Pez dispenses marketing wisdom

Co. tries limited numbers strategy

For half a century, Pez Candy Inc. — one of the most venerable of entertainment licensees — dealt in familiar faces, putting popular, well-known cartoon characters on its iconic dispensers.

Now, the Orange, Conn.-based company is gambling on unproven characters in new releases such as “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” “Over the Hedge” and “Cars.” The strategy: Produce limited numbers and allow each pic’s success to boost value to collectors.

“We’re doing a lot more licenses, and people seem to like it,” says Peter Vandall, VP of sales and marketing for Pez. “We’re putting out an event almost every other month.”

When Pez dispensers were first patented, they were designed to work like cigarette lighters, releasing a peppermint candy each time someone flicked the lever. It wasn’t until the Austrian brand came to the U.S. that the company introduced fruit flavors and recognizable flip-top heads.

Mickey Mouse led the way, along with an assortment of original characters created by Pez.

“Disney is our longest-standing license,” says Vandall. “The contract was actually signed by Walt Disney himself in 1952.”

Pez is currently developing dispensers for Sony’s “Open Season,” Disney’s “Meet the Robinsons” and DreamWorks’ “Shrek the Third” and “Bee Movie.”

According to the licensing agreements, Pez pays a predetermined royalty — anywhere from 5% to 12% of the selling cost — for each dispenser sold.

The shift to computer-animated toons makes it easier to create dispensers that resemble the actual characters.

“Detail is very important for us,” Vandall says. “We don’t necessarily sell candy; we sell dispensers. To come up with a detailed item like this that sells between one and two dollars, it’s incredible.”

Pez recently created its first set of dispensers based on live people, featuring the Teutul family from the Discovery Channel show “American Chopper,” and Vandall confirms that the company is negotiating licenses for additional human heads.

“A lot of it revolves around nostalgia,” he says. “We’re talking about bringing the 1964 Beatles back, Norman Rockwell, Andy Warhol …”

Notable: After years of fielding questions about a one-of-a-kind “Elvis Pezley” dispenser featured in the 1994 pic “The Client,” Vandall says the real thing could finally be on its way.

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