Kids software business slow to build brands

Next to their counterparts in other areas of the kids business, children's software companies have been slow to take a branded approach to their original products and to explore opportunities for these brands outside of the software arena. The relatively young...
May 1, 1998

Next to their counterparts in other areas of the kids business, children’s software companies have been slow to take a branded approach to their original products and to explore opportunities for these brands outside of the software arena. The relatively young industry, which has experienced major shifts and upheavals in the last few years, appears to be reaching mass-market status as more families buy computers, fueling demand for software titles.

Whether creating a brand based on original interactive characters or developing a brand based on the company’s name, children’s software companies are searching for ways to rise above the clutter of children’s interactive titles in the marketplace.

At Humongous Entertainment, the approach to branding is to expose its original characters in a variety of media. It’s been a slow process. In early 1997, Humongous Entertainment partnered with Lancit Media Entertainment to produce a television series based on Humongous’ original CD-ROM characters, including Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam. The company hopes to air a pilot episode this fall, but no network or channel has been confirmed. Further exposure of Humongous’ characters in the marketplace includes Freddi Fish and Putt-Putt jigsaw puzzles, currently available in the U.S. from the Great American Puzzle Factory. Mini-plush versions of the Putt-Putt, Freddi Fish and Pajama Sam characters, to be produced by Bensussen, Deutsch and Associates, are also in the works.

For Ralph Guiffre, executive vice president of marketing and licensing at Humongous, the past year’s activities are all part of the plan to build a children’s brand based on the name and logo of Humongous Entertainment. ‘It just so happened that the first venue for our properties was CD-ROMs, but they will be on TV [and] in all kinds of other merchandise, so within a couple of years, when someone comes upon a Humongous product, they won’t know whether they saw it first on TV or it was a CD-ROM.’

In addition to efforts surrounding its original characters, Humongous, like many other children’s software companies, is looking to generate awareness of its brand by creating products based on licensed properties (see story page 59). It will launch its first title based on Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues television series at E3.

Purple Moon is aiming to build brands around its original lines, which include the Rockett series and Secret Path series of ‘friendship adventure’ CD-ROMs, aimed exclusively at girls age eight to 12. Three CD-ROM titles, available through mail order, at retail and on-line, are packaged with items such as Rockett dolls, and for the Secret Path series, adventure cards and stones. But unlike Humongous Entertainment, Purple Moon has no plans to market the dolls, cards or stones separately.

A big part of Purple Moon’s strategy is to speak to a niche audience. ‘Purple Moon is the name that we want to be associated with what it means to be an eight- to 12-year-old girl today,’ says Karen Gould, public relations manager for Purple Moon. Four years of research at Interval Research (the parent company of Purple Moon), led Brenda Laurel, co-founder of Purple Moon, to the realization that a majority of girls dislike traditional computer games, not because they find them too violent, ‘it’s just that girls find them incredibly boring. . . . They think that having to die and start over is really pointless,’ says Gould. The company will release four new titles for this audience this year.

Carmen Sandiego, who first appeared in the software title Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? from Br¿derbund Software in 1985, remains the optimum success story for an original interactive character, spawning a highly successful television series and generating discussions for a feature film by Disney, which holds film rights to the character until 1999. Laurie Strand, vice president and executive publisher at Br¿derbund Software, explains that the Carmen Sandiego character grew over a period of 13 years, very much by word of mouth among teachers in the educational system and among kids who were introduced to the title at school.

But Ed Bernstein, former director of product development at Br¿derbund, and now president of Palladium Interactive, believes that the Carmen Sandiego success could not be repeated in today’s market. ‘The primary difference is if a product doesn’t perform quickly, . . . [that is, in up to] 90 days, the product is unlikely to remain on the shelf, whereas in the Carmen Sandiego days [mid-'80s], retailers were willing to wait maybe as long as a year, because shelf space was not the precious commodity [that it is today].’ Bernstein suggests that as ‘lower-priced computers continue to proliferate, the software business will have all the factors of a mass market in place.’ As the demand for product grows with the ever-expanding consumer base, so too will the need for more original character.

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