A symbiotic relationship

Toys and licensing have always had a natural kind of fit, with each helping drive the other?s business and bringing in large amounts of sales. Roland Earl, director general of the BTHA, explains why and offers some pointers on how to make this special relationship work to the best advantage?
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The toy and licensing industries started to interact with each other more than 50 years ago, when Sir Stanley ‘Wizard of Dribble’ Matthews ‘recommended’ New Footy Table Soccer and, since then, a much closer relationship has developed between the two, much to the financial benefit of both sides.

More than 25 per cent of toys (by value) sold in the UK these days are character licences in one shape or form. The relationships between the licensing and toy businesses are well established and important for both sectors. About ten per cent of all attendees to Toy Fair are licensors and over 40 per cent of all visitors to Brand Licensing Europe are interested in toys.

Richard Hollis, head of licensing at BBC Worldwide, has been quoted (in The Licensing Source Book Europe Autumn 2008) as saying licensed product does three things: “It extends the narrative, it offers play potential or it demonstrates allegiance”. The reason that toys in particular are such a powerful product partner for so many licences is because – when made well – they can perform all three of these functions.

There is, of course, great potential for licensed toys to succeed, often for many years, with customers. It is important, however, that newcomers to the licensing industry are aware that simply applying a licence to a toy is by no means a guarantee for success. In fact, the same commercial pitfalls exist for licensed toys as they do for any toys. And sometimes there are even greater risks associated with launching a licensed toy, as children’s tastes are so hard to predict and change rapidly.

There is a risk that manufacturers could become reliant to a certain degree on influences outside their control: the success of the brand, the marketing behind that brand and the assumption that kids will still be in love with the brand when the toys hit the market. Equally, there is a risk for licensors in their selection of toy categories and partners.

Having said that, there are processes that manufacturers can follow and questions they can ask to help them create a successful toy and partnership.

For licensed toys to work well for all parties, they must use the licence sensitively, appropriately and creatively. Manufacturers need to be sensitive to the brand, the tastes of the child and the perception and approval of parents.

The toy must be as appealing to the child as the brand they are buying into.

Choose a licence that’s right for your company and your buyers: the right fit can make for a great toy, played with by children and appreciated by parents. The wrong one can cause problems for both sides, including simply not selling. In such a competitive market, even great fits don’t always sell well.

A licence can manifest itself in many different ways through toys – from action figures and collectibles for children, through to board games for all the family. Licences can cross the adult/child market very effectively – parents often like characters they remember from their youth and these can transcend the generations.

Use the existing IP as effectively as possible. For example, you may wish to take a literal transposition of the licence where players can effectively recreate the storyline of a film, comic, book or television programme where the licence was sourced.

Use your imagination and work with partners to stretch the possibilities for the licensed plaything you create. It is possible to develop a very different take on the original licence if you think it will work better with your product and your customers. For example, you could use popular characters in a different way to attract customers to take a fresh look at an activity – anything from crafts to bicycles.

Be creative in thinking of ways as to how the application of the licence may enhance the play value in your toys.

Licensors and toy makers are all welcome to this year’s Toy Fair, which takes place from January 28th-31st at ExCeL in London. To register for a visitor pass, please visit www.toyfair.co.uk.


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