INTERVIEW: Tim Kilpin, Mattel

Mattel?s senior vice-president of brands was in town recently for Brand Licensing Europe. Ronnie Dungan caught up with him to talk about the future direction of the firm?s new and classic properties.
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They can’t keep Tim Kilpin away from Mattel. He must love the place. Twice he has left and twice he has returned, each time with more experience and better contacts than before.

That his previous employer was Disney has undoubtedly been beneficial to the firm which has enjoyed tremendous success with Disney properties such as Cars, Wall-E, Disney Princess, Handy Manny and of course this year’s monster Toy Story 3.

But Kilpin is not just there because of his Disney connections, he’s there to grow the firm’s own existing IPs and help it create new ones.

Sitting down with ToyNews at the recent Brand Licensing Europe event he says: “The challenge for us is to really think about our brands as brands. To think more holistically and about how the audience react with them.”
Monster High is a good example. Starting with the idea of teen off-spring of classic movie monsters, the concept is now an animation and, of course, a toy line.

“We always challenge ourselves to think in five year terms,” says Kilpin. “Monster High was three years in development. There was an enormous amount of consumer testing and tweaking the characters, making sure the world made sense.

“The other challenge is to think of different ways of presenting it to our audience. We started Monster High by telling the story through webisodes through YouTube and other sites. I think it has potential for years of growth.”

Toys will always be the anchor category for the franchise, but brand extensions are already in the pipeline with a live-action movie musical scheduled for 2012.

Mattel works with a wide number of licensors and licensees and Kilpin’s talk is all about partnerships rather than one-off deals.
“We do believe the best way forward is to partner with people who have the right kind of distribution.

“We have a lot of global partners and what I see is our licences working with a wide variety of global partners. The best of our partnerships are very collaborative, we very often go to retail together.

“Even in an economy that is challenging the fact that we’ve got brands that resonate and are accessible and with great partners is a real advantage for us.”

The Barbie licensing programme has been one of the firm’s great successes. It has helped to reinforce the core doll range with extra credibility by linking up with the fashion world through the Fashionista line, and with entertainment brands such as Twilight and Mad Men, to produce special editions aimed at older collectors and enthusiasts.

Riding on the back of his show-stealing cameo in Toy Story 3, the Ken brand, if indeed there is a Ken ‘brand’, will be invigorated next year as Barbie’s on-off other half celebrates his 50th birthday.

“We knew Pixar had a vision for Ken and Barbie in the story, so we were thrilled with what they did. Bringing all the back story to light gives us more to work with.

“We’ve continued to invest in the brand so now we are seeing the fruits of that,” adds Kilpin.

So expect Ken to come roaring out of the er… closet next year and be marketed as his own man for a change. Turning him into the next must-have boys toy, might be beyond even the skills of Mattel’s brand guru, mind.

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