THE INSIGHTS FAMILY I Why embracing multiple touchpoints is key for kids’ IPs

A global leader in kids, parents, and family market intelligence, The Insights Family surveys more than half a million kids and parents every year, providing real-time data on their attitudes, behaviours and consumption patterns.

In its latest feature for Licensing Biz, the company explains why targeting multiple touchpoints is key to the success of kids’ IPs.

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Creating appeal to the family in today’s marketplace requires understanding a range of behaviours, attitudinal preferences and purchasing influences.

Not only this, but once created, appeal must also be sustained in the long term to achieve maximum engagement. Understanding not only what kids and families like but also ‘where’ they are and how they interact with their favourite brands is essential.

The content that is attracting licensed purchases is constantly changing. While toys related to the favourite TV shows of kids aged 3-9 remain the most popular licensed product category (43%), this category has experienced the lowest year-on-year across all the mediums we track globally (+8%).* The highest growth area is in fact toys related to video games (+25%), while YouTuber related toys are also experiencing a significant level of growth (+14%). In the UK, licensed toy purchases in relation to the favourite video games amongst kids aged 3-9 have grown by +18% in the last 12 months (25%).

As kids are exposed to more content touchpoints, there are more opportunities for new characters and IPs to enter the content ecosystem from different mediums. IPs can be adapted to suit numerous touchpoints that resonate across generations. Batman is a great example of this. Ranking as a top 10 favourite character across all ages from 5-18 when we look globally at our data, various iterations of the character, from LEGO Batman to the Batman Arkham games, have all helped provide a reference point to the character to all age groups. This allows the character to grow and change while still resonating as recognisable IP to this changing audience.

There are also more touchpoints where creators have more autonomy over their content. YouTube and TikTok are prime examples of spaces where kids are now able to enter the market place and build their own brands. Ryan’s World is a prime example of kid creators licensing their likeness to produce toys for their audience. On average, he is the second most popular YouTuber globally amongst 3-5s on account of his presence in the UK, US and Canada. Creators now have more ability than ever to leverage their likeness in other industries. In the UK, YouTuber related toy purchases have increased +62% year-on-year among 3-9 year olds, compared to the +17% growth in the case of films. This shows how content is shaping the kids ecosystem, in terms of attitudes, behaviours and consumption patterns, highlighting the importance of understanding the next generation.

The Insights Family’s content report discusses the importance of embracing multiple touchpoints in further detail. It also looks at today’s popular IPs, the linear TV vs streaming battle and the issue of platform saturation, exploring these trends and how they are impacting content creators and companies in the industry. Sign up to download your free copy of our report here:

* All statistics taken from the last six months of Kids Insights data (November 2021 – May 2022)

Kids Insights surveys 7,780 children every week aged 3-18. Parents Insights surveys more than 3,800 parents of children between the ages of 1 and 16 every week. Both services operate in 22 countries across six continents and in total survey more than 469,040 kids and 228,800 parents a year. This means that the company interviews a new family member somewhere in the world every 45 seconds.

ANALYSIS I The Insights Family on the booming creator economy

The Insights Family surveys more than 469,040 kids aged 3–18 and 228,800 different parents a year across 22 countries in 6 continents.

Its latest report, Mapping the World of Content, showcases the biggest global trends, developments and opportunities that are shaking up the content space as we see it.

Here, the company outlines how the creator economy is changing – with teens and tweens taking charge.

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Social media has broken down the traditional barriers to entry for content creation. Previously, there were gatekeepers who controlled what content was published in the music, TV, cinema or book industries, making it difficult for creators to independently share their work. The Internet age means that more people now have access to digital tools for creation.

The #1 career aspiration amongst kids aged 13-18 in the UK is IT and computing, emphasising how comfortable teens are in their online ecosystems. Being a YouTuber or vlogger currently ranks at #6 within this demographic, increasing by 73% over the last 9 months. What’s more, the desire to create content for a living has increased in the UK year-on-year by over 35% amongst 6-9 year olds. Globally, it averages as the fourth most popular career aspiration, illustrating the popularity of being a digital creator.

We see a prime example of the creator economy in the growth of TikTok, a platform which has grown in prominence due to the ease of users shooting and editing their own videos. While platforms such as Twitter and Instagram offered short video uploads, TikTok set itself apart by giving kids the tools to create and edit videos on their device, with no additional software or technology required. It is more accessible than YouTube which can require video editing software to make content look professional, not to mention advanced lighting and camera setups top vloggers may use on the platform.

By lowering the creative barrier to entry, TikTok has been able to garner a large audience who wanted to create their own content but may have lacked the means to do so. It is no surprise that amongst UK kids aged 11-18, there is a correlation between the increasing popularity of the platforms and the number of kids sharing their own videos online. Over the last twelve months, the number of teens naming TikTok as their favourite app has grown by 11% whilst the number of teens sharing videos has grown by 28%.

The creator economy has opened up a wealth of opportunities for budding entrepreneurs. With the ability to utilise low-cost tools and directly enter the marketplace, kids are capable of building enormous audience advocacy, with scope to leverage licensing deals with brands. Ryan’s World, a vlogger and influencer, is the second most popular YouTuber globally amongst kids aged 3-5. He has a huge presence in the UK, US and Canada and he is a prime example of how kid creators can license their online persona to produce toys for their audience. Licensed toy purchases in relation to 6-9-year-olds’ favourite YouTubers have increased by over 70% in the UK. Creators now have more ability than ever to leverage their popularity in other industries. In the UK, YouTuber related toy purchases have increased +62% year-on-year amongst 3-9 year olds, compared to the +17% growth in the case of films.

