Licensors heat up Hispanic merch programs to feed retailer demand

With retail sales of more than US$400 million - pushing total sales past the US$1-billion mark since her 2001 debut - Nickelodeon's Dora the Explorer had a great year. A brand that continues to find broad acceptance among kids of all stripes, Dora also gained significant recognition from her fellow Hispanic-Americans in 2003.
March 1, 2004

With retail sales of more than US$400 million – pushing total sales past the US$1-billion mark since her 2001 debut – Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer had a great year. A brand that continues to find broad acceptance among kids of all stripes, Dora also gained significant recognition from her fellow Hispanic-Americans in 2003.

Along with J.Lo and Thalía, Latina magazine named Dora one of the top ‘mujeres’ of 2003, while Hispanic-American parenting publication Ser Padres put Cowgirl Dora at the top of its 2003 best-toy list. And Dora’s success with the U.S.’s fastest-growing demo has the country’s retailers sitting up, taking notice and looking for other properties with Latin appeal.

In 2004 and early 2005, Dora will be sharing shelf space with goods inspired by Hispanic-American properties such as Sesame Workshop’s Plaza Sesamo, Scholastic’s The Misadventures of Maya & Miguel, Warner Bros.’ Mucha Lucha! and Latino artist David Gonzales’ group of kid characters The Mijos. While it’s hardly a tsunami of Hispanic-American merch, this is arguably the largest selection ever available to Hispanic-American kids and parents living in the continental U.S. As Jonathan Brieter, VP of Mijos master toy licensee Toy Play, puts it: ‘Before Dora, what did an Hispanic mom have to buy for her kids? We tanned up Barbie, but she still looked like Barbie. [These new properties] have the right demographic characteristics, and they give mom the opportunity to purchase a product that’s ethnically correct.’

Then again, this outcropping could simply stem from the recognition of a demographic reality. As of 2002, there were 37.4 million Hispanic-Americans in the U.S, with the demo more than doubling from 1990 to 2002. And it’s estimated that it will be the largest single population sector in the U.S. by 2006. A full 34% of the demo is under 18, and Hispanic-Americans have a higher birth rate than non-Hispanic whites.

As a group, Hispanic-Americans also pack a significant consumer-spending punch, having spent roughly US$523 billion in 2002 (a number that’s projected to skyrocket to US$1 trillion by 2010). From a kids property perspective, Hispanic-Americans are known to be very brand loyal, and they tend to spend more on their children than non-Hispanics.

Product for Sesame Workshop’s 30-year-old show Plaza Sesamo (which has been broadcast in the U.S. for 10 years and has an 84% penetration in U.S. Hispanic households) has been available in Latin America for years, but the timing was right to launch a U.S.-based apparel program this year, says Heather Hansen, the Workshop’s director of marketing. She says Sesame launched the program largely at the behest of retailers looking for children’s properties that resonate with Hispanic families. (Director of licensing Margaret Pepe adds that Wal-Mart is aiming to expand the number of stores it considers to be Hispanic stores, and is on the hunt for more merch.)

So last month, the first batch of Plaza Sesamo infant and toddler apparel, featuring Hispanic characters Abelardo, Pancho and Lola, shipped to Mervyn’s, Sears, JCPenney and Kohl’s. Each retailer put the clothing in its designated Hispanic-market stores – primarily in southern California, Texas border towns, Florida and New York. Mervyn’s is merchandising the lines together, highlighting the area with rack-top signage and featuring it on wing walls in some locations. Plans are also in the works to introduce Plaza Sesamo toys, home entertainment products and books, if the introductory program pans out.

Hansen and Pepe say that up-to-the-minute fashion, even for the four and under set, is a must when it comes to appealing to the Hispanic-American market. But more interestingly, Pepe has found that Hispanic parents who’ve been in the country for more than one generation are concerned that their kids aren’t exposed to enough Spanish and want them to learn the language. They see the Spanish editorial on the Plaza Sesamo garments and hang tags, teaching the basics of colors, shapes and math, as a great learning tool.

Fashion and apparel will also be the linchpins of a Misadventures of Maya & Miguel consumer products program that’s set to launch in spring 2005, a few months after the show’s fall 2004 debut on PBS. Scholastic Entertainment VP of marketing and consumer products Leslye Schaefer says the initial line, targeting girls six to 11, will be hip and fashion-forward, and the company has hired external designers and trendsetters to work on its style guide. And while Schaefer believes that, like Dora, M&M will have broad appeal, she admits there’s been quite a bit of interest from retailers looking to hit the Hispanic-American consumer.

Schaefer says her design team is particularly sensitive to how M&M will represent the Hispanic community. They’re being very careful, for example, when it comes to wording on the clothing, checking and double-checking that the use of Spanish and any Hispanic colloquialisms is correct and appropriate. ‘Maya & Miguel is giving Hispanic kids a place to see themselves and how they fit into the broader U.S. culture,’ says Schaefer. ‘Our goal is to present role models to these kids and tell them that they’re important and that it’s an asset to speak another language and have a different culture to draw upon.’

Leigh Anne Brodsky, executive VP of Nick Consumer Products, says Dora products go through similar vetting. The division doubles the rigor of its approval process for Dora SKUs to avoid cultural stereotypes and inaccuracies. But interestingly, Dora’s appeal has been so broad that Nick didn’t make any attempts to cater specifically to the Hispanic-American market at retail until this past fall.

A series of Spanish-language books published by Simon & Schuster imprint Libros Para Niños is currently testing in Hispanic-heavy centers like southern California and Texas. Rick Richter, president of Simon & Schuster’s children’s book division, says the line has opened up a number of non-traditional retail channels, including supermarkets and drugstores. And Brodsky says if these tests go well, Nick and Dora will get into the market more forcefully. Right now, she says Nick is looking into mounting a traveling mall show targeting Latino families in areas with large Hispanic-American communities.

About The Author
Lana Castleman is the Editor & Content Director of Kidscreen and oversees all content for Kidscreen magazine, and related kidscreen events.


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