The Mystery Machine has traveled coast to coast, continent to continent, creep to creature as the meddling mystery solvers have been unmasking monsters for over 50 years. On their journey the Scooby gang have been involved with plenty of characters and partaken on many new adventures, but the one relationship that had a huge impact on the growth of the franchise was when Scooby Doo joined Warner Bros Studios. AOL Time Warner was building towards a massive home video library and decided to acquire Scooby Doo to become one of their greatest assets. In turn ,Warner was about to use their marketing muscle to bolster Scooby-Doo to new heights of brand omnipresence. The Acquisition of Scooby Doo by Warner Bros. amplified the total entertainment presence of the franchise; Using horizontal marketing systems to promote films such as Scooby Doo on Zombie Island and Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost as the Scooby brand achieved a heightened level of synergy that was unobtainable solely through the television market.
Television as a distribution outlet operates with different goals and perspectives than Warner’s home video division; which by introducing Scooby into that new strategy proliferated his market presence. In truth Scooby-Doo Where Are You! was proving to be a monumental success in the late 1990’s as cable television’s increasing channel diversity allowed for more targeting of niche audiences. Scooby has been a widely popular and beloved series since the show’s inception, yet the Cartoon Network groomed Scooby to its small screen potential. By becoming an exclusive to Cartoon Network, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” (1969-72) was the network’s highest-rated program for the first quarter of 1998. And Scooby’s Q-rating (measurement of a character’s perceived recognizability and popularity) makes him top dog at the net, ahead of even Fred Flintstone” (Neumaier). Scooby receiving high ratings demonstrates that the show was achieving the network’s goal which is to establish a loyalty that retains viewership. As the revenue stream is earned through running advertisements the priority will preside with appeasing the current consumer base while extending through ancillary marketing will come secondary. Cartoon Network operates in a fashion that it “builds further brand loyalty by programming viewing blocks of cartoons arranged around a particular theme… in terms of merchandising, Cartoon Network usually allows a show to develop a following before licensing its characters to other companies” (Sandler). Warner would capitalize on the pre-established loyalty gained through Cartoon Network’s airings and focus their efforts into horizontal marketing and to introduce Scooby to a wider audience. Through refocusing the goal towards outward audience growth, the Scooby brand would see a higher potency then previously available through the agenda of Cartoon Network.
The Warner Bros. strategy took a major shift in the 90s towards boosting brand recognition and finding value within bolstering their collective library. Where television reserves a strong emphasis on current programming, Warner Media had begun to understand the profitability in revitalizing their owned properties. With increasing outlets and easier mass production of home videos the library was transitioning from a backlog into ammunition in battle for cultural relevance. Warner Bros. found, “The proliferation of media channels and digital technology platforms had transformed libraries into highly strategic assets. In media climate with a voracious hunger for programming content, entertainment companies sought in the nineties to consolidate library catalogs and buy up smaller collections with the intention of licensing rights to channel operators or becoming ‘packagers’ in their own right” (Grainge). With a more diverse lineup of options in media consumer outlets the movie studios such as Warner Bros. found it advantageous to challenge the staying power of the product and brand to increase the longevity of the product’s shelf life. No longer was the media supposed to only exist within its primary exhibition of theaters or the television stream but attract audiences through invading multiple cultural spheres. Warner’s infatuation with the Scooby gang, stems from the success of Batman which set a precedent of just how wide a character’s growth in the available media spectrum could become. Batman would become the gold standard as, “ Batman showed how a popular icon might offer itself up in the service of corporate branding requirements, Re-energizing old products for new markets, Batman was suggestive of a livening corporate impulse to examine the inventory of vaults, to focus the profit potential on a characters rather than actors and to accelerate the flow of branded media content across delivery channels for strategically differentiated mass market appeal.” That cape crusader was exemplary of how iconic attributes and rich franchise history could flourish within the new media landscape. It was Warner’s understanding with how Batman was able to operate within multiple media channels (comics, television, films, etc.) that it was a formula for success. That if Scooby was to be unleashed beyond the boundaries of television and boosted by a similar escalation model then the character’s iconography and nostalgic property could be exploited for maximized profit.
