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Photos 1-3: "Move over Superman, marketers are promoting a new generation of female action heroes, including warrior princess Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and an all-new-for-the-'7"; Photos 4-5 non-Xena.
Detailed article about the ascendency of female action heroes. IAXS is mentioned as a Xena site.
Marketers are developing a heroine addiction. In movies, TV shows, comic books, and video games, marketers are introducing an army of take-charge women who are proving they too can kick, hit, run, slam -- and often do all of it in high heels. The hope is that the estrogen injection will attract more female consumers to the action genre and all that goes with it -- the action figures, the T-shirts, the fan clubs. The risk is that marketers will alienate core male viewers accustomed to watching some blonde let out a blood-curdling scream before she's served up as the sacrificial lamb or rescued by some more-buff dude. A recent study by The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 19% of female characters used physical force in films, versus 53% of males. Traditionally, the only way women got in on the action was by playing the dreaded villainess. But now it's the women who are kicking butt and saving the day. There's The WB Network's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," an hour-long show that follows the adventures of a miniskirted-and-halter-topped high-schooler who battles vampires, witches, giant insects, and other icky things. And she does a lot of it, because the town she recently moved to just happens to be right on top of a so-called hell mouth, a portal to the netherworld. On the big screen, Demi Moore takes on the U.S. Marines in GI Jane and Sigourney Weaver will team with Winona Ryder to once again whup some extraterrestrial butt in the fourth installment of the Alien franchise. And Uma Thurman will step into Diana Rigg's thigh-high boots to play Emma Peel in a new flick based on the '60s spy series, "The Avengers." "You haven't seen women in these kinds of roles before and you're going to be seeing more and more of it. This is not going to go away," said Anne Marshall, principal at Woman Trend, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm that specializes in marketing to female consumers. "Hollywood marketers see an opportunity." Even in movies with a male lead are getting a dose of chick power. An ad for the recent Jackie Chan movie, Operation Condor, shows the superstar surrounded by two very curvaceous women. The headline reads, "On his most dangerous mission ever, the world's toughest secret agent isn't going in alone." In December, the latest James Bond flick will feature the spy getting some assistance from Supercop star Michelle Yeoh (whom Rolling Stone recently named "hottest ass-kicking babe"). Mainstream marketers have wasted little time attaching themselves to the trend. An ad for a Diesel store's "cut to fit" sale, for example, shows a woman karate-chopping a wooden table in half. A recent Coca-Cola ad used kitschy Roy Lichtenstein-style animation to show a mom who goes to great lengths -- transforming herself into a super-heroine and leaping tall buildings -- just to get her kids some soda. Other marketers are opting to hook up with established heroines through licensing and promotional deals. This summer, for example, the kids' meals at Carl's Jr. included a toy from "Xena: The Warrior Princess." About to enter its third season, "Xena" stars Lucy Lawless as a leather-and-metal-clad crusader who vanquishes evil-doers with everything from kicks to airborne somersaults. Then there's Xena's trusty "chakram," a sort of razor-sharp Frisbee that she somehow can hurl with absurd accuracy to slice and dice her foes, and of course, her trademark "yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" battle cry. The show now regularly beats out the muscle-bound sibling from which it was spun off, "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," in viewership. The success of "Xena" has spawned a bevy of licensed goods, including T-shirts, mugs, action figures, and a CD-ROM. On the Web, there are more than 60 sites devoted to the mighty princess as well as an International Association of Xena Studies. And Universal Studios' theme park in Orlando, Fla., recently unveiled a Hercules and Xena attraction. This fall, the duo will appear in their own direct-to-video cartoon, supported with print and radio ads, an on-air sweepstakes, personal appearances by the two stars, and even ads on school-lunch menus. Tropicana signed on, offering a $ 3 rebate with purchases of its new Bursters juice blend and Topps Comics books will feature ads in all of its titles, including its new glossy mag devoted to Xena. Much like other cult faves such as "Pee-Wee's Playhouse," "Xena" operates on two levels. For kids, the show offers relatively harmless, comic-book style action along with a nice, good-versus-evil morality tale. Older fans dig the action too, but they also appreciate the show's slightly bawdy tone. It's that audience that Universal is looking to tap with a newly expanded line of licensed goods, including greeting cards, collector plates, and even a version of Xena's chakram mounted in stone. Other items reportedly under consideration include Xena-themed fashions, make-up, and exercise equipment. Tim Rothwell, senior vice president-domestic sales at Universal, is trying to break out of the standard categories associated with female properties. "People are used to Barbie, who's always sweet," he said. "Xena is a take-charge kind of woman. A lot of girls and women identify with that. We realize that and we're trying to truly capitalize on that by positioning Xena as a powerful woman." "There's a huge audience that would like to see more of a trend to female action heroes," Rothwell said. "Studios are waking up. There's certainly a female audience for shows they can relate to and Xena does a lot of things women would like to do." As for the men, Rothwell predicted Xena eventually would have her way with them: "They have no choice. She'll get out her chakram," Rothwell said. Elliot Lederman, Universal's senior director of licensing, said "boys welcome Xena" and notes that the show boasts an equal share of boys and girls 8 and up, which he attributes to the fact that the character "isn't positioned