Gaspergoo inks key licensing deal

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Two months ago (AA, Sept. 20, P. 18) Ad Age began the first in an occasional series following kids' culinary lifestyle startup Gaspergoo. In this second installment, a marketing partnership emerges for themed TV programs.

Children's culinary start-up Gaspergoo has added a major ingredient, signing Corus Entertainment's Nelvana to create and distribute Gaspergoo-themed TV programming globally as well as to handle merchandising, home-video rights and some aspects of publishing.

Nelvana, which specializes in children's programming, will also take the lead in soliciting funding for the $8 million TV series in return for an undisclosed share of the Gaspergoo property, according to Bill Bourdon, partner and business-development director of Zoup-ah!, the company developing Gaspergoo.

Nelvana handles several kids properties. It has the worldwide merchandising rights to Nickelodeon's "The Fairly Odd Parents," and has handled everything from TV production to merchandising for "Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends." Nelvana expects to spend up to $100,000 developing Gaspergoo in terms of hiring writers to produce the series "bible" and other costs. Each of the 26 episodes planned will cost up to $275,000, said Irene Weibel, Nelvana's VP-development.

Nelvana, moreover, has altered the original plans for a single Gaspergoo live-action series and instead will produce two TV series running concurrently.

For Gaspergoo, the two series will have the same characters, but will target different demographics. One entertainment-oriented series, aimed at children ages 4 and 7, is being developed to combine live action and animation. The second, hitting children 8 to 12 years of age, will be a more instructional cooking show. Production is expected to get under way in months, with initial pilots ready by early next year.

Rachael Geller, chief strategic officer of WPP's Geppetto Group and unconnected with the project, called the split in the division of the target audience into two groups a "very smart" move. "There is a very big difference between 4- and 5-year-olds who mix fantasy and reality and sophisticated 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds who know what's real," she said.

broader approach

Nelvana was interested in the Gaspergoo brand because it had a "broader approach"-communication around a community table, good eating habits and nutrition-than previous children's chef shows, said Ms. Weibel. "That's what made this project stand out."

Not everyone buys the premise that good intentions will prove successful in today's marketplace, especially considering the current fast-food culture. "All that happy, good stuff doesn't sell," said Woody Browne, managing partner, Building Q, a marketing-consulting company that helps manufacturers identify and acquire properties. "Give me SpongeBob any day of the week." Mr. Browne, who praised the selection of Nelvana, noted that in the past children's cooking toys have been successful when they involved fake foods and pretend kitchens, but rarely so when the merchandise involved real food.

Ms. Weibel responded that "great characters and great stores" always sell.

With this piece to its brand development in place, Gaspergoo executives will focus on building other key parts of the plan: a restaurant chain, a cooking academy and an opportunity to put the brand into schools as part as government efforts to increase vegetable consumption.

Although Gaspergoo is talking with an undisclosed big brand to locate its restaurants in amusement parks, it also is considering upstarts. It's talking with Jeff Dudum, CEO of Dudum Sports & Entertainment, an entrepreneur developing entertainment-based restaurants such as one built around crooner Bing Crosby.

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