The creator economy boom doesn’t stop there. New forms of revenue models are constantly being created and finessed – an evolution that steps beyond traditional confines and offers even more innovation and opportunity. A trend that has grown considerably has been ‘self-referential’ creator content, such as live shopping or gaming content. Going beyond the activity itself and watching your favourite influencer or role-model partake in the activity not only creates a more intimate relationship, but a more informative experience overall, opening up the chance to implement additional commercial opportunities such as advertising or brand sponsorship.

The Insights Family’s new Mapping The World Of Content report discusses the creator economy in further detail and also explores other trends such as platform saturation and digital touchpoints. It is the first report in a series focused on exploring opportunities for brands in the kids and family ecosystem, produced by the company’s new Industry Knowledge team. Download it for free here:

* All statistics are taken from the Kids Insights real-time data portal in the last six months (November 2021 – May 2022)

Q&A: Hannah Craggs of TrendBible

Hannah Craggs is Head of Subscription & Content at TrendBible. She’s participating in a panel called ‘Forecasting the Future of Retail through Consumer Trends’ alongside Sainsbury’s Abi Wilson at the next European edition of Brand & Licensing Innovation Summit, taking place 21 June, at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

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Tell us, who are you and how does your business fit into the licensing eco-system? 

I’m Hannah Craggs, Head of Subscription & Content at TrendBible. TrendBible’s philosophy is one based on deeply understanding the mindsets and attitudes of consumers towards the future of life at home. Companies work with us to better understand future trends for their audience and what will drive their thoughts, tastes and behaviours. A strong grasp of future trends helps brands and organisations make informed commercial decisions. We work 2-5 years ahead of retail to research, decode and deliver how consumer signals will impact product design as well as services, strategies and solutions.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for the licensing industry right now?

The post or “inter” pandemic scape differs greatly from the approaches for retail and consumer connection we’ve known before. This throws up challenges but also exciting opportunities to do things differently. Some of the most talked about within our TrendBible team at the moment are:

  • International restrictions or interruptions to supply chains
  • Greater focus on sustainability
  • Greater focus on true diversity and allclusivity when creating products and solutions
  • How to establish and galvanise IRL (in real life)/immersive/experiential events after the pandemic that support consumer anxiety. This also links to consumers’ buying preference shifting from bricks and mortar to online.

What are the biggest trends you’re seeing in your business sector that impact brands and retailers?

This one’s a huge topic. At TrendBible we are constantly tracking this and some of the biggest trends I’d flag for 2023–2024 link to the above.

As climate change, global inflation and mass disruption to supply chains will have a direct impact on everyday lives and bank balances, there will be a redefinition of home from ‘nest’ or ‘family hub’. Instead, the home will be a space both on and offline that provides shelter, a place to seek solace, experience curated convenience and safety away from an uncertain world. This will lead to:

  • a consumer desire to embrace “savvy spending” and make more future-proofed product investments
  • the rise of resilience
  • the acceleration of tech overall and a greater sense of “tech-ceptance”
  • curated convenience. The acceleration of online commerce has put a spotlight on convenience, with Amazon setting a precedent for ultra-fast, on-demand, and no-nonsense delivery that keeps up with consumers’ changing habits
  • a desire for a localism and slower-paced lifestyles (as well as greater links to nature and sustainability)

Why are you looking forward to speaking at B&LIS? 

I want delegates to feel inspired and excited about the responsibility of rebuilding during (and after) a period of volatility. In an age of uncertainty, rapid change and big societal issues, there’s a need to respond to urgency without panic. We need to be confident in saying hello to the next normal, which will be a journey of unlearning, relearning and radical questioning.

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Gary Pope on 20 years of KI

Family marketing agency KI (Kids Industries) celebrated its 20th birthday last week, commemorating the occasion with the launch of a new website, brand update and an October conference to look forward to. 

Licensing Biz sat down with industry stalwart Gary Pope, KI’s CEO and co-founder, to take stock of key moments in the family and licensing space, and discover what he still loves about this industry…

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First off, Gary, congratulations on marking 20 years with KI – that’s no small feat!

Thank you, that’s very kind. It’s not always been easy but then if it was, it wouldn’t be quite so much fun.

When Jen and I started KI, we weren’t quite sure of the direction we wanted to go in – but we were absolutely certain that we wanted to make good things for families. Between us, we had backgrounds in education, developing experiences, marketing and change management, and we knew we needed to create something bigger than a business with a single focus. We wanted to apply our skills and do it in the commercial realms of the family market.

We actually worked with headteachers and behavioural psychologists in our very early days to develop our core approach to our work – 4ft Thinking™. It’s our way of seeing the world through the eyes of a child using science – biology, psychology and sociology – to define a bedrock of fact from which we can then build a solution to solve a client’s problem.

Given the successes you’ve had, you must have had a number of approaches to sell the business?

Funny how this is what people think you want to do! Build it and sell it. That’s not us. Not yet anyway. We love what we do and wouldn’t want to be part of something else and be told what was what. I’d struggle with that as our culture is so important to us. We’ve been approached a lot. We make a good story. Typically, interested parties want us to focus on a particular aspect of the business, but we aren’t one thing – we have a unique set of services which are all underpinned by insight and a deep understanding of the consumer. We don’t know anyone else that provides that full 360-degree offering. And whilst that might not be the way traditional businesses are structured, it is how we do things. And the clients that really understand that about us, really benefit. There is a lot of value in KI – our client list, the order book, proprietary approaches and most importantly, our knowledge. And that is about our people. You can’t sell that.

What are you most proud of achieving?

Goodness, that’s actually quite hard… We’ve done some great things. We have helped to build hotels, redeveloped the future of the McDonalds Happy Meal, created SVOD Platforms, the family experience for Royal Caribbean Cruises… There’s loads of things we’ve done that I would never have had the chance to if Jen and I hadn’t started on this journey 20 years ago. And all of them make me very proud and grateful for the opportunities we’ve had.

