Of the options open to brand-builders looking to target kids with environmental messages, creating engaging characters for out-licensing and media extensions makes the most sense in terms of reach. Using last month’s Licensing Show in New York as a market entry platform, two cause-related, character-laden properties are now jostling for position in an entertainment-driven market that makes education a tough sell.
‘We learned early on that education doesn’t sell-you’ve got to have the entertainment component,’ says Bill Dodd, co-creator and co-founder of The Endangerbles, a character-driven endangered species property for kids three to seven and a new Orlando, Florida-based entertainment company. Given that Dodd and co-founder Robin Brant have global aspirations for the property, it was earmarked for licensing and media extensions in early development.
Thus, The Endangerbles team hooked up with agent Gary Propper, the licensing guru behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films, who describes the property as ‘kind of like The Wild Thornberrys, but focusing on the animals, not the people.’
And tying into endangered animals provides an open-ended time frame for character development. ‘I don’t think people realize how many endangered creatures there are, but there are thousands, which unfortunately allows us an almost endless supply of talent,’ says Dodd.
Sixteen of 27 fully developed characters debuted at Licensing Show in June, with personalities and talents to appeal to both genders, including Moriah the girl power butterfly and Taiya the skateboarding wolf pup. With all categories open to licensing, Propper will initially focus on books, toys, interactive games, collectibles and apparel. Long-term plans include a live-action/animated TV series (with 13 half-hour eps already written, the search for a caster has begun) and a feature film in the concept development stage-lofty ambitions for a just-hatched property.
However, until The Endangerbles net TV or film exposure, computer screen presence will be a preliminary driver, through interactive website www.endangerbles.com. Site components (inactive at press time) will include interactive games hosted by Download the leatherback turtle and an on-line store for showcasing licensed merch. The website also features character profiles of the 16 existing Endangerbles and invites kids to become Deputy Endangerbles by taking an on-line oath that triggers access to the Kids Club.
Conversely, Planetpals began as a character-dominated website created by artist and illustrator Judith Gorgone. The edu-centric site features a Kidz Club, a monthly e-zine, freebies like e-mail stickers, a card game, craft ideas, a Planet Penpals arena, and an on-line store with non-licensed merch (as of press time), the proceeds of which support the site. Planetpals.com has grown at a rate of 300% per year since 1998 in terms of traffic volume-monthly traffic averages 2.7 million hits, mainly from teachers and students.
It was this visitor growth rate that convinced Robert Slusarczyk, president of Caldwell, New Jersey-based agency Global Licensing Group, to take Planetpals on as the first kid property in his corporate brand-heavy portfolio.
That said, Slusarczyk treads warily into cause-related waters, claiming such licenses are usually cause for bickering within the licensing community-why support one cause over another? Slusarczyk recalls his first foray into cause-related licensing-promoting a doctor’s work with handicapped children-as a case in point. ‘We presented licensed apparel to a fairly large chain that took us on initially, but the in-fighting amongst the buying groups actually squashed the project.’
Slusarczyk is banking on the duality of Planetpals to avoid such pitfalls and secure a market foothold: ‘I think that the design and the characters are going to stand on their own, and environmentally-conscious people will be in tune with the cause-related aspect. Earthman, Sunnyray and Moonbeam-fat, cheerful-looking characters reminiscent of Mr. Men and Little Miss-are part of the Planetpals gang.
In terms of licensing, Slusarczyk will be going after natural extension categories for a web-based educational property, with much of the legwork already completed by Gargone herself. The Planetpals creator has a series of six manuscripts for a kids book series and has designed software that was showcased at Licensing Show. ‘If we can get the books going, our hope and vision is to eventually see a TV series and a Planetpals movie,’ says Slusarczyk.
Kids school accessories and home décor will also be targeted, and Slusarczyk believes the majority of interest won’t come from larger, long-established licensees. ‘Because a lot of those people are tied up with some of the larger properties supported by a movie or TV, we’ll be looking for the fresh-thinking, younger, entrepreneurial companies searching for a new character to represent their products.’