Scooby-Doo is the surprise hit of the summer movie season, bringing in an astounding $54.2 million on its opening weekend, and grossing over $100 million to date. That makes the tale of the cowardly canine and his mystery-loving pack the biggest June debut ever for Warner Bros., and the third-largest opening of the year, behind Spider-Man and Star Wars: Episode II. Since advance reviews for the mixed live-action and animated story were lukewarm, much of the credit for that stellar start belongs with the multilayered campaign orchestrated by Warner Bros., which took the mystery out of success with months of advance planning and a strategy that reached target demographics from myriad media angles.
Since its 1969 debut, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon has captured a loyal audience with its comedic cadre of crime fighters. Warner Bros. played on that popularity to market the film both to old-school aficionados and younger tykes across many of the AOL Time Warner properties. While it's often tough to use the much-hyped marketing strategy of synergy, Scooby-Doo's strong, built-in fan base and demographically relevant outlets within the Time Warner family made the task easier.
"Our target was a broad family audience, and as a secondary target, we went after teens, explains Dawn Taubin, Warner Bros. head of domestic marketing. "It's a movie that we could have a lot of fun with in terms of creating our materials and creating our programs."
Taubin and her team wanted Scooby-Doo to appear on consumers' radar screens from a variety of directions, with a long lead time to build interest.
Sneak-peek trailers for the film hit theaters last winter as an early tease. The movie also had a big web presence, with AOL hosting the site.
Fans who visited the website got online chats and games, as well as extra information about the film.
On the television side, The Cartoon Network aired old episodes of Scooby and the gang, along with interstitial programming. The cartoon was also featured prominently on that channel's website.
Warner Bros. also leveraged the power of its star cast (Sarah Michelle Gellar as Daphne, Freddie Prinze Jr. as Fred, Matthew Lillard as Shaggy, and Linda Cardellini as Velma), many of whom have a substantial teen following. Gellar, for example, stars in the hit UPN series Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Prinze was featured in teen-centric flicks such as She's All That and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The cast made numerous appearances, including the recent MTV Movie Awards, and appeared in print outlets as well.
The teen audience was also courted with the film's soundtrack, which featured popular rap group OutKast, as well as Baha Men, who had a monster hit last year with Who Let the Dogs Out. The cast of the movie helped that tie-in by appearing in an OutKast video, which received heavy play on MTV.
The studio also teamed up with a wide array of promotional partners to add "excitement to the project, explains Taubin. Lunchables (which featured Scooby-branded packages, with a Scooby snack for dessert), Kibbles & Bits dog food, and Dairy Queen were among the most prominent relationships, and Heinz ketchup was used as a product placement within the film.
Targeting a new generation of youngsters, Warner Bros. also did tie-ins with Scooby-Doo Live in Stagefright, a popular national theater tour.
"It was a very successful program, which just gave another form of the property to see, explains Taubin.
And for a kicker, the studio attached the trailer of the next Harry Potter installment to Scooby-Doo.
In Hollywood, success is often based on how much money a film makes in its first few days. "Obviously, when you do $54 million at the box office in one weekend, that's a significant opening, says Taubin, especially since children's tickets cost less than adult admission.
But Scooby and company were able to hold onto audiences past those initial show times, making the film an undeniable hit for Warner Bros. Aside from the stellar ticket sales, Taubin says her team had another important reason to celebrate.
"We were also very pleased with the audiences' reaction to the film. Everybody from kids to parents to teens all responded very positively to the movie."
It's no mystery what Warner Bros. plans next - Scooby-Doo 2 in 2004.
The sequel was announced the week after the film hit theaters, and Warner Bros. is hoping for a return of the same cast.