In terms of campaigns, our work for Amazon Kids+ stands out. We launched their first national multiple IP marketing campaign ‘Feed their hungry minds’. Our objective was to drive awareness of the all-you-can-eat secure content service, providing unlimited access to thousands of child-friendly books, movies, TV shows, apps and games. The bit I am especially proud of is how we managed to get 16 brands involved in the campaign, from Horrid Henry, Harry Potter and Peppa Pig, to Bing, Hot Wheels, the Gruffalo and more – I don’t know of any other campaign that’s managed to do that. But to be honest that’s all about the collegiate nature of the licensing industry. Or maybe it was the work we did to develop and market the proposition for Aquafresh toothpastes, too – we took the brand from eight to 63 per cent share in just three years.

Above all, though, I’m most proud of building our team with Raj, Jelena and Jen. The four of us have worked hard on our business and our business is about how good our team is. We’re experts. And if a new member of the team is not an expert in Kids and Family when they arrive, we’ve got a pretty robust learning programme that makes sure they’re right up to speed.

Are there any campaigns out there that you wish you’d come up with?

I’m a huge admirer of what Magic Light has done with The Gruffalo – a truly brilliant multi-faceted masterclass in brand management that will ensure the brand is rightly future-proofed. How they have worked with licensees to authentically translate the characters into product – especially plush and toys – has been impressive. We actually own the full set of plush in our house.

There have been some major changes in the industry over the past 20 years. What stands out to you?

Firstly, the realisation that insight is a necessity. When we began it really was only the big players that understood the insight (or had the budgets for it). The days of wild west ‘going with your gut’ product development and marketing is over. There is now a very healthy attitude towards the value insight brings and how it enables us to immerse ourselves in another person’s world. It means we can use the informed knowledge to create life-fulfilling experiences for others – invaluable!

Secondly, I’d say the quality of the products the industry is selling has changed, for the better. The consumer has got more savvy, producers too, and our industry’s ability to rethink and regenerate is truly impressive. The days of label-slapping are in their sunset.

Finally, I’d have to say the environment that the consumer lives in has changed considerably. Twenty years ago TV was everything, and with 28 channels, the UK had the largest number in the world. We thought that was tough then. Today, access is unlimited and linear television is no longer a thing. The licensing sector has had to work hard to better understand the changing landscape and some have embraced the fact that eyeballs are what’s needed and it doesn’t matter where you get them.

What do you still love about the licensing industry?

We have the nicest, tightest and most supportive sector – truly. It’s a hugely collegiate industry and super embracing. I think it’s because it’s so bright, colourful, glamorous and filled with great creatives all wanting to please their audiences. This is especially true in the toy/family market.

Finally Gary, what’s going to be big in the next 20 years?

With my Children’s Commissioner for Products of Change hat on, it has to be said that we must get better at producing sustainable products – especially in the toy sector. Our own research shows that nearly half (48 per cent) of UK parents want to see products that are easier to recycle, and 45 per cent want cheaper sustainable product options. Having products that are easier to refurbish or fix appeals too, to 37 per cent of UK parents.

That said, times are really tough. The rising cost of living is having a huge impact on families and parents need to cut costs where they can. The trend of buying second-hand items will continue and manufacturers need to consider that in their plans. We need to put people before profit and find new ways of design and engineering products, at a price point that works for everyone.


LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Morgan Weyl, MD of Licensing and Global Development, TOMY International

Offering a range of innovative, high-quality toys and nursery products that kids love and parents ask for by name, TOMY International is on a mission “to make the world smile”. We caught up with the company’s Managing Director of Licensing and Global Development, Morgan Weyl, ahead of Licensing Expo to find out about TOMY’s latest licensing deals and the products we can expect to see on-shelf in the months to come.

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Hi Morgan! First off, can you describe your role at TOMY and what your responsibilities are?

I serve as the Managing Director of Licensing and Global Development. I joined TOMY in 2000 as we were expending the Gacha licensed toy vending machine business outside of Japan, and that early interaction got me hooked on the licensing business realm. I use my 20 years of licensing expertise to help build a complementary strategy across each of TOMY’s divisions (Juvenile Products, Preschool, Vehicle and Toys) and bring amazing brands and content to life with our innovative products.

In addition to my licensing role, I’m also responsible for optimizing our brands and product platforms across geographies, applying successful regional programmes to further expand TOMY’s global reach.

What is TOMY’s history in the licensing sector?

In 2024, our company will celebrate its 100th anniversary! Licensing has been an integral part of TAKARA TOMY’s history. Some of our early historical successes are licensed; a 1924 Breguet Airplane tin replica or a 1956 Mickey Mouse tin toy, for example. We have fostered and strengthened our licensing portfolio and expertise since then, partnering with top studios and brand owners around the world.

Above: Jurassic Toomies

Across the entirety of the baby, vehicle and toy business today, we partner with inspiring brands like Mickey and Minnie, John Deere, Ford, Peppa Pig, Jurassic World, DC Comics, CoComelon, Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog, to name just a few.

Partnership defines our success in licensing. We highly value the uniqueness of our partners’ brands and ensure we infuse their DNA with a little bit of TOMY magic to always come up with something innovative and fresh.

You develop toys for large properties.  How do you ensure the TOMY products stand out in the marketplace – and keep their TOMY ‘essence’?

As just mentioned, it is all about DNA! We look at licensing as a strategic part of our product offering and make sure it complements our core and proprietary brands. By the time we select a property, we already know we’ll be able to bring TOMY’s quality and innovation. We strive to keep our DNA intact, always putting play, surprise, creativity and design at the forefront of our design thinking.

To echo our founder, Eiichiro Tomiyama, “Toys must have an element of fresh surprise, a sense of creativity and design. Without these, there is no progress.” This is TOMY’s founding philosophy and remains true for all our toys today.

Any challenges in the licensing realm?