When it was finally time for Warner to produce their own Scooby-Doo adventures, the plan was not to just raise awareness of the films but to extend the brand’s occupancy through an imperialistic conquest. Warner’s first Scooby-Doo home video release, Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island made it abundantly clear that Warner was going all in on the franchise. Warner opened the flood gates as, “Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island,” is the subject of “the biggest promotional and merchandising campaign for a direct- to-video title in Warner Bros. history” (McCormick). Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island was a unique opportunity to not just boost the general public’s awareness of Scooby-Doo but also re-contextualized elements of what the brand consists of. Zombie Island in many aspects exists to experiment with the pretenses and either reinforce or abandon them. These changes made apparent from the exterior, dropping the groovy elements of 60’s pop music or character design traits such as Fred’s ascot and most importantly the heavily featured marketing draw that the monsters are going to be real. Unlike television where demographic markets are ingrained within the Network’s culture and current programming, the Warner direct-to-DVD films had the chance to make a play at the older demographics and make Scooby-Doo a universally appealing four quadrant draw. The degree of marketing and promotion was to enlarge the audience beyond the fan base through rigorous speculative consumption. Before a consumer indulges in your product, “One must engage in speculative consumption, creating an idea of what pleasures any one text will provide, what information it will offer, what “effect” it will have on us and so forth” (Gray). Warner’s methods differentiate from the television playing field, as the goal of acquiring viewers is less the philosophy of having your audience come to you, but the brand must reach out towards the audience. This version of Scooby prospered in marketing visibility that not only made impressions on speculative onlookers, but deliberately transfer certain aspects to invoke their engrossment. Their methodology involved controlling multiple points of contact, “Nationwide retailers, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Target stores, will stock more than 7 million units of Scooby-Doo licensed merchandise featuring a tag plugging the movie and a $3 mail-in rebate on purchase of the video and related products. Cartoon Network airs the world TV premiere of “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island” on Halloween and, in conjunction with Lego Systems, will host a week long “Scooby-Doo” celebration” (McCormick). Warner gave consumers ample opportunity to consume the new Scooby films and hoped that the loyalty of the fandom would grow beyond what was offered as a television series and associate more based on the characters and genre rather than the recognizable troupes of the past.
Scooby’s massive marketing presence was not just to exhibit a revitalized brand image but imbue the Scooby franchise into a large-scale consumer network. With their own infrastructure, Warner combined the strengths of their multiple divisions to enact the marketing strategy in full steam. In deploying these tactics, “the campaign is “maximizing the power of the whole studio” and its many divisions, including Warner Home Video, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, Warner Bros. Publishing, Cartoon Network, Kid Rhino Records, Turner Broadcasting Sales, Warner Studio Store, and Warner Online (www.warnerbros. com)” (McCormick). Warner having one of the largest studio marketing divisions had plenty of resources and pre-established business relationships to funnel the Scooby product into the masses. Their approach in marketing the Scooby direct-to-DVD releases involved various forms of promotion in the forms of national prints and tv spots, online banners and activities, featured trailers within family entertainment videos, and well as multiple sweepstakes and corporate sponsorships. Through these promotions Scooby-Doo infused himself into new consumer territories and gained a mutualistic synergy with these corporate identities. One of the biggest relationships Scooby-Doo ended up associating with was Burger King. To promote the release of Warner’s third Scooby mystery, Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, Burger King featured 8 Scooby-Doo glow-in-the-dark toys with the purchase of a kid’s meal. While the cheap plastic toy might not seem to be too impressive as a marketing ploy, the reach of Burger King on both a domestic and international level does, earning large returns by targeting the desired demographic. Burger King reaches plenty of children as “Burger King Corporation and its franchisees operate more than 11,210 restaurants in all 50 states and 57 countries and international territories around the world, with more than 92% of BURGER KING(R) restaurants owned and operated by independent franchisees” (PR Newswire). With mutual relationships such as this, it becomes abundantly clear that Warner not only is selling Scooby-Doo as their own product but also selling his iconic image towards other business ventures. As Burger King runs promotion of the Scooby toys, not only does it boost the numbers of an audience more inclined to seek out the product, but also prove the value the brand has to offer within the marketplace. The Scooby brand became a business commodity, useful to brands such as Burger King as in an equivalent exchange to use the mystery solving mascot to attract that same demographic towards their business. The returns of market network synergy amplifies the more abundant Scooby ties into other corporate entities. The Scooby brand indeed spread across a plethora of brands featuring corporate tie-ins with America Online, IHOP, Blimpie, Samsung, among many others. What made the Warner Scooby films successful in their collecting within their wide network was that the product was preconceived to be able to do so. The Scooby-Doo direct-to-DVD films ran with the philosophy as discussed in Affuso and Santo’s Mediated Merchandise, Merchandisable Media, “The value licensed merchandise has for the entertainment industries raises important questions about how merchandising influences storytelling and audience engagement strategies. The move toward considering a film’s “toyetic” potential as part of the green-lighting process is well documented, with consumer product experts and manufacturers frequently involved in creative decision making in the pre-production phase”. Where television is more eager to market and merchandise shows that already prove their merit in the marketplace, the Warner home video division devised these films to have marketable traits. The Scooby brand being accessible and flexible to allow licensees to remix the product increased the interest of companies to engage and proliferate the franchise’s market.
