power Modeler relied on traditional media: store displays and print ads in hobbyist and computer magazines and comic books. Revell also touted the product in its catalog.

Power Modeler would have had an ad budget of nearly $500,000, had the project gone forward, said Carl Pickard, senior VP-sales and marketing, significant for a company with $96.4 million in 1993 sales. Revell worked with agency Arian, Lowe, Travis & Gusick, Chicago, for a little over a year before pulling the plug on Power Modelers.

Revell's experience reflects a "herd mentality" among marketers scared of losing their core business to technology, said Bruce Ryon, principal multimedia analyst for Dataquest, San Jose, Calif.

"This isn't really a situation where it was directly correlated to their piece of business," Mr. Ryon said. "One of the things we're seeing with games based on CD-ROM is they aren't quick-reaction highly interactive games, they're more strategy-based."

CD-ROM's strongest use to date has been in marketing, he said, replacing brochures and other print material.

Toward that goal, Revell could have used the technology to offer descriptions of the models, all the while building brand awareness for the core product.

Conceding its errors, Revell-Monogram sold the CD distribution rights to Expert Software, Coral Gables, Fla. The privately held marketing and distribution company handles about 60 titles, said a spokesman, most in consumer or lifestyle categories.

Expert Software is changing the look and packaging for the two games, Mr. Pickard said. And given the distribution company's software focus, it's possible marketing will be revamped to emphasize the game instead of the model.

Revell, meanwhile, is getting back in the driver's seat. The company earlier this year signed an agreement with Knowledge Adventure, La Crescenta, Calif., to develop multimedia CD-ROM applications. No projects have been defined yet, but potential discs could include entertainment or education programs that meet children's interests in building toys.

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