Credit to all creators, content quality is just too good! Between new brands, and evergreen and nostalgic properties making their way back, there is so content much available. A concentrated retail landscape, added to broadcast and content diversification, brings a dilemma to licensors, licensees, and retailers alike. Opportunities to widely launch brand-new IPs have compressed greatly and we need to adapt our go-to-market strategies.

Getting the time for a property to find its audience is more and more challenging. We partner with our licensing friends early in the process, growing the brand awareness, and getting to a place we feel confident we can launch. We narrow the initial offering down to hit clear winners, while preparing a wider range of products enabling us to chase success as it comes.

You’ve recently acquired Fat Brain – how do you expect that to impact TOMY’s go-to-market strategy?

I just talked about the impact the consolidation of retail has had on toy companies. We also need to take into consideration the fact that consumers’ shopping habits have evolved in the last two years. The 2020 acquisition of Fat Brain diversified our product brand portfolio with amazing toys and brands like Dimpl and it also expanded our ability to reach and connect our brands to consumers directly, building that ever-so-important sense of community.

As a digitally native brand, Fat Brain Toys has tremendous omni-channel reach, offering us a critical platform to nurture the brands and new products and receive real-time consumer feedback.

What’s in the pipeline for TOMY, licensing-wise, for 2022 and beyond?

We have news across all our divisions and categories, starting with our licensed toddler feeding cups. In cups, we have historically worked with some of the biggest IPs in the world. We’ve seen great success with our latest partnerships including Mickey, Minnie, and Baby Shark. CoComelon was just added and is already doing very well. More IPs will soon complement our portfolio. We ensure we stay on top of the latest trend in this highly competitive category.

Looking at our vehicle business, we keep our foot on the pedal with new brands and partnerships. Monster Treads’ fans will soon get their hands on amazing Transformers stylised vehicles, coming this autumn. In 2023, we will expand our “Build A Buddy” STEAM accredited vehicle platform, offering 2-in-1 building fun thanks to amazing AAA brand collaborations. For older kids, all collectors’ eyes will be turned to an amazing diecast ship from the beloved Star Trek universe!

Recently, our toy division also shared news: we announced a new partnership with successful author Diane Alber. We’ll be taking Diane’s acclaimed book series, “A little SPOT”, to the toy aisle. Our playthings will offer young children really fun ways to understand and interact with emotions.

Preschoolers will enjoy new Toomies collaborations and toys with Peppa Pig, DC Comics and a special nostalgic treat with the cutest look of E.T. to celebrate its 40th anniversary. Finally, our Club Mocchi- Mocchi- collector plush platform will expand its POP culture portfolio with many partnerships to be announced very soon.

All these strategic initiatives will further strengthen our portfolio as we approach our 100th milestone.

What are you most looking forward to at Licensing Expo – and what would you like to achieve from the show?

Seeing and celebrating the industry, creators, buyers, and retailers who make life a little happier and more fun. It has been almost three years since we all last gathered in person at the licensing show. I’m personally looking forward to seeing all my friends from the industry as well as sharing all the TOMY news.

Our company motto is to “Make the world smile.” It’s rare to come across someone in the toy industry who doesn’t just love being in it. We’re popular with friends and family because of what we do, we play all day – it’s fantastic. The Licensing Show is one of the moments in time when we gather to be inspired by each other and explore possibilities.

TOMY will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 


LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Elan Freedman, EVP, Surge Licensing

Entertainment development company Surge Licensing represents a wide roster of brands, including Diane Alber, Spy Ninjas, WEBTOON, Epic 7, Stanley Kubrick, Fiesty Pets, Munchkin and more. Licensing Biz caught up with EVP Elan Freedman ahead of Licensing Expo to talk about the company’s latest deals, and what we can expect to see over the coming months.

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Can you tell us, in a nutshell, what Surge Licensing does? What’s your USP? Do you have a particular area of expertise?

Surge Licensing is an IP development and brand management company.  Our ultimate goal with our partners is to evolve their nascent and growing brands into fandoms and franchises. While we engage as agents and advisors and absolutely focus on licensing rights strategies, we see ourselves as a business that helps creators and licensors enhance and fill out their operations to achieve our shared goals.

Can you tell us some of the brands Surge Licensing represents? Which brands will you focus on at Licensing Expo?

Our portfolio of brands is completely community driven. Diane Alber’s publishing brands have an incredible community of parents and teachers seeking the best SEL content for their children and students. WEBTOON has a massive community of manga readers that love to read their titles the way users scroll TikTok or Instagram, and the Stanley Kubrick Archive’s fandom is filled with film buffs and creatives who have been eternally inspired by his work.

We’re presenting Spy Ninjas, which has 46m YouTube subscribers who participate in the videos by finding clues and commenting below the videos. Epic 7 has a diehard fanbase of mobile game players, who make every Twitch stream a #1 viewed event.  We have several vinyl toy properties, like Thimblestump Hollow, where collectors look forward to every single product drop.

Can you tell us what makes WEBTOON so exciting, and such a good fit for Surge Licensing? Are there any deals in the works yet, or is it still early days?

Pardon the repetition, but we seek ways of working with fandoms to deliver the programmes they desire. The WEBTOON community is massive and loyal, and it couldn’t be more exciting to build a programme for this audience. It’s a digitally native business, affording a direct relationship with our readers and data to help understand where they are and what they want. Fifteen million U.S. monthly active users, 11.5 billion global monthly page views and a constant stream of innovative content make WEBTOON the ultimate springboard for franchise behemoths (plural)!

Can you tell us more about Spy Ninjas, and how the licensing programme is progressing?

The programme has been growing beautifully. Soon, we’ll be able to share our media plans around animation, a live tour, family entertainment centres and additional YouTube formats. Expect to see Spy Ninjas everywhere shortly. We already have fantastic key partners in Playmates, Scholastic, Event Merch, Bentex and more, but the sky is the limit for Chad, Vy and Ninjas team.

