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New infant products crawl into the brand licensing spotlight

While entertainment and character licensing continues to dominate the market with a 44.3% share (according to the third annual LIMA-sponsored Harvard/Yale study released in June), brands are starting to control a greater share of the turf. Grabbing a 16.8% market share, brands have shown an impressive 10% increase in royalty revenues in 2000 over 1999 and are beginning to infiltrate the ever-crowded infant segment.
September 1, 2001

While entertainment and character licensing continues to dominate the market with a 44.3% share (according to the third annual LIMA-sponsored Harvard/Yale study released in June), brands are starting to control a greater share of the turf. Grabbing a 16.8% market share, brands have shown an impressive 10% increase in royalty revenues in 2000 over 1999 and are beginning to infiltrate the ever-crowded infant segment.

This month, KidScreen monitors two new baby brands–one backed by a century’s worth of toy market cachet, one banking on its fashion-forward originality–as they take their wobbly first steps into the licensing world.

When Michael Carlisle and Fred Paprin formed North American licensing agency The Wildflower Group nine months ago through a buy-out of Toronto-based Telegenic Licensing, the two managing partners decided to focus on brands and entertainment. ‘Brands are one of the stronger categories right now because they’re largely regarded as safer than most entertainment licenses,’ says Carlisle.

When it comes to brands, the partners couldn’t have landed a much safer one than Gund. The 102-year-old toyco began some fledgling out-licensing activity around its babyGUND brand a year ago, signing on L.A.-based Lambs & Ivy to create a line of bedding that’s now available at Babies ‘R’ Us and Burlington Coat Factory.

Working in tandem with Gund, The Wildflower Group is now developing phase one of the full-fledged babyGUND program, with a planned retail launch for fall 2002. Since fashion is the name of the game in the competitive infant segment, Gund is bringing in a design team to aesthetically position the brand name and characters on en vogue end product.

Initial focus categories include apparel, diaper bags, footwear, gift sets and publishing. At press time, The Wildflower Group was in discussions with several apparel companies and expected to ink a deal as early as this month. Since pubcos displayed keen interest in the brand at Licensing Show in June, The Wildflower Group plans to develop a line of ‘Baby’s First’ books. ‘We can transfer tactile sensations and characters from babyGUND core product to the books,’ says Carlisle. Additional categories for phase two and beyond include furniture, towels, rugs and fabric, toiletries, infant carrying products, caps, socks and receiving blankets.

While Gund is banking on brand equity to boost its infant market presence, MGM Consumer Products is taking the road less traveled with its new infant property Personalibees–a colorful collection of bees that express the innocence, curiosity and wonder of babies. Created exclusively for MGM by New York-based design studio Crank2 (known for tween brand She’s Charmed and Dangerous), MGM will differentiate Personalibees by positioning it as the definitive fashion brand for babies. How does MGM plan to achieve this lofty goal with a non-entertainment brand that has no established parent approval/awareness?

According to Traci Herbert, MGM’s director of worldwide marketing, it’s those two factors–sheer novelty and lack of entertainment ties–that should make the brand stand out in a crowded market. ‘Some people tend to think infant/toddler brands have to be based on a TV show, but what if that TV show doesn’t really work? What we want to do is build a long-term brand based on trends in the fashion world,’ says Herbert.

With worldwide rights under its belt, MGM will depart from its usual launch strategy, developing North American and international programs simultaneously. Herbert explains: ‘With entertainment properties, international territories always wait to see how the TV show or merchandise does in the U.S. first. This is different because it’s not based on ratings or units sold in video.’

Creating specific programs for Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America, MGM will focus on apparel, bedding, room décor, toys, publishing, accessories and personal care products for a spring 2002 launch, with stationery, gift wrap and invitations as a phase two target.

Beyond fashion-centric program development, babyGUND and Personalibees have similar retail launch strategies that target mid-tier and up. ‘Mass market retailers are bringing in a lot of brands, which is putting pressure on all the levels of retail to keep up in the brand game,’ says Carlisle. The Wildflower Group will offer babyGUND as an option for mid-tier and specialty retailers looking for department store brands. ‘This will not be a mass market brand,’ emphasizes Carlisle.

With retailer meetings in progress at press time, MGM will likely restrict Personalibees to mid-tier for the first six months, possibly seeking a retail exclusive. ‘We want to place Personalibees with the retailer who’s really going to embrace this property and not just put it on a shelf with the Baby Looney Tunes and Baby Disneys,’ says Herbert. But mass market placement isn’t out of the question over the long term–Herbert believes Personalibees could be a great brand for retailers like Kmart or Wal-Mart.

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