Musical baby brand strikes a chord with moms and babies

Property: Baby Genius...
April 1, 2001

Property: Baby Genius

Owner/Licensor: Genius Products/Global Icons

Description: The Baby Genius brand began in February 1999 as a line of music CDs, cassettes and videos published by Genius Products, owner of a family of related brands including Kid Genius, Little Genius and Parent Genius. In the first 12 months, the videos and CDs sold over 500,000 units and are currently available in over 25,000 retail locations across the U.S.

Concept: Baby Genius, based on the work of classical composers, is being developed as a music-centric brand through CD/video product, its licensing program and website

Demo: Infants 0 to 24 months and moms

Licensees: Genius Products (CDs/videos), Jakks Pacific (master toy), Catton Apparel Group (master apparel), J. Wasson Enterprises (diaper bags/accessories), AME Enterprises (sleepwear). By Q4 2000, the toys and CDs will have full distribution. Other categories will debut this year in mid-tier and department stores, with a mass rollout beginning next year.

The latest: At press time, Australia’s ABC Enterprises was in negotiations with Global Icons to represent the brand Down Under. Pending contract, ABC had plans to present the line to potential licensees at the Melbourne Toy Fair last month. Distribution for the music products increased near press time with two retailer announcements. Toys `R’ Us agreed to carry the Baby Genius in all of its 720 State-side stores, and Sam’s Club agreed to increase its distribution of the brand in the U.S.

Potential: According to Ken Abrams, executive VP of sales and marketing for Global Icons’ kids division, Baby Genius’ licensing strength is that it’s a brand, not a character license.

Abrams points to declining sales of preschool character licenses as a trend that has opened doors for baby brands. ‘There has not been a break-out Disney character in a few years, and Nick Jr. is looking for its next thing after Blue’s Clues,’ says Abrams. ‘Barney, Teletubbies and Baby Looney Tunes are flat.’ Abrams is quick to add that this is merely the current state of the market and could change, pointing to HIT Entertainment’s Bob the Builder as a property that ‘looks good.’

With market realities in the brand’s favor, the recent publishing deal nails down the fourth tent peg of the Baby Genius licensing program. The first three licenses were granted to Jakks Pacific, Catton Apparel Group and J. Wasson Enterprises. ‘A very major piece of the licensing puzzle [for baby brands] is books, so that was very important to us,’ says Abrams. ‘It really solidifies the program.’

Music, the core of the brand, is an element carried strongly throughout the program. ‘Music is one of the first ways that mothers and babies communicate,’ says Larry Balaban, Baby Genius’ senior VP of marketing and production. ‘We are very firm in our belief that music has a tremendous impact, and that’s really the message of the company-that music makes a difference.’

Thus the program is striving to create a point of difference by relating all components back to the music, which may seem a tall order for non-music-related categories such as apparel, diaper bags and accessories. Global Icons has addressed the issue through the use of Baby Genius CDs as hang tags and a style guide full of musical notes and cuddly characters clutching their favorite instruments.

Given the sweetness of the characters and the brand’s built-in musical component, is a broadcast presence on the changing table for Baby Genius? Already approached by a few interested parties, Abrams says an entertainment license may be an option, but ‘it would have to be a series that would inspire both mom and baby.’

Currently focused on developing Baby Genius’ existing licenses, Abrams claims that if the brand works and the toys, apparel and publishing solidify, plans will focus on home furnishings, bedding, room décor, diapers, baby food and even Baby Genius day care centers. ‘We think big,’ says Abram, who would love to see a chain of Baby Genius-branded `mom and baby’ outlets emerge on the retail scene.

Initial expansion efforts will be focused on developing brand awareness internationally, with Canada and Mexico among the major territorial interests going forward.

Market reality check: Andy Jacobschuk, president of Canadian licensing agency Carte Blanche Licensing, says that Canada’s limited number of department store retailers and a non-existent mid-tier channel may necessitate a different launch strategy than in the U.S.

‘I like the music focus, but until the CDs become widely distributed in Canada, there is likely to be little retail support,’ says Jacobschuk. The key to wide distribution in the bilingual Canadian market will lie in addressing the French language in CD and publishing product. Jacobschuk gives hope for a successful translation to the Canadian market by adding: ‘The addition of a publishing licensee will go a long way in gaining retailer support for the apparel, toys and other licensed products.’

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