The TOMY [global master toy] deal for Diane Alber is pretty big news. Where else would you like to take the brand?

The TOMY programme is just the beginning of the partnership business.  Diane is selling millions of books per year through Amazon, and we will be scaling the publishing programme globally through key partnerships.  Parents and teachers are demanding arts and crafts, school supplies, apparel, sleepwear, bedding and more. Now that TOMY is anchoring the programme and widening retail support, we’re going to begin diving into these new categories.

What are your goals at Licensing Expo? If you have your ‘dream’ show, what would that involve?

This year’s Licensing Expo is all about finally seeing all of our friends and colleagues. We’re going to gauge success by how many people are hanging out and connecting in our booth. Hopefully we meet plenty of new people as well. Ultimately, we’re looking forward to the party that will be the Licensing Expo show floor. Come by booth J120 and interrupt our meetings! It happens anyway, so let’s all lean into it!

Does the licensing industry ever get old? Or are you seeing any trends/innovations that are exciting you? Experiential/live events? The metaverse? NFTs?…

It truly never gets old. It’s a business driven by creative innovation AND product innovation, so there is never a short supply of inputs and outputs to craft opportunities. Going forward (and currently), we are going full throttle into Web3, but with a long-term approach. We view Web3 as a great disruptor, in the sense that the technologies afford direct communications with consumers/fans in ways never seen before.  We believe Web3 becomes the engine to offer unique experiences, content and product directly to fans who are seeking them. The data capture and direct communications create a flywheel, allowing brand managers to build hyper-targeted programmes, requested by the community.

Surge Licensing will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 

LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Julian Zag, EVP Global Operations and Head of Consumer Products, ZAG

Ahead of this month’s Licensing Expo, Licensing Biz caught up with Julian Zag, EVP Global Operations and Head of Consumer Products at family entertainment powerhouse ZAG, to talk about the incredible global success of Miraculous – Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, and what’s next for the smash-hit brand in the licensing space.

Can you briefly describe ZAG, and your role at the company?

ZAG is a global independent entertainment studio specialising in world-class storytelling across TV, film and digital platforms. Our foundation is rooted in creating compelling characters and developing masterful storytelling, all infused with original musical scores.

ZAG’s founder and CEO Jeremy Zag is a visionary director and composer. He initially formed ZAG in France in 2009, then expanded the company to the USA in 2012 with the Global Brand Franchise office in Santa Monica, California, and more recently, an additional head office in Miami, Florida.

Our company is home to several world-class entertainment properties under the ZAG HEROEZ label, including our flagship, globally renowned property Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, a 3D-CGI-animated superhero aspirational action-comedy series. New titles include Power Players and, most recently, Ghostforce, which just started to roll out last year.

Miraculous has taken off in a huge way, globally. Why do you think it appeals to kids so much?

Fans across the globe have fallen in love with the series protagonists, Ladybug and Cat Noir. The characters are engaging, likeable and admirable, but most importantly relatable, as family and friendships are always an important part of the storylines. At its core, Miraculous is a coming-of-age series about awkward kids learning about loving themselves and finding their true powers. Ladybug and Cat Noir are faced with discovering their own powers even if it scares them, even when it is hard to do. Core values are family, friendship, courage, love, and girl empowerment.

ZAG has taken great pride in creating breathtaking animation that draws in the audience and keeps them coming back for more. As a result, Miraculous resonates with a much broader audience than we originally anticipated. TV ratings clearly indicate that both girls and boys watch the show (55% to 45% on average). Digital data from YouTube, Tumblr, Netflix and social media from Twitter to Instagram all indicate we index high in the pop culture space with teens and young adults.

Do you have any recent viewing facts and figures/social media stats for the property?

Season four of the series debuted last year. It had its global premiere in April on TF1 in France, garnering an outstanding 47.7% market share amongst kids 4–10 years old, while in the U.S., the new season premiere on Disney Channel garnered incredible #1 ratings for girls 6–11 across all cable channels. In Germany, it achieved a 46.4% share among all kids on Disney Channel and is the #1 series. We are also ranked #1 on Disney Channal in Japan, and on Super! in Italy. Miraculous is still topping the ratings charts in Latin America, and on Gloob in Brazil, Miraculous has remained the #1 series for girls for four consecutive seasons, with the overall audience a 48/52 boy/girl split, highlighting that the show appeals widely to both boys and girls and family audiences.

Miraculous is huge across social. On YouTube, Miraculous just crossed 30 billion views!

Roughly how many licensing partners do you have for the property? I know last year it was around 300, has that number increased?

Yes, we currently have approximately 400 licensees around the globe, including several global and pan-regional partners. Global deals include Playmates for toys; Ferrero for chocolates; Swatch’s Flik Flak for watches; Epopia, which is a unique epistolary letter format that encourages children to read and write through interactive storytelling; PMI for a line of collectibles, impulse, stationery and school supplies; PEZ for candy dispensers, and Spread Group for print-on-demand.  We also recently extended our deal with Rubies for costumes across EMEA. Other pan-regional partners include Crayola and InSpirit Designs.

It’s nice to see a girl superhero for once. Is diversity and inclusion important to ZAG?

What is important to ZAG is that everyone has to be able to connect to the story, from anywhere in the world, at any age. We care about telling honest stories to help people to ”discover themselves”. Therefore, everything has to be grounded in real life, with a little touch of magic to help our heroes to jump through their reality.

Where is growth coming from? E-commerce is clearly strong… In terms of markets, is there one territory that performs better than others? Are there any untapped markets you’d like to enter?

All territories are performing well and we continue to see huge growth across the board.

 In terms of untapped markets, The Middle East and Africa have become a top priority for ZAG, and the Disney/MBC broadcast combination is a perfect duo for us to reach children across the region.  Miraculous is garnering strong ratings, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where the series ranked in the #1 slot on MBC, following its launch in 2018, and has remained in the top 20 programmes ever since.  We recently appointed Carlotta Caracciolo as our first VP, Middle East and Africa, to oversee the company’s consumer products strategy in the region.

