Teens growing into top licensing market

Licensing to teens is a hot area this year, but the trend appears to be driven more by a need for consumer awareness for film and television properties than by hopes to significantly impact the bottom line. According to studio licensing...
June 1, 1998

Licensing to teens is a hot area this year, but the trend appears to be driven more by a need for consumer awareness for film and television properties than by hopes to significantly impact the bottom line. According to studio licensing executives, the licensing of a teen property is usually not an enormous revenue source, especially when compared to television ad revenues and gross box-office sales. So, why do studios devote so much time and energy to tracking the fickle and ever-shifting tides of teen likes and dislikes to implement licensing programs that are much smaller in scope than those for younger kids? The answer lies in licensed goods’ brand extension magic.

‘Licensing [to teens] isn’t a big moneymaker for the studio,’ says Pam Newton, director of marketing at Viacom Consumer Products. ‘If you add up revenues for movies and TV shows, we pale in comparison, but licensing does a lot to support properties. It gives teens the ability to interact with the property-to extend the experience of a show,’ she notes. Newton is currently heading up the Clueless and Sabrina, The Teenage Witch licensing campaigns.

This year, the Clueless campaign moves away from last year’s apparel approach to highlight publishing, expanding the Archway Paperbacks novel series that is based on characters from the TV series. Teen television series Sabrina, The Teenage Witch will also feature a line of Archway Paperbacks novelizations at Licensing 98 International, as well as a spin-off book series called Salem’s Tales, which centers around the adventures of Sabrina’s cat. Additional Sabrina-related titles, such as the Dream Date Episode Storybook, will be published by Simon Spotlight.

CD-ROM games are at the forefront of Viacom Consumer Products’ teen lines this year, including offerings like the Clueless game from Mattel, which allows girls to experiment with fashion and makeup. The Sabrina, The Teenage Witch line introduces the magic-oriented game Spellbound from Simon & Schuster Interactive, and new Tiger Electronics products include Salem the Cat Giga Pet and Sabrina’s Psychic Crystal Ball, which contains audio messages for 100 different fortunes.

A sleeper hit with teens this year emerged with Paramount Classics series such as The Brady Bunch and Happy Days, which have been airing on Nick at Night. ‘These shows are hitting a teen audience,’ says Newton. Teen-targeted product lines were developed to target the demo, including keychains, TV magnets and other gift and novelty items.

One important distinction between teen licensing campaigns and those directed at younger kids is that teens have vastly different play patterns than their younger counterparts. ‘Teens are more selective and less interested in character merchandise. They’re into music and activities outside the home,’ says Newton.

Indeed, the wandering lifestyle of the 12 to 18 demographic makes their habits harder to tack, notes Rosanna McCollough, vice president of marketing at Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising.

McCollough, who heads up the Buffy the Vampire Slayer line-as well as the teen- and adult-targeted Simpsons campaign, to launch at Licensing 98-relied heavily on the expertise of licensees and consultants to develop both campaigns, as well as an entirely new licensing bible for The Simpsons, targeting a dual market: teens and adults. ‘You can’t approach teens without expert research,’ she notes, adding that the expertise required to score hits with teens makes the choice of partners particularly critical.

‘With Buffy, we wanted to partner with a licensee who is an expert at targeting teens,’ she says. The campaign, which started out in the gift and T-shirt categories, has added a junior fashion apparel line-an undertaking that necessitated even more advice, according to McCollough. ‘In junior fashion, you need to understand that fashion is lifestyle. We rely on a fashion consultant [who] we hired to forecast color and trends in juniors.’ Selected apparel and merchandise for both campaigns will be offered in Warner Bros. stores, and at all major department stores, adds McCollough.

As for the licensing of Titanic, which scored stellar teen attendance at the box office, McCollough warns that caution was necessary, despite the studio’s knowledge that teens would probably snap up whatever items they produced. ‘In keeping with the movie, everything we did was classic and upscale,’ she notes. As such, there will be no additional teen-oriented lines. ‘Teens placed great importance on going to see it [and] buying the soundtracks, T-shirts and posters,’ she says. ‘There’s a fine line [as to] what you can do with a tragedy.’

When it comes to sports, there’s nothing like hoops to garner a teen audience. ‘Basketball is the most popular sport in the world with teens,’ says Sal La Rocca, vice president of apparel and licensing for the NBA and the WNBA. Like merchandisers at Fox, the NBA utilizes a number of experts in order to create product lines that will be a hit with the teen demographic. Focus groups, color services that forecast colors for major apparel groups and companies known as ‘trend services’ for the apparel industry are used to determine upcoming fashions such as hemlines, use of fitted or baggy styles and other trends. ‘We work very closely with companies providing these services,’ he notes, adding that the NBA/WNBA licensing team also attends trade shows on the ski wear, surfing and outdoor industries, as well as studying current TV shows, magazines and films that are popular with teens.

‘We look to see who is advertising in magazines that teens would read, to determine who is marketing to teens,’ notes La Rocca. ‘For instance, Coke’s Sprite label has been tremendously successful in marketing to teens.’ Since Coke is already involved in promotions with the NBA, the two companies pooled their efforts to reach the teen consumer.

One primary finding of all of this research, according to La Rocca, is that teens are more inclined to do impulse shopping than adults, who tend to plan their purchases more often. This lack of previous planning when making purchases makes point-of-purchase presentation all the more important, he notes. He sees teens as a ‘more challenging’ target than other demographics. ‘You have to have the right item at the right price.’

The WNBA buyer has proven to be somewhat younger and edgier than the NBA buyer. ‘With the WNBA consumer, we see a lot of eight- to 12-year-old boys and girls, plus parents. At this age, the parents are still the preliminary and primary influence on what the kid wants to buy,’ says La Rocca. ‘Older teens are a pretty independent group [who are] making a lot of their own decisions.’

Overall, teens are an important demographic to study, says La Rocca, because they influence a larger portion of the buying community. Their buying habits indicate what older demographics are likely to buy later on.

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