Doe-eyed, big-headed girls with sassy names and no associated entertainment are shaking up the traditional licensing mix-proving brands’ staying power and the market cachet of tween girl consumers.
At a Licensing Show markedly devoid of blockbuster announcements and property unveilings (save for 4Kids Entertainment’s Yu-gi-Oh!) last month, the Javits Center floor morphed into a licensing industry catwalk, as an influx of new tween fashion brands strutted their stuff and overwhelmed an audience of potential licensees.
‘It felt to me as if manufacturers had seen one too many girl properties and couldn’t tell which one was going to be the major hit-they seemed confused,’ says René Cigler, co-founder of Inkmonster, a California-based creator and marketer of trend brands.
The company’s tween offering includes a sassy bad girl quartet called Mischievous Girls and the slightly more edgy Lil She Creatures, a collection of gothic butterflies, angels and she-devils with a 1920s sense of style.
The properties attracted attention from licensees in basic categories such as apparel, stickers/patches, publishing, cosmetics, backpacks/bags, comic books, plush, interactive games and bedroom/bath décor. ‘Conservative companies voiced an interest in Mischievous Girls because it seemed so safe,’ says Cigler. ‘Lil She Creatures caught their eye, but it seems they were not ready to be the first on the licensing block with a brand that dared to show some edgy style.’ The property did receive nods from three separate companies in the non-traditional cell phone animation category, which surprised Cigler-’that was a category I had overlooked,’ she says.
Cigler expects to make some announcements for both properties later this month, with Lil She Creatures deals pending in stickers/patches, apparel, stationery, and a possible direct-to-retail destination, and a stationery license for Mischievous Girls almost secured. Inkmonster Licensing will handle domestic deals, and the search for international agents has begun, with interest from agents in Australia, Asia/Japan and South America.
Inkmonster plans to target studios for a Mischievous Girls entertainment concept in the near future after receiving visits from Film Roman, Nickelodeon, MTV and animation companies from New Zealand and Australia, but don’t expect to see Lil She Creatures follow suit. ‘We do not plan to turn the property mainstream,’ says Cigler. ‘We see it fitting into a niche market and would like to see the line grow slowly-mass market is not ready for Lil She Creatures.’
Conversely, the worldwide mass market has already embraced bang on the door, a character-driven franchise from U.K.-based brand creator Santoro Graphics, behind successful teen graphics brand Atomic Babes. Skyrocketing from 26 characters to over 100, bang on the door product targeting kids seven to 18 is available in more than 40 countries and boasts 40-plus licensees worldwide.
Santoro Graphics’ licensing arm Santoro Licensing showcased the property at Licensing Show, and co-founder Meera Santoro says expansion of the North American program is imminent. At press time, Santoro was negotiating deals in apparel, footwear, stickers, nightwear, hats, hair accessories, bags, food snacks, confectionery, interactive games, publishing, bedding, dolls, plush, back-to-school, cosmetics, dental care, watches and clocks. Existing North American licensees include Adjmi Apparel Group (junior apparel), AME (nightwear), Zak Designs (dinnerware), Upper Canada Soap (bath products), Santoro USA (plush/cards and stationery) and Kittrich (BTS notebooks/portfolios).
While Santoro may bang on the doors of studios eventually in search of a TV home for the property, it won’t happen any time soon. ‘Our view is that if your aim is to build a brand, then the property would stand a better chance if it stays off TV until the brand has strong foundations and momentum has been built,’ says Santoro.
MGM Consumer Products is the worldwide agent for design studio Crank2′s graphic brand She’s Charmed and Dangerous, excluding the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. With more than 28 licensees on-board domestically, the property is already seeing retail success in North America with concept shops at Bloomingdale’s. Canada’s Eaton’s stores will open themed areas this month, with plans to roll out shops in Sears Canada A stores by October.
MGM will focus on apparel and accessories in the U.K. and Japan initially-’those territories set a lot of trends, and I think they will really migrate to this type of property,’ says Traci Hebert, MGM’s director of worldwide marketing.
And Hebert echoes Santoro’s point that with tweens, an entertainment component isn’t essential. ‘Girls want to feel a part of everything and still have a little individuality,’ says Hebert. ‘We’re competing with Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin-that’s what these girls are buying, not entertainment licensed product.’
Even so, some licensees are loath to take on properties lacking entertainment components. Although Bandai America’s recently announced Hello Kitty license (product slated to hit retail in September) is both exception to this rule and proof of Santoro’s point, director of marketing Colleen Sherfey claims that ‘you have to have the entertainment or animation behind you-you need that extra push with girls.’ With its boys lineup taken care of, Sherfey was scouting for girl properties-specifically entertainment-driven ones-at Licensing Show.
MGA Entertainment’s funky doll line turned licensed property Bratz may fit the bill. Introduced at Toy Fair in February, the doll line ships to mass market retailers including Wal-Mart this month, and entertainment plans are already in the works. ‘We’re currently evaluating which medium would be best for the Bratz brand,’ says Victoria O’Connor, MGA’s licensing director. Traffic was high around the Bratz booth at Licensing Show, and the girls received interest in various categories, including apparel, accessories, footwear, cosmetics, food, and even licensed music CDs. O’Connor expects to have 10 licensees on-board by the end of this month and was in discussions with European agents for brand representation at press time.
With so many girl brands vying for international markets and carving domestic niches, will an all-out catfight ensue? Who will come out on top?
‘You can’t just throw a bit of glitz and fluff over a bog-standard product and expect to wow the world,’ says Santoro. ‘In order to endure, [licensors must] constantly create new ideas to keep the brand fresh and desirable.’
According to Bandai’s Sherfey, tween consumers will determine the real winners at retail. ‘Girls have value, they spend money-it’s all about the power of spending,’ says Sherfey. ‘Girls are not just in the background anymore, they’re at the forefront.’