Will Digital Media Properties Dominate Licensing?
Traditionally, strong entertainment properties come from comic books, movies and television. They’ve helped to shape popular culture, and pop culture in turn, has shaped them to remain relevant. But with new phenomena like “Angry Birds,” will digital media properties dominate?
Rovio Entertainment’s “Angry Birds” property came from a digital game app that turned consumers into rabid fans globally. Taking a page from comic book marketers, “Angry Birds” brand owners understand the importance of unfolding a property via multi-media. Getting their property into a role in 20th Century Fox’s animated movie, “Rio,” was smart; bridging the gap from digital to traditional entertainment gives more dimension to the property beyond a mere game.
The meteoric rise of “Angry Birds” has further been ignited by a quick move to licensing in selected consumer product categories; initially plush, and then apparel, available online and through selected retailers. 30% of the $100 million in sales related to the property came from licensed consumer products in 2011. But is this a flash in the pan or the beginning of a new, legendary brand?
The addictive nature of the “Angry Birds” game isn’t enough for the brand to have staying power. Popularity is more fleeting with today’s growing volume of characters populating traditional and digital media. Response? Animation shorts are being created to take the characters beyond the single dimension of the game. Character development revealing the back stories, thoughts and feelings of the already iconic “Angry Birds” will deepen the relationships they enjoy with fans, ensuring continued popularity.
The ultimate goal: to create a classic brand using Disney as a blueprint. Success will depend on how relevant the characters’ stories are and how they evolve; determining whether “Angry Birds” becomes an important part of pop culture—or not. A trans-media approach: books, movies, animated series, dedicated websites, enhanced games and social media can keep the brand exciting and ever-present to its fans. Various media engages with tantalizing glimpses of new story lines and different aspects of the property that fans can share with friends.
But what are the implications for licensing? Will digital properties be more powerful than those from traditional media? Ironically, the smashing success of “Angry Birds” might have set the threshold for success high for other fan favorites like “Stardoll” or “Skylander.” Will they be as successful? It’s hard to do. Retailers and potential licensees are leery. Retail space is at a premium so only the hottest properties are considered making the cost of entry for licensors high. New properties continually compete with classic brands for shelf space.
What’s needed to convince licensees and retailers that one property is worth investing in versus another? A long-term strategy and marketing plan to keep the brand fresh. Secondly, a well-developed licensing program supported by a style guide that ensures recognition and viability at retail; that’s flexible enough to support all possible consumer product categories giving the brand a real chance to succeed. This approach builds relationships among licensors, licensees and retailers.
It takes smart brand management to maintain and attract new fans—and to become legendary. Aspiring to become the next Disney might seem too lofty a goal, but why not dream big and work at it? Nickelodeon accomplished this with its “Dora the Explorer” property; so did Sanrio with “Hello Kitty.” These entertainment brands have become classics and pop culture icons and they’re much younger than many of Disney’s classic properties. But Disney doesn’t rest on its laurels, either. “Cars,” “Toy Story” and “Princess” have vaulted into the top 10 licensed character properties, according to The Licensing Letter.
Can digital brands join the pantheon of licensing superstars? Licensing Letter experts cite that “Angry Birds” has cracked the top 20 among licensed character properties, but staying there is another matter. With increased competition emanating from more media platforms, entertainment property owners will have to manage their brands in a sophisticated manner. Well-designed marketing strategies and licensing programs are just the beginning. More deliberate choices of licensing partners and consumer product categories matter, too.
Brand owners need to consider restraint when licensing their properties. The urge to populate retail stores with licensed merchandise in too many categories can lead to overexposure and consumer fatigue; not retail success. It dilutes the value of the brand causing irreversible damage to its image in fans’ minds. This approach has even damaged strong conventional brands. Remember Dior?
When a hot new property emerges, it’s a heady experience for brand owners. It’s important to channel that exuberance into developing a solid strategy and tactics. Vision and passion alone won’t turn the next hot entertainment property into a new classic. Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Spider-Man, Winnie the Pooh and the Transformers all agree.