A brief look at promoting Ghostbusters on home video.

Clay Industrial Storytellers has reprinted a monograph entitled “The Complete Manager’s Guide To Promotional Merchandise” by Louis Tharp. It’s a dense read that is most useful for anybody looking to get into marketing and advertising, but on chapter in particular is of interest to Ghostbusters fans, as it covers the use of those rare Ghostbusters telephones to help promote the sales of one very expensive Ghostbusters home video. A great article, except for the typo that dates the Ghostbusters video release as being in 1981. Wrong by nearly four years.

You can read the whole article here – the Ghostbusters portion is as follows;

Afraid Of No Ghosts

Accurately gauging what your market will accept is something a small advertising firm in New York City did correctly, and while this case history has nothing to do with BMW, it does show, as does the BMW case history, that management must stay close to the market is serves with promotional merchandise. Staying close means fine-tuning your current offering, as well as being able to read what your market will accept six months out.

The small New York agency that read its market was Ericksen/Basloe Advertising, an entertainment advertising and collateral agency. Their assignment was to promote the video tape version of Ghostbusters. What makes this case history interesting is that the year was 1981.

Think back to 1981. There weren’t very many VCRs, tape rental businesses, or tapes for that matter. Video tapes sold for $89.99 each. The great debate between beta and VCR was raging and nobody really knew which format would win out. The market was touted as enormous, but nobody had seen the millions in dollars that were talked of. Video tape companies were filling the pipeline with old movies because the gap between movie release and video release could be more than two years.

Ghostbusters was a phenomenally successful movie. The video tape version was brought out primarily for sale, not to rent, and the producers came to Bob Ericksen a former publishing executive and Steve Basloe, a former Columbia director of marketing and advertising.

The audience Ericksen/Basloe was assigned was the video distributors–the group who would sell the tapes to the video dealers. Ericksen/Basloe had previously handled promotion duties for The Big Chill with 25,000 six-pack coolers to this same distributor group.

While theoretically, the agency’s job was to move the tapes to the distributors, Ericksen/Basloe realized that promotional merchandise which the distributors could either keep or pass on to the video dealers as an incentive to buy, probably would be more powerful, and sell more tapes.

Their suggestion was a Ghostbuster telephone–an idea that would meet with groans and yawns today. But then, it was the perfect incentive. Phone marketing was breaking out of the grips of the phone company thanks to Judge Harold H. Greene and his breakup decree. People were anxious to buy new phones. The Ghostbuster phone was more than just a Far East model with a logo imprinted on the handset. It was a slim red, inexpensive one-pice phone set into a hollow plastic Ghostbuster logo. The product was about a foot in diameter and could be hung on the wall or used on a desk.

This product, it turned out, had several useful lives.

As a distributor incentive it was an instant hit. The pass through to the video dealers was nearly unanimous–once the distributor kept one for himself. The dealers displayed the phone providing additional advertising for a very popular and instantly recognizable logo.

Vice President Sara Basloe, sister of Steve, says of the results that back then, “This was not a measurable for a communication. We knew the phone was successful because of demand for it and for the video. The movie was so successful and the song and the phrase were so well known that is was impossible to determine quantitatively how many additional video tapes distributors sold because they offered the phone. A distributor may carry 25,000 titles, and when he is writing an order, he will remember the phone and put down 10 copies of Ghostbusters instead of five, because he knows he can qualify for another phone.”

The phone was purchased in Hong Kong and the base, was made in the U.S. The total cost of the phone, base, shipping, assembly and packaging came to $9. $4.10 of this was for the phone.


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