And, most recently, our consumer products programme in Japan is becoming very successful, especially now that Miraculous has become number #1 on TV on Disney Channel Japan, which is incredible since Miraculous is not a Manga property.  We see seeing increasing requests from companies wanting to join our licensing programme every day.

Are you able to give details of any licensing deals around the release of the Miraculous Awakening movie this autumn?

The movie release will be supported by a major QSR programme; an expanded toyline from ZAG Lab and Playmates which will be available online and at bricks-and-mortar stores and incorporates new characters, the first vehicle featuring a convertible scooter, a collectible line of Kwamis, a movie 2-pack, and Movie Collector Ladybug; the launch of the first Miraculous Console Game from ZAG Games, developed by Magic Pockets and published by GameMill Entertainment, to be available on XBOX, Playstation and Nintendo Switch; a new mobile puzzle game from ZAG Games, developed with Crazylab; and several co-branded partnerships with some more of the most influential companies across the globe for numerous consumer products categories, including one with one of the biggest automobile companies in the world.

What are your goals at Licensing Expo? If you have your ‘dream’ show, what would that involve?

We have so much good news to share with our partners who we haven’t seen in person for over two years, and we want to celebrate our success with them. For example, we hit over $1billion in retail sales, sold over 250 million products, and just hit 30 billion views on YouTube. We also have big plans in the works to share with partners around the launch of our Miraculous US$100+ million theatrical movie as I mentioned. We know we will have a dream show!

Do you want to talk about the latest viewing figures/licensing deals for GhostForce?

Or course! Disney Channels U.S. acquired the series and premiered it on October 4, 2021, on Disney XD. The series also launched in most European countries and is getting incredible ratings, regularly ranked among the top #3 shows. In Latin America, the series debuted on Discovery Kids in December, except for Brazil where it debuted on May 2.

Looking to the future, are you considering any new ways for kids to engage with ZAG properties, ie, through NFTs or live experiences, or via the metaverse?

We are seeing strong demand for immersive and live experiences. The Miraculous live-action stage tour from Proactiv was very popular in Spain prior to the pandemic, and we’re pleased that this will be relaunching, starting with Latin America this summer, and Europe in the autumn. We’re also close to announcing a U.S. partner to bring a new live show to North America.

Earlier this month, we launched and already sold out of tickets for Miraculous Paris – Tours of Ladybug and Cat Noir, a virtual family getaway to Paris. Led by a travel guide, families can join a virtual tour to visit real Parisian monuments, and the event includes original Miraculous content, behind-the-scenes secrets and games. We will continue the event this summer.

We’re also in negotiation with a theme park – more on that to come!

What trends are you noticing globally among kids? Do you think anxiety is a big factor after covid? 

For us, we are seeing kids wanting to interact with our brands in any way they can, and we want to deliver the very best experiences for them so that they can enjoy themselves even amidst the events of the world around us.

ZAG will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 

LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Sarah Crimes, Director of Marketing, Story.1888

Story.1888 – the creative services wing of licensing agency The Point.1888 – was established in 2021 to offer licensing clients an unparalleled level of support, from product branding and style guides, to product marketing, strategy, content creation and campaign management.

Before the team heads to Vegas for this year’s Licensing Expo, Licensing Biz asked Director of Marketing Sarah Crimes to talk us through the company’s journey so far, the services it offers, and its plans for the coming months.

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Do you want to briefly outline The Point.1888’s USP, its retail-first strategy?

Compared to the traditional licensing model, which follows the pattern of licensor and licensee agreeing on a deal and then finding a retailer to deliver product to consumers, The Point.1888’s methodology reverses that by working with retailers to identify gaps at retail and utilising the brands we represent to fill those gaps with products with purpose. This approach delivers sustainable revenue and increases brand awareness, consumer touch points and brand love, and provides long-term certainty for our clients whilst doing what’s best for retailers, manufacturers and consumers.

What was the thinking behind the launch of Story.1888? (It was an unusual step for a licensing agency to launch a creative agency.) What does the agency do differently?

For over three years now, really since our team expanded in a big way, we’ve been able to offer our licensing clients an exceptionally high level of support in areas such as marketing, advertising, creative and product launches in a way that other agents weren’t able to. We also immediately started getting requests from non-licensing clients, outside of the industry and within, to support them in areas we now had specialists in.

I proposed to Will [Stewart, CEO and founder] that we could set up a sister agency alongside The Point.1888 to house all this in a much clearer way, so internally and externally we could really shout about our expertise. So, Story.1888 was born and immediately we had clients ready to work alongside us on their brands and business strategy.

In terms of what we do differently here at Story.1888, it’s all about our team. But what we really focus on is bringing brand stories to life, and with retail being the heartbeat of everything we do within both agencies, we truly can influence and understand this incredibly important touchpoint and just how to talk to consumers.

Can you give us a flavour of the expertise you have on the team – are people from diverse marketing/advertising/social media/licensing/design backgrounds? Who are the key players?

We are an eclectic bunch, from retail buying, licensing, marketing and advertising backgrounds, experienced in everything from starting companies to working with some of the world’s biggest brands. This allows us to wear many hats, and truly understand how best to tell a brand’s story with retail and consumers at heart.

Story.1888 is led by me, as Director of Marketing, and Martin McLaughlin, who is our Director of Strategy. We both have very varied and differing careers spanning over 30 years collectively. From launching brands, and working on some big advertising campaigns for the likes of T-Mobile, Toyota and Levi’s, to writing and executing brand growth strategies for start-ups and leading new product launches via B2B and B2C, we hope our experience across manufacturing, retail, marketing, events and collaborations can really offer our Story.1888 clients a fresh new way of looking at their business and brand growth.

