EXCLUSIVE: Bulldog Licensing – creating brands from toys

After years of toys and games being a key licensed product category, Bulldog Licensing has been establishing an alternative model for the licensing industry since 2008, making toy brands into successful licensors, and creating wide-ranging consumer products programmes based on them. Kiran Grewal chatted to MD Rob Corney to find out more.

The first major toy brand which Bulldog Licensing brought to market was the hugely successful Gogo’s Crazy Bones property back in 2008. Since then, the agency has gone on to create consumer merchandise programmes based on a wide range of toy brands, from Shopkins to Kindi Kids, and more recently has launched a licensing programme for the market’s hottest new toy, Magic Mixies.

Rob Corney, MD, Bulldog Licensing, explains: “Bulldog has delivered some of the industry’s biggest toy licensing programmes. From Gogo’s Crazy Bones, which broke new ground in proving that a small collectable, with no media, could drive a chart-topping licensing programme, to Shopkins, which dominated the girls’ sector across all major licensed sectors for years, Bulldog has become the home of the great brands in this area.”

Working with the licensor Magic Box back in 2008, Bulldog represented the global rights to Gogo’s Crazy Bones, which grew from a series of collectable mini figures to become one of the world’s biggest licensed brands, coming runner-up in LIMA’s Licensing Programme of the Year in 2009.

Rob continues: “The difference for us was taking a property (pre-mass digital media age) from the shelves and creating a character brand from its assets. Realising that brand presence at point of sale throughout the toy and CTN/kiosk market equated to huge brand visibility, we turned the metrics on their head. Instead of pitching a brand based on numbers of viewers on screen, we pitched based on visibility at retail, and worked with the licensor to develop character personalities and designs around the figures which had the most prominence in the adverts and packaging.”

It was a novel approach for the market whose currency, at that time, was largely based upon TV stats. Despite some hesitancy from the industry at first, Bulldog made the Gogo’s Crazy Bones licensing programme a huge success and it rose to the top of the charts across categories as diverse as apparel, publishing, wheeled toys and confectionery.

“The programme delivered one of the most powerful retail properties of its time,” Rob explains, “and paved the way for the future of toys and collectables licensing around the world.”

14 years later, and the licensing of toy properties has changed significantly. The advent of YouTube and social media platforms has meant that toy properties are able to react quickly to market demands and develop characteristics and brand attributes almost instantly, enabling them to create brands which can then be licensed.

Rob furthers: “Major toy companies now bring properties to market with an entire universe of personality and character interaction planned into the concept. Successful toy licensing is now made possible by the repositioning of toy companies to become brand owners – they no longer simply conceptualise a great play product, but rather an entire world of complementary assets to entertain the audience in every area.”

With its past experience in licensing toy brands, Bulldog has developed a reputation for picking properties that really work outside of their core competencies. Rob continues: “Having great licensors is key to all brands, but never more so than in toy licensing. Working with Moose has really demonstrated the scale of opportunity possible when a truly creative company has great market presence.

“Moose Toys’ ability to drive consumer interest through truly incredible product such as Magic Mixies, delivers exciting new worlds to consumers, which are then enhanced through content and a pipeline of innovation, enabling licensees to take the brand values and characters into new worlds of entertainment, and enhance the fun across all appropriate product areas.”

However, a note of caution should be made. Not all toy properties work when it comes to leading a licensing programme. Rob believes there are some key factors which ensure a brand is fit for a licensing purpose. The first is brand currency. “Reach is a crucial element – what scale of audience a brand can reach is vital, but reach is not everything,” explains Rob. “If it were, there would be huge licensing programmes behind BBC Breakfast.

“An ability to entertain the audience is central to any licensed brand – toy or otherwise. We are asking the end consumer to take a social risk, to literally wear on their sleeve the brand that we represent: to say to their friends that they belong to the group of people that think x is great. So we need to make sure it is great in order to reduce the social risk of their decision.”

Also imperative is scalability. If a property is only relevant in a couple of areas, it’s unlikely to work as a licensed brand.

As with any brand being considered for licensing, toy brands need to meet a number of other criteria including the time to market, the product mix, where is sits at retail, what its competition is, and much much more. Rob explains his selection process: “At Bulldog, we interrogate every brand opportunity with 37 questions prior to considering whether or not is should be in our portfolio. It is difficult to get into our agency, and it should be.

“Licensees, retailers and consumers should know that the brand representative has taken on that role of ensuring a brand is fit for purpose before it is ever presented and it is not just thrown at the market in the hope something might stick. That is true for all brands, including toys. The toy brands which have been successful in licensing have displayed those key tenets behind successful licensing in all categories. The key is to understand those metrics and know where to find them (and where not!).

Looking ahead, Bulldog has another key toy brand ready for the licensing arena in 2022. Rob outlines: “Working with Moose Toys, Bulldog is once again putting together one of the most exciting programmes for the new brand, Magic Mixies. Delivering staggering sales already, Magic Mixies was the must-have Christmas toy for 2021 and has amazing brand development plans for 2022 and beyond.

“Mixies has the opportunity to dominate the charts for licensed toy brands and, having launched the opportunity at BLE ’21, we are already closing agreements in all key categories with retail driving the demand.”

This feature appeared in the January/February issue of ToyNews. Read it here.



About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and babycentre.co.uk. Get in touch at tessa.clayton@biz-media.co.uk

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