It is very easy to think that character design alone determines the success and failure of a character brand and how many licensing and merchandising deals it can garner. In actuality, the very first criteria for merchandising opportunities is mass exposure before anything else. Licensing agents and manufacturing companies are often opposed to taking on properties that look nice but do not have mass exposure.
Presuming we have achieved popularity for a certain character brand (for example Dandy the Lion), we have won 70% of the battle with the licensing people. They would have been convinced that Dandy the Lion is worth licensing. These are really our first customers. We need them to feel Dandy the Lion is worth licensing before they will take it to market.
The next hurdle we have to cross would be the end consumers – our secondary customers. They are the ones who determine the longevity of our brand and the real buyers who will convince the licensing business people that Dandy the Lion is worth licensing and worth continuing to license. Their purchasing rhythm, power and frequency will determine how long more W&W products can continued to be licensed.
Now, there are many categories of merchandise on the market as far as character brands are concerned.
Just to name a few:
– plush toys
– wooden toys
– children wear
– storybooks and activity books
– video games
– electronic toys
– animation products
– product endorsements
– eg. breakfast cereal, snacks, baby food etc
– store concepts and franchises
– and more
Very few character brands have been able to clinch a licensing deal for every single category listed up here – with the exception of perhaps some of Disney’s top characters and Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, and this was probably due to their own investments. It is nearly impossible to hope to have licenses for every single category even if you are a top brand. Besides luck and finding suitable partners, there is also the brand positioning factor to consider. This is due to the fact that not every character brand is suitable to be licensed for every category. It all boils down to brand recognition and identity.
For example, The Simpsons is extremely famous and popular but would it ever be licensed for an educational product? I doubt so. Parents would not associate something like The Simpsons to be educational, unless it was licensed creatively to give a twist to the educational factor.
With the above establishment of licensing and merchandising on a broad aspect, I would now like to discuss briefly how to determine if a character can and will be licensed from 2 perspectives – the business perspective and the visual perspective.
1. How to determine if a character brand is distinctive enough for merchandising from a business point of view?
Any character brand will be distinctive and attractive enough for the licensing people to license as long as it has achieved enough exposure. I would like to use Mr. Bean as an example here. Mr. Bean doesn’t look good. In fact in my opinion he’s downright ugly! But he has achieved enough exposure around the globe for the licensing people to pick him up and plaster his cartoon double on all sorts of products. The same can be said for so many other character brands found on the market today.
2. How to determine if a character brand is distinctive enough for merchandising from a visual point of view?
As mentioned above, it will be difficult to create a character design that can fit every every single category due to the fact that there are brand positioning issues to consider. However it is quite possible on the merit of character design alone to create a design that will fit most categories. However, I would like to mention that character designs only make up the foundation of the licensed merchandise. A lot more depends on how the manufacturers use the designs with their products. This goes into the brand assurance and product integrity strategies which a licensor will have to implement to ensure the integrity of the character brands.