INTERVIEW: Mind Candy

Head of licensing Darran Garnham (left) and senior consumer products manager Sam Ferguson (right) reveal how they?re growing the Moshi Monsters brand even further with Poppet.
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Why licence out the Poppet Moshi Monster in particular and how big do you think it can become?

Garnham: I don’t know if it’s being ignorant or arrogant, but it’s retailer feedback – those who are selling Poppet merchandise. They said it was starting to sell neck-and-neck with Hello Kitty.

For us that was the penny-drop moment where we realised we’ve actually got something pretty special here. We’ve been internally building a whole new girls’ IP, but we’ve got a hero character that millions of kids already know. So why are we trying to reinvent something when we’ve already got it?

The first product will roll out in spring/summer next year and it’s looking incredible. We’ve got a whole Poppet range and style guide that was on show at Brand Licensing Europe.

Within some of the skus, we’ve got some backpacks with Poppet on, and a range of watches. Poppet was selling 52 per cent of the [Moshi] watches in Argos and that’s 52 per cent of the six characters on offer, so that’s a massive weight. We’ve got hair clips and all these other Poppet products that were sitting beside Disney Princess and Hello Kitty, and it was a retailer-led discussion looking at how can we get more of this character. We’re not going to go high and hard, we want it to look really cool.

Ferguson: We’re in such a lovely position where we’re going to retailers, and they’re saying, you know what, you should look in this space.

Working backwards from retailer to licensee is better for all. It’s a great position to be in.

Garnham: On the flipside of that, we’ll be growing some key Moshi characters on the boys side too. We’re still toying with the new IP we’ve got down here in terms of which direction we take it in terms of character base. It’s more boy-skewed while Moshi is more girl-skewed.

Why develop a new property to sit alongside Moshi?

Garnham: We’re big fans of Pixar and Michael [Acton Smith, Mind Candy’s CEO] very kindly took a dozen or so of us to San Francisco to visit them earlier this year.

When you’re in the atrium at Pixar, and you look around and you’ve got Cars, Toy Story, all these franchises. And that’s what we want to become – a company that has franchises.

Moshi will always be our Mickey Mouse but it is important to have other irons in the fire and other brands to have a look at.

When will your new brand launch? How’s it going?

It’s our difficult second album, isn’t it? I call it our Duffy (laughs). It has to be right. We could have launched it six months ago, but we didn’t, and I’m pleased we didn’t because we’ve made a few incredible tweaks. It’s more skewed towards boys and it’s more action-packed. It goes into a very toyetic space that is tried and tested for decades, so it’s really exciting.

Are we talking action figures?

Potentially... for consumer products [the new IP will arrive in] 2014. For launch we’ve been trying to get it out for the end of this year. We’ve had kids testing it but it’s not quite there yet. It’s close.

What about the inevitable Moshi Monsters TV show or cartoon? I assume you must have had TV stations approach you?

Yeah. I sound old fashioned, but the minute you go traditional then you’ve got a commissioning editor that can take you off air. At the moment we control our content.

Moshi is on air 365 days a year. Kids can log in anywhere in the world. So we will have animation but it will be shown on Moshi TV, in the game and then a week later it will go onto our YouTube channel. But never say never.

Michael let the cat out of the bag that we’re going to be doing a direct- to-DVD movie for next year.

That’s another one of my key projects at the moment – I’m just finalising our global distributor for the DVD.

And again, the movie, like our magazine, will be produced in-house. We are working with the two biggest global distributors in the entertainment space.

We had the opportunity to go on the big screen, but I think we did the right thing by not going theatrical on the first wave.

We will have theatrical premieres in the UK, the US and Australia. But it will be a DVD.

We’re working on a product that will be sold with the DVD, or separately to the DVD, but will have some interactivity, so it’s really cool.


Mind Candy, with offices in London (pictured above), New York and Los Angeles, is evolving. Garnham says: “When I joined we were a digital online gaming company, but we’re developing more into an entertainment company”

You generated over $100m in total gross retail sales in 2011. Do you expect to generate more this year? 

Yes, we’re up. We’ll definitely be up because of more product going into the market and the shelf space.

How are you going about taking the Moshi brand worldwide?

We’ve signed a mobile agreement with Gree and it’s part of that agreement that Gree will launch Moshi into certain Asian markets in the middle of next year. So it’s about us as a consumer products team making sure that we have our foundations in place for that game launch before we actually bring MoshiMonsters.com into that language.

We’re also focusing on Latin America and Spain. We’ve also got Spanish Moshi. Spanish is the first non-English language that we’ve localised the brand in, and we now have more localisation plans.

Will you ever licence a toy that has a higher, £60-plus price point?

The Treehouse was our flagship product from Vivid and that was £24.99. We sold a couple hundred thousand of those.

This year we’ve got more flagship product like the App Monster coming out, which is £20. We are working on a toy product that will be slightly more expensive, but it’s very

smart technology. For me it’s a real head scratcher – when I was talking to the developer, we could have gone very heavy and charged a high fee, but that would have taken the price point for that item quite high.

The real challenge is on Boxing Day – is that going to be 25 per cent off? Or in the January sales will it be 40 per cent off? Then you’re clearing it out.

Ferguson: Ultimately Moshi Monsters is free-to-play online. So the consumer products need to reach all of our Moshi fans, regardless of price points, and especially in the times we’re in.

We need to have an attainable price point, that mums and dads won’t feel will break the bank, but will allow them to buy into the brand.

What do you think about increased competition?

I’ve been in this long enough to know that competition is good. You’ve just got to make sure your stuff is better than the rest – it’s as simple as that. We’ve got a very loyal fanbase and retailers that are loyal to us as well. Obviously now they’re looking for the next big thing.

It’s just making sure we have the best product.

Somebody said to me: “Who’s your biggest competitor?” And I honestly don’t think we’ve met them yet. The ones that are out there now – Club Penguin and Bin Weevils – are great because we know who they’re signing and what partners they have. But it’s the next Angry Birds that is potentially our biggest threat. And that could be some university student doing it as a project. And that’s why we’re looking for those new things as well. But we’ve got such a rich in- house IP slate coming through we’ve not had to look elsewhere.

It’s been an incredible few years for Moshi Monsters. How has it fared in the past 12 months?

Garnham: If you look at the growth of the company, it’s been an explosion. For the consumer products and licensing team, we’ve gone from probably two of us maybe three of us this time last year, to 14 of us, with offices in London, New York and LA.

We became the number one licensed toy brand in the UK (NPD June/July data), and it’s just about keeping us up there as long as we can, really.

And where would you like to see yourselves in five years time?

I joined we were a gaming company, a digital online gaming company. We’ve now morphed into content, into music, into publishing, so I think we’ll develop more into an entertainment company.

Poppet is getting a big licensing push (above).

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