Marvel hasn’t had a global consumer products chief since Tim Rothwell departed the company in 2006. Enter Simon Philips. He joined Marvel International as president that same year and has just been appointed president of worldwide consumer products for the company. KidScreen’s Lana Castleman got a chance to chat with him about his new role and upcoming plans.
What’s your first order of business as global president? It’s to start looking at Marvel from a global perspective and identifying what’s working best in each market and then seeing what we can learn from that and bring into other markets. For example, our DTR initiative with Carrefour, which is a phenomenal way to work hand-in-hand with a retailer as a partner to launch brands and products, is something we can learn from and look to implement in the US and other markets where Carrefour may not be present. It really provides a bird’s eye view to find what’s really working, identifying commonalities and then translating those to other markets. Next is to understand what’s happening in our North American business, which I wasn’t previously responsible for and then meeting with licensees and retailers there and getting them to meet me and really building relationships.
What areas are poised for growth?
Latin America is a market for Marvel which is growing. We’ve seen strong growth in Mexico, Brazil and Central America. We’re also seeing significant growth in Eastern Europe – Russia, Poland, Hungary – and we’re beginning to see results in markets like India and China as well.
Is the growth coming primarily from softlines categories?
We’re seeing a lot of growth with locally manufactured products, particularly from textiles, stationery and promotions.
Which properties in the Marvel catalogue currently have the most potential for growth?
If I was to take a crystal ball and look at what our brands are for the future, we have several opportunities. We, of course, have Spider-Man. We have a new brand, Super Hero Squad, for which we have 26 half hours of animation in production and it’s a significant investment by Marvel to introduce the characters to a younger audience. And, of course, we have the new movies, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America and The Avengers, and we have a brand-new animated Avengers series. So there isn’t an easy answer. One of the great things about Marvel is that you have so many characters to work with.
Has putting the spotlight on the lesser-known characters been a way to deal with the large drop in Spider-Man licensing revenues experienced by Marvel in non-movie years?
One of the reasons Marvel took the step to create Marvel Studios and to produce its own movies is that we could put ourselves in control of the scheduling and the storytelling of the movies. Last year, who would have thought that Iron Man would be one of the hottest licensable properties in the world? At the time, consumers and retailers weren’t as aware of Iron Man, but with US$600 million at the box office and a brand-new animated series premiering next year it’s now a significant brand for Marvel.
You mentioned the success of Spider-Man and Iron Man. Is there another character poised for take off in consumer products?
I think Thor. We have a Thor movie coming out in 2010 and he’s an integral part of The Avengers as well. The Thor universe is magical, absolutely fantastic and I think kids will gravitate to it.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing right now?
There’s obviously a global economic crisis right now, but we’re very fortunate that our popular brands are continuing to grow in markets around the world. If there are some territories that are really suffering, there are markets where we’re growing and one balances the other. But I would say that the current crisis is probably the biggest threat out there for licensing as a whole.
Marvel must be in every licensing category you can think of right now. Are there any new categories or areas you’ll be concentrating on moving ahead?
Electronics is an area we’re looking at quite in depth. The eight, nine, 10 year olds are now heavily into electronic items and it’s definitely an area we are in the process of licensing and making sure we can provide the best product for. The other areas are making sure we’re providing product for all the various fans of Marvel. There is a tendency in licensing to go out and do one deal for T-shirts and assume that is it. But you have consumers that will buy different T-shirts of various qualities and price points. We want to make sure that the kid who wants a mass-market and the one that wants a boutique item is able to get it.