Bright lights, big toys

Lucky? Perhaps. But talent and a dash of ambition also help explain Nancy Fowler's rather fast rise to the position of SVP of worldwide consumer products at California-based DIC Entertainment.

Lucky? Perhaps. But talent and a dash of ambition also help explain Nancy Fowler’s rather fast rise to the position of SVP of worldwide consumer products at California-based DIC Entertainment.

For the past two-and-a-half years Fowler

(formerly Bassett) has reigned as the go-to person for all-things international licensing and merchandising for the kid’s entertainment giant known for such breakthrough properties as Inspector Gadget and Sailor Moon. But it’s the re-launch of Strawberry Shortcake that’s currently raising eyebrows.

That freckled-faced, yarn-haired, berry nice smelling doll and its monster merchandising offshoots generated $230 million in global retail sales in 2003, far exceeding expectations. Thank the retro trend.

Once-popular brands like My Little Pony and Transformers have sparked new interest in

merchandising deals for a new generation.

For DIC, its other prized retro-find is Trolls. The crazy-haired doll that found huge success in the 1960s, and again in the early ’90s will reemerge, this time as Trollz (yes, with a ‘z’) targeting young girls. They’ve been revamped and are into everything that makes a tween’s heart flutter: fashion, technology and shopping.

While Fowler declines credit for the 317 Strawberry Shortcake licensees signed

worldwide, saying she started only six months before the launch, achieving that property

life-extending balance of not saturating the market is certainly to her credit.

‘The key to Strawberry Shortcake’s success is now about keeping her fresh and interesting without selling out,’ she says. She’s diffused pressure by licensees to introduce more

products more often. And while she is behind the decision to create an infant/juvenile line,

holding off until the main line developed more loyalty from mom and little girls was critical.

‘We didn’t want to go too young too fast in anticipation of backlash from the older segment.’ Good strategy. Sales of the line are on track to break the billion-dollar mark next year. The infant/juvenile line will hit shelves in 2006.

Andy Heyward, chairman & CEO of DIC, says Fowler’s creative vision and management prowess were essential for ensuring the

ongoing success of Strawberry Shortcake. And Trollz? ‘We anticipate Trollz to take the market by storm next year, and Nancy has created an elaborate and unprecedented program that will, no doubt, secure the brand’s success.’

Trollz the TV show is expected to launch in fall 2005, with about 50 licensees signed on thus far. Fowler is responsible for landing some of the biggest names, including Hasbro

(worldwide master toy licensee) as well as Scholastic (master publishing) and Warner Home Entertainment (DVDs). BBC Worldwide in the U.K. and TF1 in France recently agreed to air the show next fall. And in Canada, Fowler says they’re shoring up apparel licensees and negotiating an

exclusive deal with a big Canadian retailer.

‘Reaching kids today, the market is so fragmented. In my day watching Saturday morning cartoons was what you did. One Saturday morning show could pull in ratings of what you get on ER and CSI. But today you’d never get that because kids are at hockey

practice, on the Net, playing video games,’ she says. So DIC is going where kids are, planning PDA deals, a Web community and a partnership with a mobile phone company.

Fowler, 39, started her career in Toronto in the toy business, fittingly enough. After

four-and-a-half years working in licensing at now-defunct Charan Industries, she moved to G2 Squared Promotions and EMG Licensing, then on to Paramount’s Marquee Promotions. Then ‘my old boss at Charan called and said, ‘We’re starting Sega of Canada and we want you to be director of marketing.” She took it.

‘Then the phone rings a year later and it’s Paramount in LA saying: ‘Viacom just bought us, we feel like we have enough assets to open Viacom Consumer Products Canada and we’d like you to be GM.” After four years there it was on to Alliance, and then another stint at Viacom, which was when she got the call to join DIC. ‘Even though I was a VP worldwide at Paramount, I was a small fish in a big pool. Heading up the group here [in L.A.] would have been the first time I was in total control of P&L.’

But after close to six years in L.A. simple homesickness may be one thing she hasn’t yet fully conquered. ‘I miss Canada every day. It’s a privilege [to be here] but in the back of my head I need to feel I’m

coming home soon,’ she says.