Special Report: Licensing International ’97: LCI is looking for a few good Mr. men licensees

The term 'licensing partnerships' has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job...
June 1, 1997

The term ‘licensing partnerships’ has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job functions.

In our special report on licensing and merchandising, we trace the evolution of a number of licensing programs as they developed within leading studios. Each story begins when the licensing and merchandising departments first became involved in a property and then tracks the campaign as licensing and promotional partners join in culminating in the presentation of the property at Licensing ’97 International in New York.

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Leisure Concepts, Inc. (LCI), the licensing division of 4Kids Entertainment, is conducting the merchandising program for the FCC-friendly series Mr. Men, a weekday strip debuting in September in over 90 percent of U.S. markets.

Mr. Men follows the antics of a collection of colorful characters who represent different personality traits. The show is based on the award-winning book series by Roger Hargreaves, which has sold over 150 million copies and has generated over US$1 billion in retail sales worldwide.

LCI hopes that Mr. Men will emulate the successful publishing-to-television transition of such book series as Goosebumps and Arthur. ‘We’re hanging our hat on the success of Goosebumps,’ says Al Kahn, chairman and CEO of 4Kids Entertainment. ‘To licensees, we’re not promoting this as a book series from England, but that it has sold 150 million books.’

Kahn’s Mr. Men licensing strategy is to nurture the property at mid- to upper-tier retailers, such as JCPenney. With the exception of certain key categories, such as toys, LCI will initially keep out of mass-market stores. Kahn believes that mid-tier retailers are more patient at brand building than their mass-market counterparts, which generally try to capitalize on hot properties for short periods of time.

‘This property is 25 years old and is seen as a brand in Europe,’ says Kahn. ‘It’s gotten stronger and stronger there, and we want to give it the same opportunity here.’

According to Kahn, Mr. Men stands an excellent chance for retail success given its exposure from broadcast and built-in awareness from the book series. ‘We believe that this has a very long life cycle. Our position is to build it and not over-proliferate the marketplace.’

How the campaign started:

Fourth quarter 1996 (one year ahead of the show’s 1997 air date)

Lengthy negotiations by 4Kids Entertainment to acquire the U.S. programming and merchandising rights to 105 five-minute Mr. Men cartoons are completed.

As these discussions take place, LCI simultaneously prospects for a master toy licensee. ‘We don’t do anything unless it incorporates licensing, because that’s the nature of the beast of kids television today,’ says Kahn, noting the prohibitive production costs and shrinking ad dollars of the current market.

First Licensee

In February 1997, LCI signs Playmates as the master toy licensee for Mr. Men because the toy company shows that it is committed to developing properties that appeal to younger, gender-neutral audiences and is willing to take a risk on a relatively unknown entity. ‘Many of the more established companies in this category are not necessarily anxious to take on licenses unless [the programs] are dramatically successful,’ says Kahn. ‘We had to look for a company that was prepared to do some investment spending with us in terms of building awareness.’

Having no master toy licensee would have made the series a hard sell in the barter-syndication market. ‘The toy position dictates to a great extent how successful the property is perceived to be,’ says Kahn.

Other Licensees

Beginning in February 1997 to April 1997, LCI announces several key licensees, including: Price Stern Sloan Books (publishing), Tiger Electronics (LCD games and electronic toys), Springs Industries (bedding), Ross Sportswear (apparel), Kid Duds Manufacturing (sleepwear), Fun 4 All (key chains and magnets), Hope Industries (watches), Jolly Roger Amusements (kiddie rides), Norben Products (Halloween costumes), Hamilton Rubber Stamp (rubber stamps).

LCI is still negotiating a home video deal. Home video, Kahn believes, is vital to reinforce the TV experience and to increase children’s desire for other Mr. Men products.

Toys will be available in the marketplace in July, followed by apparel for back to school in August. Other licensed product will roll out over the fourth quarter.

‘We’re looking for partners for the long pull,’ says Kahn. ‘We’re not looking for every little category that could be licensed. What we’ve granted in many cases are fairly broad category rights. Ross Sportswear has the equivalent of a master apparel license.’

Promotional Partners

At press time, LCI had not consummated any deals with promotional partners, although it reports that there has been ‘dramatic interest’ in the property. Kahn hopes to have promotional partners in publishing, fast food and packaged goods finalized by the Licensing Show.

‘The beauty of a television show is that it runs for 52 weeks,’ he says. ‘We’re not in a rush to get everything out the moment it starts.’

The Promotional Campaign

LCI has developed a three-pronged promotional campaign to launch Mr. Men. It will conduct a promotion nationally on a station-by-station basis, offering prizes (supplied by licensees) to kids who send in responses on postcards identifying things they’ve seen on the show. It will sponsor a national tour utilizing the show’s characters for local events in major media markets. And LCI will run a tune-in campaign, airing promotional spots on stations broadcasting the series and on other highly rated kids stations.

At the Licensing Show

Mr. Men will be a priority for LCI at the Licensing Show. Kahn will emphasize the long-term potential and the Goosebumps-like qualities that the property offers.

Kahn wants to get the message across that Mr. Men will work best as a long-term property. He believes there is a misperception among retailers that consumers tire of things quickly, whereas, in reality, the consumer isn’t given the chance to make choices. ‘You have to have patience. Good things can be built into better things if the licensees, the retailers and the licensor have the stomach to do it. [If not], we end up running from peaks to valleys, and that d’esn’t bode well for anyone.’

Air date: September 1997

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