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While the word globalization has become something of a mantra, chanted during conference calls and business lunches from Taipei to Tuscaloosa, those in the consumer products industry know that there is still an appetite for regionalized goods. A small design tweak here, a cultural nod there can in fact help smaller, non-blockbuster properties sell into more territories. Similarly, IP with global pretensions can benefit from paying attention to gaps in the local market to create country-specific product. So even though technological advances now help keep people the world over in constant contact, differences between cultures and consumer wants and needs still exist. In short, what plays in Peoria might not work in Pakistan, and that's well worth noting.
September 23, 2010

While the word globalization has become something of a mantra, chanted during conference calls and business lunches from Taipei to Tuscaloosa, those in the consumer products industry know that there is still an appetite for regionalized goods. A small design tweak here, a cultural nod there can in fact help smaller, non-blockbuster properties sell into more territories. Similarly, IP with global pretensions can benefit from paying attention to gaps in the local market to create country-specific product. So even though technological advances now help keep people the world over in constant contact, differences between cultures and consumer wants and needs still exist. In short, what plays in Peoria might not work in Pakistan, and that’s well worth noting.

Making niche IP road-worthy

Rob Corney, MD at London-based Bulldog Licensing, puts it bluntly. ‘One approach to licensing programs is the Toy Story 3, cultural imperialism type,’ he says, describing what has become known as the massive, multi-territory rollout. In this case, untold amounts of media exposure floats a CP program that is pretty much identical in every major territory and available at all tiers of retail. The other is the focused niche program. ‘When you haven’t got that huge media impact, you have to think a bit more laterally,’ he says.

Corney speaks from experience. Bulldog took UK-hatched design brand Goochicoo, targeting infants and their parents, into Spain, Israel and France in 2004, and is now just launching it in the US. Goochicoo features cute caricatures of babies accompanied by humorous slogans and is driven primarily by apparel and accessories categories.

A design-led brand is easier to localize, Corney admits, because it is not burdened by the pigeonholing that often accompanies a TV-based property. As such an IP’s main driver, the TV series, appears pretty much the same in every region and doesn’t allow for a lot of local adaptation. However, there are still many considerations when taking an IP out of its original territory.

‘We are bringing Goochicoo into the US, so we have had to develop suitable themes,’ Corney says. ‘So we have sports like American football and ice hockey and a military theme, too. We also have developed an Irish heritage design that wouldn’t really work in the UK.’

Initially, Bulldog also faced a number of language problems that had to be rectified to make the IP work in other markets. ‘One of our popular designs in the UK is a baby spitting out peas with the slogan ‘Give Peas a Chance’ written underneath,’ says Corney. ‘But the translation didn’t work at all in some territories.’

Spain proved to be the only exception, where a simple change in phrasing did the trick. It was a stroke of linguistic luck that can’t be counted upon, but nevertheless did solve the regionalization problem in this instance. In other territories, however, that particular design was simply not utilized.

Corney is quick to point out that regionalizing an IP and developing extensions that play in just one territory can be a tricky business. ‘The obvious pitfall is that you don’t want to be in the UK sitting back and wondering what people in France might like,’ he says. ‘That can lead to the use of cultural stereotypes and worse.’

The way to avoid this problem is to have sources on the ground that can inform the designers of the proper approach to take to each region.

‘We work with a network of worldwide sub-agents to ensure that our licensing programs, although global in their reach, are executed on a local level,’ says Corney. ‘This ensures all our brands are brought to market in the most appropriate and saleable way for each territory in which we operate.’

Tweaking a global icon

Another example of a brand that has mastered the art of designing for different territories while still keeping its core attributes intact is Sanrio’s Hello Kitty. While Japan-based Sanrio necessarily keeps tabs on the various iterations of 35-year-old Hello Kitty, it has a loose leash on the character that has allowed the iconic feline to appeal to a number of demos from core girls right up to adults. And because Hello Kitty isn’t content-driven, the brand persists primarily on the strength of its regional appeal and targeted products.

The latest successful version is Hello Kitty London, which has been developed by UK-based licensing agent Fluid World. The agency took on the brand in August 2008 and has breathed new life into what was a small and highly fragmented program in the region.

‘We were tasked with filling the logical gaps,’ says Libby Grant, brand director at Fluid World. She explains that the company’s first order of business was to cultivate a DTR deal with high street retail chain Marks&Spencer and mine a perhaps little-known attribute of the Hello Kitty brand.

‘It’s actually part of the Hello Kitty story – she was born and then moved to London,’ says Grant. ‘We were fortunate enough to be able to play on that. We then created essentially a sub-brand that was very much localized and is not used in any other territory.’

The Hello Kitty London brand covers a number of categories and, according to Grant, it’s been a big success. Although Sanrio as a private company is hesitant to discuss sell-through rates, she did say that the line launched in just one category – older girls clothing – and has now rolled out into fashion accessories, food and health & beauty. Making Hello Kitty a Londoner entailed depicting her standing next to British landmarks like Big Ben and utilizing the Union Jack in many of the designs. Grant credits Sanrio with having the trust in its local licensees to create the products who appeal to a regional marketplace.

‘Sanrio encourages creativity,’ Grant says. ‘It doesn’t create a 20-page style guide and handcuff you to it. It’s very open and realizes that licensees have very creative people working for them that understand the local market.’

Keeping an ear to the ground

Taking the regionalization idea in another direction altogether is Cartoon Network Enterprises Asia Pacific with its Ben 10 offshoot, Gwen 10. Although the Ben 10 program has succeeded internationally, amassing a roster of global partners in key categories like master toy and interactive, CNE Asia Pacific is exploring a different aspect of the IP to develop a program that works particularly well for a specific region.

‘We held several Ben 10 events across the region and noticed that girls were attending dressed head-to-toe in Ben 10 outfits,’ says Dulce Lim-Chen, VP of CNE Asia Pacific, describing the genesis of the regionalized Gwen 10 program. ‘[We realized that] there was obviously a strong demand for girls properties in Asia…Gwen, who is Ben’s cousin in the series, really fit that bill.’

CNE Asia Pacific then developed an entire Gwen collection aimed at capturing the girls five to 12 demo. The merch is inspired by what the character herself would wear, including lines of apparel, shoes, bags, hair accessories, and toys, games and outdoor goods. In Australia, the line launched at the end of June exclusively with mass-market retailer Big W. The Southwest Asia rollout will continue throughout 2010, and currently non-exclusive retail deals are being hammered out.

CNE Asia Pacific is taking this regional IP extension seriously, as evidenced by the full-throttle promotion behind the line. In Australia, CNE launched The Search for Gwen’s 10, a contest that rewards the entrants who come up with the best reasons why they should be a part of Gwen’s inner circle. The 10 winners received Big W gift certificates, a interview feature in Total Girl Magazine and a VIP experience at an Australian performance of the Ben 10 Live Tour.

‘The Gwen property works particularly well in Asia as it offers a fresh alternative to what’s already on the market,’ says Lim-Chen. ‘We are now looking at making the collection available in key markets such as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.’

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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