Disney Consumer Products may still be the world’s largest licensor in the kids business, but it’s having to work harder than ever to regain some lost ground.
Record-high earnings of US$900 million in 1997 were down by more than half in 2003, sitting at US$384 million. And while efforts made over the last two years to restructure licensee agreements and pursue more direct-to-retail programs seem to be paying off (sales for the first three quarters of this year are up 6%), DCP is hoping to kick things up a notch by looking outside of its traditional character licensing business.
Shaping the next phase of the division’s business strategy are two new programs that rely more on the strength of the Disney brand than any single property.
Disney Snap! is a product concept that emphasizes customizability, and the first SKUs in the line are US$35 watches featuring patented technology on the watch face, strap and case that appeals to kids’ simultaneous need for self-expression and peer acceptance. The watch faces detach from their straps and snap on to other coordinating straps (US$10), clothing, back packs, necklaces – you name it. Kids can really mix and match.
And most notably, of the 30 initial designs that rolled out this fall, 12 are completely free of any kind of character branding. Since tweens represent the line’s sweet-spot target demo, the lack of branding was a carefully planned and implemented tack to appeal to older kids’ more subtle sensibilities towards marketing and labelling.
Category director John Louie says DCP is now looking to extend Snap! into other hot tween product groups including consumer electronics, CD cases and cell phone accessories.
Dennis Green, DCP’s VP of global creative, sales and marketing, says non-character Disney branding will really start to come into its own in an upcoming line of apparel for the zero to six set. ‘We’re trying to get away from the character socks, shoes, shirt and pants worn all at once,’ he says, because even preschoolers have outgrown that style of dress. Instead, what you’ll see is a comprehensive line covering everything from outerwear to hosiery and featuring the Disney logo, but no characters.
DCP’s senior VP of global softlines, Jim Calhoun, says the Disney brand has immediate consumer awareness, and this apparel program will capitalize on that. According to Calhoun, the non-character apparel business is 10 times larger than the licensed market, meaning there’s a lot of opportunity for DCP to grow its US$2-billion take in this category.
But clothes are really just the beginning. ‘We’re looking at it from top to bottom for everything that DCP does,’ says Green, adding that he sees a lot of potential in developing a branded line of ‘first toys’ or educational toys that have Disney cues in them – perhaps using Mickey Mouse’s key colors, but not the property’s shapes or pictures. As to whether these product plans will be executed via traditional licensing relationships or direct-to-retail deals, Green says that will depend on the product.