CHAPTER 5 – “STAR TREK:THE GAME”
On a regular basis John and Roger had meetings with Paul (by then appointed as Shell's National Promotions Manager) and continued to devise and supply small-scale promotions for Shell, but were missing the “blockbuster” games, which generated the most excitement and income.
After Shell had been running a gift voucher scheme (“Collect & Select”) for a few years, we carried out research, the results of which indicated a declining interest in such schemes. Independent research subsequently commissioned by Shell at our suggestion produced similar findings. Consequently, in the latter part of 1989 Paul invited us to propose a new long-term collection scheme, which could address the failings which the research had identified. He was also seeking a blockbuster short-term promotion just in case Shell decided to drop “Collect & Select”. This news got our total attention.
We put forward a number of ideas including a Disney themed promotional game. Paul subsequently commissioned further research and the Disneytime concept emerged as far and away the most appealing. But Paul understandably had reservations about the licensing fee likely to be demanded by the Disney Company.
Paul also decided to give serious consideration to our multibrand concept which he thought was a further prime candidate for the "blockbuster" promotion. Paul subsequently approached Tesco (a major UK supermarket chain) and received a favourable response from them. Unfortunately his plans were thwarted because the much feared Shell Retail Manager, Jim Slavin, an Australian (a successor to John Smeddle), pompously turned down the multibrand proposal on the basis that Tesco was "too downmarket" to be a partner of Shell.
In May 1990, because he was under constant pressure and stress in the top post, Paul opted to step down as National Promotions Manager and was replaced by a bright and good-looking university graduate, Stuart Carson - unusually for Shell, someone who had real charisma. As Paul had over a decade of experience in Shell Promotions and Stuart had none at all, Paul remained in the promotions department and worked as part of the team.
Paul advised us that after protracted discussions, Shell had agreed a deal in principle with the Disney office in London for the Disneytime promotion, which had emerged as the most appealing promotion every time that Shell had researched the concept. This was of course wonderful news for us. However, before we had time to celebrate, we heard from Paul that the licensing deal had come unstuck because the Disney HQ in California had a prior exclusive arrangement with Esso – a devastating turn of events.
We immediately circulated a teaser mail shot about the concept to other UK retailers, including Sainsbury’s, another major UK supermarket chain, who sent a reply expressing an interest. Subsequent discussions resulted in Sainsbury’s also expressing an interest in the Shell led multibrand promotion (after Stuart had given us his approval to disclose the concept to Sainsbury’s).
By that stage there had been a lot of expenditure on our part without any income being generated – hence we were getting increasingly anxious. All of our proposals to Shell had come to nought for one reason or another. Time was growing short and we knew that Shell would be looking at ideas put forward by other parties.
Fortunately John had a brainwave while listening to the radio in his car. A news report mentioned something about a new Star Trek movie. Within 48 hours he had devised an instant win game with a Star Trek theme. Not only that - John had contacted Paramount Films and agreed a licensing deal in principle – all without Shell having any inkling whatsoever of his idea.
By the time John approached Stuart Carson, a complete package deal was on the table. He had even managed to negotiate the licensing fee down from £200,000 to £50,000 – a bargain for a high profile property, never before used as the basis of a national promotion. The text of John’s inspired letter to Stuart on 13th July 1990 which led to a multimillion pounds Shell promotion was as follows: -
I understand that we may still be in time to suggest one last concept for the autumn slot.
As you can see from the visual, it’s called…
Star Trek: The Game
This theming would be highly topical because the BBC have confirmed to us that they will be launching, this Autumn, a 5 year bonanza for millions of Star Trek fans. Starting during October, they will re-run the original Star Trek series, plus the 4 blockbuster Star Trek movies, and the very latest series – Star Trek: The Next Generation. The BBC purchased the rights from Paramount Pictures for $6 million. This gives an indication of Star Trek’s appeal and value.
As you are probably already aware, Star Trek has achieved a cult status and ranks as one of the most popular and original TV programmes of all time. The fame of Star Trek and its characters are such that the novelty record – “Star Trekkin”, reached Number 1 in the UK pop charts just a couple of years ago. There have also been a variety of other successful spin-offs, including video cartoon stories for children, plus a number of novels.
The Star Trek characters include: -
Captain James T. Kirk
Leonard “Bones” McCoy
Like the Disneytime theming, Star Trek is popular with all age groups, but with more adult appeal than Disneytime, and would therefore be very much a family orientated game. For this reason, we have built in a family holiday prize to the Florida Theme Parks, plus an exciting trip to the Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral – one of the major tourist attractions in Florida. This prize caters for the appeal of our proposed family holiday prizes to Florida, as confirmed by the recent Disneytime research. Furthermore, the inclusion of the NASA trip is both apt and original.
We did not wish to waste your time by suggesting a theming requiring a licensing deal which might involve protracted negotiations and/or an unviable fee. We have therefore already approached Paramount Pictures via their licensing agents, (without mentioning Shell’s name). Jonathon Zilli, Paramount Pictures Director of International Licensing, originally asked for a fee of £200,000, but has now indicated a wiliness to accept a flat fee of £50,000. A copy fax confirming this is enclosed.
