When Pac-Man launched in Japan more than 30 years ago, no one could have foreseen the lasting impact of this pellet-eating maze navigator. But today, Pac-Man stands as one of the most recognizable animated characters on the planet. 41 Entertainment, Namco Bandai Games and Arad Productions are all confident that the retro strength of the brand – along with its ability to win over new fans – will propel Pac-Man forward for more decades to come.
“Pac-Man is the ultimate good guy, and the game takes only a minute to learn but a lifetime to master,” explains Avi Arad, president of Arad Productions and executive producer of the upcoming “Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.”
Previously, Arad was chairman and CEO of Marvel Studios and chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment. His producer credits include many luminary franchises, such as Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.
“We’ve seen a real resurgence of classic characters in the last few years, and the TV show will connect us with new and old fans,” Arad says. “Broadcasters and merchandisers see Pac-Man as a good bet commercially because of the brand awareness and connection to all audiences all over the world.”
Owned by Namco Bandai Games, Pac-Man – the game and the character – has become a global phenomenon that has spawned video game sequels and spinoffs, an array of merchandising campaigns and forays into other media beyond gaming. In the United States, Pac-Man’s brand awareness stands at an astounding 94 percent.
“Pac-Man is an icon that spans categories, both traditional and digital,” Arad says. “The licenses that have been brought in can work together on one big brand launch. This is a competitive landscape, but we have a premier brand.”
What makes Pac-Man’s current status all the more remarkable is the fact that it received such little fanfare when it launched. Snubbed by competitors, distributors and marketing executives, it was quickly embraced by the nascent gaming community because of its universal appeal to all demographics. After its original release, it quickly became the best-selling arcade game in North America and grossed more than $1 billion in quarters within one year.
Today, Pac-Man is regarded as a landmark property in gaming, so popular that Google even changed the Google logo on its homepage into a Google Doodle with a fully playable version of Pac-Man on May 21–23, 2010, to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary. The character of Pac-Man is still the most renowned gaming mascot, and the property remains a licensing force across many demographic and categorical lines.
But the long-running video game franchise’s strength isn’t just that the brand has stood the test of time in many countries. The brand’s stamina in the market also lies in the fact that its universal appeal quickly translates to new audiences.
“The legacy is there, but even among audiences that don’t know the brand well, the show and the character have a wide appeal,” says Allen Bohbot, CEO of 41 Entertainment. He pointed to the enthusiasm seen when the show was pitched in Russia, which was behind the Iron Curtain during Pac-Man’s formative years.
When Namco Bandai was looking for the perfect partners to help it take the Pac-Man brand forward, it looked to 41 Entertainment and Arad Productions. A global animation company, 41 Entertainment’s specialty is the production, distribution and marketing of animated TV programs for kids and the marketing of related licensed consumer products. Arad Productions’ specialty is adapting and converting genre characters and brands into film, TV, animation, video games and toy products.
The vehicle that could take Pac-Man to even greater heights is the upcoming animated TV series “Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures.” Created in stereoscopic 3-D, all parties involved are banking on a belief that the show and its lead character will not only generate excitement among consumers, but among broadcasters and licensees around the world.
This isn’t the first foray into non-gaming media for Pac-Man. In fact, Hanna–Barbera produced an animated TV series that aired on ABC from 1982 to 1983, and the Buckner & Garcia song “Pac-Man Fever” hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in 1981. Weird Al Yankovic even got in on the act with his song “Pac-Man,” which was a parody of The Beatles’ “Taxman.”
But this show will be a remarkably different experience. It is being produced with a budget of $600,000 per episode, which allows for high-quality writing and animation. This full HD, stereoscopic 3-D animation comedy will include 26 22-minute episodes in its first season. The show will target viewers ages 5-10 and tell the tale of Pac-Man and his world, casting Pac-Man as a reluctant superhero.
“In the past, video games didn’t tell the origin story for characters,” Arad explains. “The TV show allows us to tell the story of Pac-Man’s life and world. Relationships are a big part of storytelling, letting the audience know about the characters and the everyday issues they face.”
Although the show won’t debut until fall 2013, 41 Entertainment, Namco Bandai Games and Arad Productions have already struck deals to put the show on the air. In February, a deal was struck with Disney, granting U.S. television rights to Disney XD. In June, the show’s exclusive 2-D and 3-D television rights were granted to British Sky Broadcasting for the United Kingdom and Ireland. Major broadcast partners will launch in multiple languages globally in 2014.
Even though the show won’t air for almost a year, licensees and retailers have been lining up to get on board with Pac-Man. Agents working on U.S. licensing and promotional efforts for the TV series include Striker Entertainment and The CDM Company. Striker has been securing licensees in apparel, accessories, footwear, health and beauty aids, oral care and publishing, while CDM handles consumer promotional efforts.
Similar efforts have taken place around the world. Lisle International is handling all licensing and merchandising activity in the U.K. and Ireland, while Gaffney Licensing is managing licensing and merchandising in Australia and New Zealand.
There is also a wide-ranging effort to target Latin markets such as Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Brazil and Latin and Central America. BRB Internacional is overseeing licensing and merchandising activity in Spain and Portugal, Tycoon Enterprises is working on Mexico, Redibra Licensing is managing efforts in Brazil and Televix is handling licensing and merchandising efforts in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Bolivia.
“The major window we are targeting is September to December of 2013,” Bohbot explains. “That is when we will need a massive amount of quality products and promotions for all ages alongside the TV show, advertising and retail marketing.”
Bandai America Inc. is the master toy licensee and is introducing its toy line this fall. Other major licensees already brought into the fold include Hybrid Apparel, JCorp, SGI Apparel, Berkshire Fashions, Fast Forward, Candyrific, General Fabrics, Idea Nuova, Jay Franco, DGL Group, Commonwealth, M.Z. Berger, BuySeasons, DecoPac, Rubie’s, SkyHigh, Trends, Bandai America, K’Nex and Pressman.
“People are coming to us,” Bohbot says. “Many companies want to do programs with us in all kinds of categories, creating products for small kids to adults.”
As part of these agreements, a vast array of products will soon hit the retail shelves in North America and beyond. Everything from apparel, backpacks, candy, fabrics, toys and furniture to electronic products, watches and clocks, novelty items, party favors costumes and posters will bear the Pac-Man brand and connect to the new TV show.
“In only six months, we’ve partnered with 35 licensees in the United States alone, all of which are category leaders,” Bohbot says. “And from a retail perspective, everyone we’ve spoken to is willing to back the line.”
Coupled with Namco Bandai’s plan to launch new video games and arcade games worldwide, it is no wonder why 41 Entertainment, Namco Bandai Games and Arad Productions chose “The Pac is Back!” as the slogan for this global undertaking.
“People want to bring Pac-Man product into the marketplace because this is a high-value property,” Bohbot explains. “There are very few properties like this one that are out there. We’re already up to 7.2 million likes on Facebook and growing, and all of this activity is happening a year before the show is even on the air.”