While mini doll and micro toy collection has long been an established play pattern in the U.K., the category still represents a largely untapped opportunity for licensors on the girls side.
Currently, the key drivers for the mini doll segment’s 30% year-on-year growth are non-licensed in-house brands such as Polly Pocket (Mattel/Origin Products), Mini Baby Born (Zapf Creations) and Magic Merbabies (Vivid Imaginations). However, ‘virtually every other category in the industry has been impacted by entertainment licensing, so it’s only a matter of time,’ says Vivid Imaginations CEO and co-founder Nick Austin.
Manufacturers and licensors generally concur that the mini/micro category offers a stronger licensing opportunity for girls than boys. ‘The boys area is very busy, and there’s hardly any entertainment licensing on the girls side,’ says Austin, whose company will be producing a line of mini figures for the Care Bears next year and may expand the range to include micro collectibles in compact environments. ‘Micro collection seems to play better for girls, and therefore, we will be looking for licenses that can play into that collection, display and treasuring position.’
Licensors aiming to tap into the category’s growing power in the girls market should not only consider their property’s collectible elements, but also its overall play value and scope for environments. ‘If you look at something like Hamtaro [which CPLG represents in the U.K.], obviously it’s going to have a collectible play pattern based upon the characters and story lines of the show,’ says Steve Manners, U.K. managing director for Copyright Promotions Licensing Group (CPLG). While Hamtaro’s deep well of characters is not a requirement to category translation, it certainly helps. ‘After all,’ notes Manners, ‘there’s only so much you can do with environments – there are only so many that work with your characters.’
And since the category is still driven by non-licensed brands, there is scope for properties without entertainment applications. To wit: while Care Bears has historically enjoyed life on the big and small screen, CPLG is initially positioning it as a gift property in the U.K. ‘There are a lot of elements to Care Bears that work well for micro play without film or TV,’ says Manners. ‘But it is more about gift-giving and emotion than play patterns,’ which is why CPLG is currently weighing whether it will move forward on the micro environments front.
As the licensing industry takes baby steps into branded micro play for girls, manufacturers are moving forward on third-party licensing plans for their in-house properties. In January, Vivid will be launching a new range of micro collectible pets called Lottalittles. Targeted at girls ages three to seven, the Lottalittles line comprises more than 100 micro-sized puppies, kittens, bunnies and ponies. Each pet in the range will be sold with accessories that facilitate roleplay, as well as a name and personality profile that should boost collectibility.
Playmates has signed on as a joint-venture partner and will simultaneously market the range in the U.S. With the line boasting retail price points ranging from around US$8 to US$39, Vivid projects first-year sales at US$12 million. With the goal of establishing Lottalittles as one of the top-five girls collectible lines in the U.K., Vivid is currently exploring opportunities for a third-party licensing program that’s expected to start rolling out as early as the second half of 2004.
‘Once we’ve established the property, we see the potential to add licenses across the board for girls, with the possibility of a boys option,’ says Austin. ‘And if Magic Merbabies continues to perform as well as it has been, we may do third-party licensing on that brand next year.’
While Vivid’s girls micro business has skyrocketed since the mid-’90s through in-house brands Animal Hospital, Puppy in My Pocket, Teeny Weeny Families and Magic Merbabies, it’s been fairly low-key on the micro level for boys given that larger action figures still dominate the toy market. Though driven by entertainment, the boys micro segment has ‘suffered in recent years with the demise of Micro Machines and a lack of new investment,’ says Austin. That said, Vivid is currently developing a new micro concept for boys, the details of which were still under wraps at press time.