The fee would cover use of all the original Star Trek characters on the scratch cards, POS display and in media advertising. A separate fee would need to be negotiated with the “Famous Names” agency should you wish to use the instantly recognisable Star Trek them music for any supporting TV or radio commercials. We would expect the fee to be relatively small.
Depending on the exact specification, our guess is that the print costs for a seeded game of chance format, as per the game card shown on the visual, would be about £5.50 per 1,000. An Every Card Can Win version would probably cost around £8.50 per 1,000. We have not obtained firm quotations because we did not want to take the chance of rival brands being tipped off. Printers are notorious for recognising print specs as being from a particular retail trade.
The initial game card design indicates the creative possibilities for a highly distinctive theming. I have also enclosed with the storyboard copies of some of the characters who could be featured in the promotion. Spock, in particular, could be used to great effect on POS display. The well-known phrases associated with Star Trek could also be exploited for advertising purposes.
The novel theming would draw immediate attention to POS display and to any supporting media advertising. Furthermore, the Disneytime research has also indicated that consumers readily understand the “Match The Characters” game mechanic.
Given all these advantages, the £50,000 licensing fee seems to us to be a bargain, because it adds immeasurable value in terms of excitement, charisma and “playability” to the basic cash/holiday prize instant win mechanic.
We are therefore confident that the proposed concept would be the “logical” choice to maintain Shell’s reputation for innovative, memorable promotional games – not the “run of the mill” variety mounted in the past by rival brands.
Stuart was sold on the idea but had a real problem. He had already recommended a Florida holiday based scheme to Shell senior management and a meeting had been arranged with the relevant agency, Senior King, to give them the go-ahead.
Apparently Stuart went to the meeting with senior colleagues and when they expressed some reservations about the Senior King proposal, he asked the Senior King Managers to leave their own boardroom. He then opened his brief case and presented our concept of a Star Trek themed scratch card game. His colleagues immediately decided to switch. They could see the merit of an instant win scratch card game linked to two of the world’s most successful TV series, the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Having explained the background, Stuart asked John if we would be prepared to allow Senior King to have an involvement in the promotion, saying that he felt very awkward about dropping the Senior King concept under such unusual circumstances. Knowing how we would have felt if the situation had been reversed, John agreed to his request.
In the meantime with Shell’s approval, our multibrand discussions had been continuing with Sainsbury’s. Shell was extremely keen at the prospect of a joint promotion with the largest supermarket chain in the UK, so much so that they retained an indefinite option on the concept, which was tied to them proceeding with the Star Trek game. Shell had taken options on our ideas on a number of occasions. Although Stuart gave us written confirmation to proceed with the Star Trek game, it turned out that the timing was not right for Sainsbury’s in respect of the multibrand concept but they remained interested in a possible future link with Shell on the concept.
Having obtained Shell’s approval, work swiftly commenced on the “Operation Enterprise” (not much of a code name). Stuart quickly got into enthusiastic Star Trek mode as was clear from a handwritten note on a fax he sent to John: -
“(Warp 10 even if the di-lithium crystals cannot take it Cap’n)”
Towards the end of August 1990 while preparations were still under way for the Star Trek promotion, the Gulf War threatened market stability and John and Roger attended a meeting at Shell-Mex House. A deal was agreed for Star Trek to be shelved pending the outcome of the war, but with Shell retaining an option to the Star Trek concept until the end of 1991.
In November 1990, John received a telephone call from Mark Foster, Shell's Marketing Communications Manager advising that Stuart Carson had left Shell for better things. This was no great surprise because Paul had commented on several occasions that Stuart was miles too good for Shell – Paul’s enthusiasm and respect for Shell was slowly ebbing away.
Mark Foster went on to say that since Shell now had time to reconsider matters, he wanted Don Marketing to put some further ideas up for comparative research against the Star Trek concept. We put forward a whole raft of concepts including the game version of the multibrand concept. We also proposed that Shell should rerun the spectacularly successful Make Money game. Paul was still very much involved and arranged for our concepts to be researched.
In December 1990, we were contacted by Alan McNab - a George Robertson (Nato Secretary General) talk-alike and look-alike - the latest in the line of successive Promotions Managers at Shell. He confirmed that the Star Trek game had emerged from the research as the most popular concept and that Shell wished to reactivate the Star Trek project (thereby taking up the option that it had agreed on the concept).
The Star Trek promotion was launched in March 1991. Unfortunately due to a blunder in Shell’s distribution system the demand for cards exceeded the supplies available at many Shell sites. It was caused by Senior King drafting and distributing Shell dealer instructions for the promotion without first letting us have sight of the draft text. When we did eventually see the text it became plain that someone had copied some of it from a previous entirely different promotion. Regretfully it was beyond the ability of Shell staff to rectify the mistake before the short term promotion came to an end. As a result the printers had to literally bury 30 million undistributed game cards at a cost of over £300,000 (about $450,000 US dollars). The scratch cards had to be buried because for security reasons they were coated with aluminised foil which would be hazardous to burn as they would release poisonous vapours into the atmosphere.
The strange thing was that nobody at Shell seemed to care about an excellent promotion being ruined by sheer incompetence or about the huge waste of money involved.
Click here for ShellNews.net HOME PAGE