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Michael Jackson : An Eccentric Superstar Makes Marketing a Tricky Proposition

October 11, 1987|BRIDGET BYRNE | Bridget Byrne is a Los Angeles-based entertainment writer and television producer.

Alan Levine, president of the international division of Hudson's Ice Cream, was also pleased with Jackson's reception in Japan. Hudson's, a Santa Barbara-based company, is the top ice-cream retailer in Japan after only two years of business there. Looking toward expanding beyond its 22 stores, it arranged a tie-in with Jackson's pet chimpanzee, Bubbles, which accompanied him to Japan. The chimp is represented in the stores by a replica from a new line of stuffed animals called "Michael's Pets." The purchase of this plush toy at a Hudson's store comes with a free ice cream. "We view Jackson's concert audience as the same type of people who eat our ice cream," says Levine.

The Nippon Television Network has just negotiated an exclusive deal with Jackson for a two-hour, prime-time special documenting his tour, to be televised Oct. 31. The deal was arranged through 24-year-old Jimmy Osmond, formerly of the Osmond Brothers and now a concert promoter, through his friendships with Jackson and with Soaya Shirai, special-projects producer for NTV. NTV regards the deal as its greatest coup since it televised a Beatles concert in 1966. Besides more visibility for Pepsi, the program will also showcase the involvement of tour co-sponsor Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, whose current promotional gimmick is a phone credit card with Jackson's picture on it.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 8, 1987 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 5 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
In "Michael Jackson," by Bridget Byrne (Oct. 11), Hobson's Fine Blended Ice Cream of Santa Barbara was misidentified. --The Editors

Jackson's photograph can also be seen on the picture record that comes with each of "Michael's Pets." These toys, which sell for about $25, are stuffed representations of animals in Jackson's private menagerie, and they also share characteristics of the singer's friends and associates. Besides Bubbles, the pets include Cool Bear, the stand-in for Jackson, wearing dark glasses and a down-brimmed hat; Uncle Tookie, a frog that resembles Jackson's bull-necked manager, Frank Dileo; a guard dog named Bill; a llama named Louie; Muscles the snake, who sports a bow-tie, and Jabbar, a giraffe who wears athletic gear and is named for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Bob Michaelson, the affable independent manufacturer behind the creation of these toys, says, "Kids love them, and we know that teen-age girls and young women love to cuddle up with plush toys." He insists that none of Jackson's friends and associates have taken offense at the stuffed-toy depiction of their characteristics. "There's great competition among ( Jackson's friends) to see who's going to sell the most," Michaelson insists, expressing the Guinness Book of Records mentality that marks most of those who surround Jackson.

Michaelson concedes that he would have liked to have brought out the stuffed-animals line last Christmas but the delay in the completion of the "Bad" album made that impossible. However, he is confident the wait will be worth it.

Some companies that didn't wait for the album's release found themselves in trouble. Max Factor quickly discovered that nobody seemed to want to smell like Jackson, and the perfume "Magic Beat" evaporated when it was introduced a year ago. The first time around, a Jackson clothing line didn't sell either. "We were successful with the retailer, but not with the consumer," says Warren Hirsh, whose firm, Current Trends, handles much of the licensing of Jackson's name. But Hirsh, whose company has licensed products for Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt, is trying again now that "Bad" is out. The hope is that department stores will still go for "street tough" jackets and pants, like those Jackson wears on the "Bad" album cover, and T-shirts bearing Jackson's own designs.


THE JAPANESE MEDIA SEEM much more willing to accept the total Jackson rather than to pick away at his eccentricities. "People in Japan tend to look inside a person, and they see that, 'So what if he appears a little weird, he's a cool guy inside,' " says Jimmy Osmond, who has lived in Japan and has known Jackson since they were children and the Jackson Five and the Osmond Brothers were friendly rivals. But in America and Europe, the press is not so polite, and these days it isn't getting much access to Jackson. With Jackson, marketing takes precedence over cooperation when it comes to publicity.

Press agent Lee Solters, long experienced in handling such media duckers as Barbra Streisand and Frank Sinatra, is cooperative about giving out factual information about Jackson, but is adamant that his client will give no interviews.

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