Can you tell us about the various services that Story.1888 offers clients? How do you bring a brand story to life? 

Our capabilities as an agency are really flexible, to ensure that we can offer a truly bespoke service to our clients. Our work to date has been varied (just like our experience), from creative – things like style guides, pitch documents, mock-ups, logos, branding, and websites – to full-scale campaign idea generation and execution. We have done a lot of strategy and consultancy pieces for brands with specific goals in mind, such as how to launch a new product into the market. I’d say launch strategies seem to be a real area of interest right now and something we are hugely competent in.

We also have businesses working with us on a monthly basis; we provide support with their brand strategy, social media content planning and posting/engagement as well as paid ad campaigns. PR has always been a real strength for us as a business, and we are pleased to have clients we support in their noise creation via PR.

We’ll be attending Licensing Expo in Vegas this year, so if you would like to discuss what we might be able to do for you, please do get in contact!

Looking to the future, is there anything in particular you’re excited about? Trends? New markets and opportunities? Gen Z coming of age? Experiential coming back, post Covid?

We are entering an incredibly challenging period in all our lives from a marketing and consumer reach point of view. There’s no doubt about it, we have all been hit hard by the last few years, and the way we spend our money, and our time, is changing. Yes, we all want experiential again, we want connection to people and places, and we know that will be hugely important for brands to engage with.

But what we are most excited by is really getting to know these changes to consumers’ behaviour and being ahead of the curve when it comes to how they engage with brands and what they choose to spend their hard-earned money on. We have become a more cynical nation in the last few years as well – who can blame us? – which is adding complexity to the way we can successfully market brands. It’s been a tough ride and we all deserve better, and that’s exactly what consumers are demanding! It’s exciting for us as cross-channel marketeers to really get to know just what we can do to support these changes.

What clients have you worked with so far, and what did the campaigns look like? Are there any planned product launches or new partnerships you’re allowed to talk about? 

We have some super-exciting creative work we are leading for some of our clients which will take shape in brand-new licensing programmes hitting the market from 2023 onwards.

We are supporting a leading American drinks brand in their journey over the pond. From marketing and awareness campaigns to retail distribution strategy and delivery – this is going to be a big one and you will find us all over the country this summer trialling the brand and building momentum ready for next year’s launch.

Our most exciting partnership this year (so far) involves a series of marketing and activations featuring a very large inflatable in the shape of a much-loved animal (who happens to be the nation’s favourite sweet!). Sadly we can’t say any more right now, but as soon as we can, we’ll be the first to tell you!

Story.1888 will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 



LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Kerry Phelan, Chief Brand Officer, Genius Brands

It’s been a successful year for children’s media company Genius Brands, with the acquisition of Canada’s WOW! Unlimited Media and Ameba TV, major investment in Germany’s Your Family Entertainment, and the worldwide rollout of Kartoon Channel! and Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse. The next 12 months promise to be just as busy; in the works are a brand-new series, Shaq’s Garage, featuring basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, and a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme to celebrate 100 years since the revered comic-book creator’s birth.

We caught up with Chief Brand Officer Kerry Phelan ahead of this month’s Licensing Expo to find out more about both new projects, as well as Genius Brands’ plans for the rest of 2022 and beyond.

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Hi Kerry, can you give us a brief overview of Genius Brands – who you are and what you do?

I am the Chief Brand Officer at Genius Brands International, which is a leading global kids’ media company developing, producing, marketing and licensing branded children’s entertainment properties and consumer products for media and retail distribution. I am responsible for consumer engagement with our IP slate and expanding them into bigger commercial franchises.

Our goal is to create a larger ecosystem around our brands, with multiple consumer touchpoints (merchandise, gaming, LBE experiences, and so on) to allow fans to engage with our stories and characters in a much more immersive way.

You’ve worked with some major international companies – what excites you about Genius Brands?

I feel enormously honoured and privileged to have worked on some the world’s most prestigious brands, including the LEGO brand, Star Wars, Pixar Cars, Shrek, Hunger Games, and more. These experiences have all been so unique and amazing in their own way but, for the most part, the connective tissue has always been working on brands that enrich the lives of families and children. So when Genius Brands’ CEO Andy approached me about joining the company and sharing its mission of creating high-quality “content with a purpose” to do good, it became impossible not to say yes.

What are some of the major tasks/opportunities facing you over the next couple of years in your role as Chief Brand Officer?

We are a relatively young company with some very exciting content development in the works. One of our short-term priorities is to leverage our original, new content and dramatically increase our consumer products business, starting with Shaq’s Garage.

You are debuting Shaq’s Garage at the Expo. Can you tell us how the partnership with Shaquille O’Neal came about? What do you think is special about the series? Who is it going to appeal to?

Shaq’s Garage is a fabulous new animated series targeted at kids aged 3-8. The show is a partnership between ABG Entertainment, Shaquille O’Neal and Genius Brands, and it was inspired by Shaq’s real life love of cars and his unwavering  commitment to help kids be the best they can be. The show centres around Shaq and his family of cars, called the Shaq Paq, who have been brought to life. In each episode, Shaq sends the Shaq Paq out on missions to help the community. They eventually accomplish the mission, but not without a lot of humour and hijinks along the way.

The episodes are centred around teaching kids to respect differences and be inclusive, kind, honest, loyal, and all the values we believe are so important in today’s world. Shaq loves this show and is “all in!” He is both a producing partner on the show, as well as starring as an animated Shaq and also voicing the main car character, Biggie D, in the series.

Can you name any licensing partners yet, or is it too early?

It’s just a bit too early. We are very close to signing several partners, starting with toys, and will be debuting the brand to other potential partners at the upcoming Licensing Expo.

Likewise, can you tell us more about the Stan Lee celebrity brand, what’s exciting about it, and in particular, how you’re planning to celebrate the centenary of Stan’s birth?

