MARKETING FOR THE MILLENNIUM

Byline: Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK — .
It’s not some old binary computer code. Nor is it a new TV show about the lives of teenagers in some hot ZIP code.
It is, Ken Walker hopes, a colossal marketing opportunity.
The president of Walker Group/Designs, a licensing firm, has seen the future, and it is a logo that reads , in reference to Jan. 1, 2000, the first day of the next millennium.
Walker, who also founded Walker Group CNI, an architectural firm specializing in retail planning and design, envisions the logo on caps, T-shirts, watches, luggage, knitwear and activewear. He even sees it as a corporate symbol, spelled out on Cheerios cereal box, for example.
“In my mind, the millennium is going to be the biggest event in our lifetime,” Walker said. “The fever’s already starting to build. It’s an attitudinal change, a shift in the balance of power.”
Walker said he got the idea for after reading an article about the disastrous effect the millennium will have on computers, causing systems to go haywire. He doodled the date one a piece of paper and started thinking, “That’s cool, that’ll be a brand.”
Underscoring the importance of the date, Walker stated the obvious: “We have not had a millennium in 1,000 years.” It is a key selling point of the project. Even though nitpickers will argue that the next century technically doesn’t begin until Jan. 1, 2001, the big deal in most people’s eyes will be the change from the 1900s to the 2000s.
Walker estimated sales of merchandise will exceed $250 million between now and 2000. He believes his plan is realistic, noting that the Olympics sells $600 million worth of licensed merchandise.
“An example is a watch we’ll sell for $30,” Walker said. “We’re looking at this globally. We could sell three million to four million watches.
“I assume everybody in China save for three people will wear a hat. It’s language-independent,” he said, extolling another virtue of the logo.
Walker thinks will cut through the millennium merchandise clutter that is expected as the big day approaches.
“There will be a proliferation of millennium stuff,” he said. “But first of all, nobody can spell ‘millennium,’ and ‘2000’ will become wallpaper.”
The selling opportunity for is expected to be 18 months, much longer than events like the Olympics, which has a window of only several weeks, he said.
In addition to , Walker has trademarked phrases such as “It’s Coming,” “Be There” and “Where Were You?”
Walker believes so strongly in the commercial potential of , he devoted 2 1/2 years of his life and $250,000 of his money to trademark the date.
“Of course, you can’t own it because it’s in the public domain, but where you can own it is in the applications,” he said. “I own 14 categories in which I have secured registration and trademark protection in 26 countries.”
In addition to the requisite T-shirts and caps, Walker has signed licensing agreements with some upscale brands to work into their fashionable designs. Adrienne Vittadini will do a knit collection and Nicole Miller has agreed to create ties, which will be available at 31 Nicole Miller stores in time for Christmas. Crunch will put the date on athletic wear, for sale at the New York, Los Angeles and South Beach clubs in November, Josie Natori will do sportswear, and Ferragamo plans to make scarves and ties. There is no conflict between the Miller and the Ferragamo ties, because the styles are different and Miller is selling hers through her stores only, he said.
A millennium fragrance, running shoes, jewelry, tote, china, silver, mug, party goods, toys and games are all in the planning stages. The idea lends itself to gimmicks, such as a watch with digital time and date and an alarm that goes off once and plays a very famous tune, Walker said.
Galleries Lafayette in Paris and Kaufhof in Germany have agreed to be the headquarters for the launch, said Walker, who has done design and consulting work for both stores.
Of course, knockoffs are the biggest threat to the success of . “Our only protection is to have channels of distribution prearranged,” Walker said. “If we are going in at the top with a serious program, we have the best chance of protecting ourselves.”

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