Branding ages down

When it comes to building kids brands, executives speak in terms of growing with a child from cradle to university. Yet when it comes to building a kid property's product offering, often the only way to grow is backward.

'It's tough...
October 1, 2000

When it comes to building kids brands, executives speak in terms of growing with a child from cradle to university. Yet when it comes to building a kid property’s product offering, often the only way to grow is backward.

‘It’s tough to `upage’ a children’s property; to make it older and broaden it that way,’ says Sue Bristol Beddingfield, group VP of marketing at Lyrick Studios. ‘We felt that one way we could broaden our audience would be to go younger.’ Now, for the first time ever, Lyrick’s famed purple dinosaur finds himself emblazoned on a collection of infant apparel.

Of course, Barney isn’t alone in Licensed Baby Land. Thomas the Tank Engine and the Sesame Street gang are also set to appear on new infant product lines, and the timing couldn’t be better.

From a market perspective, the infant and toddler apparel category has been on the upswing in terms of unit and dollar volume. According to the NPD Group, a marketing information company based in Port Washington, New York, total infant and toddler apparel sales went from US$6.9 billion in 1997 to US$7.9 billion in 1999.

From a consumer perspective, a study released in May 2000 by the NPD Group shows that mothers of children ages two and under are influenced by what their child asks for almost half of the time.

‘Our study shows that even the youngest kids recognize and respond to brands and licenses, and by the time they are 10 years old, they’re wielding considerable influence,’ says NPD Childrenswear account executive Robyn Teplansky. ‘Marketers seeking to build equity for their brands and licenses need to take this into account. Marketing plans should be geared towards both mothers and children.’

Despite evidence that supports brand and license recognition among children under two, Lyrick’s Beddingfield claims that the infant purchase is really for mom. ‘By the time the child is a toddler, then it’s the nag factor, but before that it’s about mom-not the child,’ she says.

David Jacobs, group VP and head of licensing for Gullane Entertainment, owner of the Thomas & Friends property, recognizes the influence brands are wielding with children under two, but agrees with Beddingfield that it’s more about the parents at that age. ‘There is a trend in the market where children are coming into shows and exiting shows at an earlier age than ever before,’ he says. ‘I think that you see that with programs like Teletubbies and Sesame Street. . . but when you get to apparel and bedding for infants, a lot of it just has to do with the fact that parents are starting their children out earlier on branded properties.’

Indeed, the NPD Childrenswear Licensing Report shows that the majority of the 2,519 women surveyed believe some brands are superior to others. The top 10 brand and license favorites as reported by mothers of children under two are, in order: OshKosh B’Gosh, Gap Kids/Baby Gap, Carter’s, Old Navy, Disney, Garanimals, Winnie the Pooh/Tigger, Gymboree, Health-tex and Children’s Place. Although the study shows that less than 20% of those surveyed know what brand they’ll buy before they enter a retail outlet, Lisa Appleby, VP of business development for the Sesame Workshop, believes that consumers buy on both brand and license recognition. ‘I think they look for a brand and a name that they know and trust, and then having the bonus of the highly recognizable Sesame Street characters on our product makes it easy for consumers to find in a very crowded marketplace,’ she says.

While the branded and licensed marketplace is crowded, it is also becoming more competitive. Last December, Rob Gruen of Warner Bros. told KidScreen that the competition in infant licensing is strong-not just between licensees of popular characters, but with retailers like Baby Gap that don’t require a character on a jumper to attract shoppers. Ann Kearns, VP of licensing at Sesame Workshop, gives character licensees hope by claiming that ‘recent research has shown that consumers shopping for infant bedding and accessories look for fashion colors and patterns that are embellished with characters.’

First steps for baby brands

Barney for Baby (Lyrick Studios)

Status: First-ever infant line

Target: Zero to nine months; 12 to 24 months

Rollout: September 2000, Mervyn’s stores

Licensees/Products: Celebrity International

(newborn layette, newborn playwear and

boys and girls playwear)

Other Barney for Baby products: An 11-song album (Lyrick); two new Barney books (Lyrick); feeding/teething items (ABC Development), travel accessories (Dolly); and toiletry (Treat Entertainment)

My First Thomas (Gullane Entertainment)

Status: First-ever infant line

Target: Zero to two years

Rollout: Fall 2000 through spring 2001

Licensees: Quiltex (apparel and bedding); ABC development (infant care, feeding and bath accessories, stroller toys); Prestige Toys (musical infant toys and mobiles); and Random House Children’s Books (infant books)

Other Thomas lines: Thomas & Friends (two to five years)-two years on the market with apparel licensee Haddad

The Stars Are Out On Sesame Street (Sesame Workshop)

Status: New infant line

Target: Zero to two years

Rollout: Spring 2001

Licensees: Riegel (bedding, hanging on dresser, diaper stacker); Lamp (Dolly); Fisher-Price (mobile); J. Mason (stroller); Romar (diaper bag-on floor); and Imperial Home Decor Group (wall border)

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