In their marketing pursuits, Scooby-Doo had achieved ultimate integration and positioned itself as an unescapable cultural phenomenon. The marketing efforts were advantageous towards dominating seasonally, staking dominance when it came to the October season. Using Scooby-Doo’s recognizable horror-comedy genre allowed these efforts to target kids during one of their most consumer-heavy holidays in Halloween. In remarks to why Burger King was enthusiastic about their partnership with the mystery gang, Burger King provided the following: “To millions of kids, Scooby-Doo is synonymous with Halloween because of the spooky characters, eerie sounds and mystery story lines,” said Richard Taylor, vice president of USA Marketing for Burger King Corporation. “We also know that Scooby-Doo is one of the most beloved cartoon characters of all time…Burger King Corporation is delighted to bring this classic character to kids of all ages this Halloween season.” (PR Newswire). The marketing behind all the direct-to-DVD films took place in October to tap into a consumer base that was more susceptible to convert. The films themselves also heavily leaned into popular Halloween iconography with the ghouls of the features being pirate zombies and ghostly witches compared to some of the more mundane or inventive monsters throughout the Scooby lexicon. Warner used the holiday season to turn Scooby into a massive consumer event. The show was constantly airing re-runs on Cartoon Network, so it was more difficult to make an appearance from Scooby on the network feel special. By introducing a fresh and cinematic portrayal of the well-known mystery solvers into an audience willing to explore media prominently featuring ghastly ghouls and horror elements turned Scooby into a yearly seasonal staple. Warner transformed Scooby-Doo from a constant feature to a special event and did so with staggering results. As of 2000, “More than 11 million Scooby-Doo videos have been sold to date in North America, and last year more than $800 million in retail merchandise sales were generated by more than 175 Scooby-DooTM licensees across all product categories” (Warner Media Group). The number of sales exhibits the success of the Scooby events, as well as the number of licensees proving the expansive network Warner had accumulated for the Scooby brand.
Through their efforts in marketing and promotion, Scooby had transcended from a successful television show, into a massive event. As the mystery machine traveled across the country spreading unmasking plenty of monsters and placing the brand into a synergistic marketing network. However, in becoming an event, the Scooby Doo franchise might have suffered in the long run. It appears mega-merchandising is unsustainable in the long run and all events must end at some point. What exists now is only speculation of what happened? Did spreading the brand thin across licensees lose what was at the franchise’s core along the way, did over exposure eventually wane on the audience’s desire for more, or did just a myriad of poor decisions expose the fallibility of the franchise? It’s hard to measure what may be the cause, but it’s easy to see the effects. Warner Bros. once proved that in the right hands, through building a wide marketing network, building synergistic relationships, and capitalizing at the right moment can a property rise beyond what seemed possible from the start. There may just come a day where the Scooby gang falls into the right hands again and shows the world the joy of coming together to solve a mystery.
Affuso, Elizabeth and Avi Santo. “Mediated Merchandise, Merchandisable Media: An Introduction.” Film Criticism, 42.2 (November 2018).
“Burger King(R) Restaurants to ‘Glow’ this Halloween; Chain to Link with Hanna-Barbera Scooby-Doo(TM) Property.” PR Newswire, Oct 04 2000, p. 1. ProQuest. Web. 15 Nov. 2019 .
Grainge, Paul “Licensing the Library: Of Archives and Animation,” in Brand Hollywood: Selling Entertainment in a Global Age (London: Routledge, 2008), 109-129.
Gray, Jonathan“From Spoilers to Spinoffs: A Theory of Paratexts,” in Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and Other Media Paratexts (New York: NYU Press, 2010), 23-46.
McCormick, M. (1998, Jul 11). Scooby-doo plugs into synergy. Billboard – the International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment, 110, 68.
Neumaier, Joe. “Just Scooby-Doo It.” Entertainment Weekly, no. 443, July 1998, p. 9. EBSCOhost.
“New Feature-Length SCOOBY-DOO Movie Takes the Warner Spotlight March 6.”WarnerMedia, 11 Dec. 2000, http://www.warnermediagroup.com/newsroom/press-releases/2000/12/11/new-feature-length-scooby-doo-movie-takes-the-warner-spotlight.
Sandler, Kevin S. “Synergy Nirvana: Brand Equity, Television Animation, and Cartoon Network,” in Prime Time Animation: Television Animation and American Culture (London: Routledge, 2003), 90-109.