at girls at all. It's focused on boys. Although Xena is obviously a female, if we positioned it more as a girls' property, that would turn off boys. But if we position it more as a boy's property, we can still capture the girls." Despite the popularity of Xena, Lederman said, don't expect a rash of female Rambos anytime soon. "There hasn't been a successful female action hero since Wonder Woman," Lederman said. "Other studios have tried to create them, but Xena is the first successful one and it's going to be tough to follow the trend." For years, the mostly male ranks of entertainment marketers argued that audiences, particularly men, would find female action heroes lacking in credibility. "That's what we were scared of -- that no one would take seriously the idea of this blonde kicking vampire butt," said Lew Goldstein, who along with Bob Bibb, is in charge of marketing The WB's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer." Indeed, focus group research revealed that viewers frowned on Buffy's initial reluctance to trade in her pompons for a wooden stake. The character's believability was further besmirched by the fact that the show was based on a more lighthearted, fluffier flick of the same name. "This Buffy is savvier and the show is much more serious," said Bibb. But it's not so dramarama that there's not room for a little humor. Even the show's more violent scenes -- the one where a cheerleader spontaneously combusts, for instance -- are more likely to have viewers smirking than shrieking. Still, Bibb and Goldstein wanted to "stress the action and the dark surprises," so when it came to creating an ad tagline, they eliminated tongue-in-cheek ones such as "In the war against evil, the stakes have just been raised." Finally, they settled on the tag, "For each generation, there is only one slayer." The marketers thought the campaign would identify "Buffy" as an all-female property, but ironically, the network discovered the show's audience was skewing male. The network concluded that the show had "more action and violence, albeit surreal, than women want," said Goldstein. So for the upcoming season, the series will be "marketed and positioned as a dark and gothic Ann Rice-style romance" between Buffy and Angel, a brooding-and-buff guy who just happens to be the only vampire with a soul. But The WB isn't planning a total wuss-out: "There's still enough danger for men and Angel is a vampire." Also aware that "men have another option called football," the network will try to accommodate male viewers by repeating the Monday night broadcast on the following Sunday. Our fearless slayer has yet to take the plunge into consumer promotions or licensing, although Bibb and Goldstein hinted there was an deal in the works. Buffy did participate in a WB promotion with En Vogue last season, and Goldstein said Elektra and other Warner record labels have expressed interest in "Buffy" tie-ins. Alternapop band Nerf Herder is already featured in the opening credits and gets a nice little plug from a sticker inside one of the character's lockers. Buffy's ratings remain small by Big Four standards, but the show is giving The WB its highest numbers yet. The hope is that it could be the one that transforms the upstart into a viable network. That's right -- not only are these heroines supposed to save the world, they're also responsible for bringing in new business. In the case of the already established Batman movie franchise, for example, industry insiders say the addition of Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl was designed to extend the movie's appeal to more women. The hype was astounding. Print ads featured her prominently. Warner Bros. Studio Stores were festooned with pics of Silverstone "as the brave and daring Batgirl" and a promotional "Gotham TV" reel proclaimed her "the first-ever teenage superheroine." Batgirl merchandise sold there and elsewhere ranged from baby-doll T-shirts to a $ 32 pewter figurine. As part of a tie-in with Taco Bell, there was a souvenir Batgirl soft-drink cup, and Toys R Us gave away Batgirl comic books. Hasbro's hopes ran high for Batgirl to become its best-selling female action figure. The relatively poor performance of the movie makes it a tough call on her success, but Marketing Evaluations reports below-average Q Scores for the character, in both film and comic book incarnations. Female action heroes tend to score lower, said Henry Schafer, Marketing Evaluations' executive vice president. "Male action heroes tend to be more recognized and popular and have longer staying power," he said. If the idea is to use them to pull in more women, Schafer added, entertainment marketers need to do a better job. "There's been no concerted effort to market action heroes to women, which is not to say that it's not doable, it just hasn't been done. Action heroes -- whether they're female or male -- have always been targeted to males," he said. "The attractiveness of the characters and the way they're clothed make them more appealing to men." And if, as in the case of Buffy (who doesn't have a Q Score yet), marketers try to change the character's positioning to appeal to women, "they have to keep it in balance with the male appeal," he said. "It's a delicate issue. If they soften the character too much, it could push away the male audience." It may be a generational thing. Marketing consultant Sid Good said he sees a growing acceptance of female action heroes among kids. "It started with properties like Power Rangers" that included girls in the line-up, he said. "And the more kids see girls or women in these roles and getting equal billing with the guys, slowly but surely, it will be just as appropriate to have female action figures." GRAPHIC: Pictures 1 through 3, Move over Superman, marketers are promoting a new generation of female action heroes, including warrior princess Xena, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and an all-new-for-the-'7; Picture 4, As part of the promotional blitz surrounding the debut of Batgirl in the Batman film franchise, Toys R Us released a replica of the comic book that originally heralded her arrival.; Picture 5, Ads for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" are designed to stress the action and dark surprises, rather than the show's tongue-in-cheek humor.
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