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.

5 comments about "Will Digital Media Properties Dominate Licensing? ".
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  1. Jenifer Kramer from Jenerosity Marketing, March 14, 2013 at 7:48 p.m.

    Interesting article, Ted, but I would argue that video game licensing has been around a lot longer than Angry Birds. Nintendo has had a licensing program for many of their characters for years and what about Pokemon which was initially a role-playing videogame? You've also got Halo, Tomb Raider and quite a few others. The fact that Angry Birds has taken off the way it has, I think, is due to the fact that casual gaming is so affordable for the masses whereas a lot of the older game franchises were either too expensive or too specialized for a specific target audience. Your thoughts?

  2. Ted Mininni from Design Force, Inc., March 16, 2013 at 1:52 p.m.

    Good insights, Jenifer. Thanks for commenting on my article. The digital game properties you've cited have had success with licensing – but a property like Pokemon was hot for a time, and then fell off. My point about Angry Birds is that the transmedia marketing approach the brand owners have taken might give it more staying power as a top licensed property for the long haul. The fact that this property emerged from a digital game is incidental. Since the games you mentioned emerged, think of all the social media platforms that have populated the Internet. "Annoying Orange", for example, has created a sensation and it emerged from You Tube. Yet, it hasn't accomplished what Angry Birds has managed to do. Hot new properties can come from a growing number of social media outlets like Facebook and sites featuring creative work like Behance, which my own consultancy uses.

    There's more competition than ever in the digital sphere; more properties than ever clamoring for attention. The question is: for the ones that see a huge rise in popularity, how do the brand owners keep it fresh and relevant? How do they develop their characters to ensure longevity as they continue to compete for mindshare among an increasing number of properties – digital and traditional?

  3. Jenifer Kramer from Jenerosity Marketing, March 19, 2013 at 1:34 a.m.

    Actually, Pokemon is still pretty popular with boys though more as an evergreen property at this point vs. a runaway hit like Angry Birds. I think the key to brand longevity is actually constantly working to renew the brand and creating new brand extensions, artwork, themes, etc. to keep the brand fresh and relevant. To your point in the original article, look at Hello Kitty. That's a brand that is enormously popular yet it has been around for well over 30 years. Sanrio just figured out how to continue to refresh the character with new outfits, color ways, etc. to keep things interesting. With regards to Angry Birds, I do think it is quite the phenomenon now but it isn't yet proven that it will last for the long haul. Only time will tell, but in the meantime, yes, I agree that you need to have a long-term strategy and marketing plan to keep the brand interesting and in demand.

  4. Ted Mininni from Design Force, Inc., March 19, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

    I totally agree, Jenifer. Pokemon has been around for a long time. No doubt about it. It's actually being pushed in new licensing agreements lately in an effort to recapture the power it had when it was at the height of its popularity. But it has always had a loyal group of followers. Sanrio's Hello Kitty, on the other hand, has always been nurtured to remain relevant and contemporary. The property has enjoyed continued growth with new licensed consumer products in the marketplace. And, it continues to be a dominant entertainment property as a result. As for Angry Birds, the only way the property will have this kind of staying power is if the brand owners take a page from Disney, Marvel and Sanrio, among others, and establishes sound marketing strategies and effective licensing agreements. Thanks, Jenifer. I've really enjoyed our conversation here.

  5. Jenifer Kramer from Jenerosity Marketing, March 19, 2013 at 12:20 p.m.

    Thanks so much, Ted. Likewise!

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