At Genius Brands, we are incredibly honoured to be the trusted owners of the Stan Lee brand. It’s a great privilege to carry on Stan’s legacy and a responsibility that we take very seriously.

Stan Lee was a legendary content creator and the godfather of pop culture. He would have turned 100 years old later this year [on December 28]. To commemorate “100 Years of Stan”, we are launching a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme, as well as some Stan Lee fan events that will allow people to celebrate and pay tribute their beloved icon. And that’s the just the beginning, we will have more big Stan Lee announcements coming soon!

What will visitors to your stand at the Licensing Expo be able to see/do/find out about?

We are thrilled to be back LIVE at Licensing Expo! We welcome all our industry friends and partners to come visit us and learn more about the Stan Lee Centennial programme and see some early animation of Shaq’s Garage and possibly even hear about what’s next.

The licensing industry hasn’t managed to meet up in person for a while. What are you looking forward to most at Licensing Expo 2022?

I am most looking forward to the people! I’ve been very fortunate to have a long career in the entertainment licensing business. When you distil it all down, the licensing industry is all about relationships. If you form true, mutually respectful and collaborative partnerships with smart, good and talented people, then everything else will follow for a mutually successful business.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the licensing industry as a whole? And what do you think are the greatest opportunities?

The growth of the streamers, combined with the pandemic, has accelerated, and changed the way consumers consume content. This resulted in a proliferation of content being available, so it’s become harder for original IP to break through in a limitless ocean of consumer choices. But, of course, this also presents more opportunity, so it’s an exciting time to be a content creator like we are at Genius Brands.

The retail landscape has also dramatically changed. Online shopping continues to experience double-digit growth and is still the fastest growing retail channel. This presents both challenges and opportunities. The challenge is that, instead of launching big licensed product programmes in thousands of bricks-and-mortar stores, many retailers now want to “test” new, unproven properties in their online stores before committing to the bigger programme. The upside of this approach for licensors is that your new, original property can be given a chance to prove itself instead of the “all or nothing” approach of the past, where buyers would just pass on an unproven property.

Genius Brands International will be at stand C178, Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24–26 May 2022.


TRENDS I WildBrain CPLG’s Jasen Wright on where the licensing industry is headed in 2022

“There’s a real wave of enthusiasm from across the licensing industry as we emerge (once again) from pandemic restrictions. The impact of the last two consecutive pandemic-driven years has brought many challenges, but it’s also accelerated the evolution of consumer engagement with brands, creating new opportunities. As we emerge from these difficult times, I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in licensing.

Two of the biggest sectors to feel the impact have been physical retail and live events, so we look forward to a resurgence of these two pivotal areas of the industry in the coming year.

We’ve explored five key trends for global brand owners, retailers and licensees alike for 2022 and beyond:

Multi-layered approaches to retail:

Physical retail continues to be hugely important – and the holiday shopping scenes in-stores underscored this – but there’s also been a significant boom, in no small part by necessity, of digital retail. Consumers will continue to demand a multi-layered shopping experience and physical and digital retail will evolve in new ways to continue to co-exist together. We’ll see more digital experiences in-store to draw customers in, as well as unique events that offer increased engagement or touchpoints with brands and products that the digital world cannot create. Going forward, we’re likely to see a brand’s overall consumer products and retail strategy embracing both digital initiatives and innovative retail activities that drive consumer experiences over and above a product purchase, such as the impressive Chupa Chups Room in Dubai.

The emerging world of NFTs:

Another interesting component in the consumer relationship with brands is NFTs and, by extension, digital currencies. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are the buzz word for brands right now, and an increasing number of companies want to be in this space to drive brand relevancy and be at the forefront of something that will eventually be regulated and part of our everyday life. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops – it could move very quickly, and we could see digital currency and NFTs become mainstream in only a few years. Another attraction of NFTs is how they play into the collectibles trend, which has been a key part of consumer products for many years. As brands look to enhance their consumer engagement strategy through digital platforms, NFTs have become a new commercial avenue.

Innovation in location-based entertainment:

An area of the business that I believe will also emerge transformed post-pandemic is location-based entertainment, which is also the theme for Licensing Expo 2022. We were seeing the start of consumers wanting to experience brands differently before COVID-19 hit, but I think we’ll now see much more innovation in those bigger consumer experiences with brands. Crayola recently announced plans for outbound licensing of its famous Crayola Experience which will see new locations installed around the world starting in 2023. It underlines the importance of the category to a brand as it creates more consumer touchpoints – location-based entertainment provides a brand destination to extend the consumer journey.

The importance of corporate and social responsibility:

A further area that will continue to grow in 2022 is the importance of corporate responsibility and brand values. Consumers, and particularly Gen Zs, are becoming more considered in how they interact with and consume brands – it’s not just about a product’s quality or how it’s marketed, but a company’s social and corporate responsibility. Themes such as wellness and sustainability are much more engrained. Inclusivity, too, is at the forefront and not just at a corporate level, but in terms of representation, ensuring kids and families today can see themselves reflected in content and products. Corporate and social responsibility is an important business pillar, not just a passing trend.

Fresh approaches to corporate brands:

One of the ways this heightened awareness of brand values has played out is that corporate brands are entering the licensing arena in new ways, while established brands are looking for collaborations and extensions into new aisles and channels that align with their businesses. For example, we’re seeing several CPG brands now looking at how they expand from the grocery channel to become present in other places, and this is driving innovative partnerships with other brands.

We’ve recently seen this with the Froot Loops and Sweethearts cereal collaboration as well as Sweethearts and Crocs coming together for a sweet colourful collaboration. At the premium end, Tumi, a corporate brand known for luggage, and McLaren, an automotive brand, have teamed up to offer a co-branded collection inspired by their shared values of meticulous design and durability. Looking to capture new consumers or buzz-worthy headlines, brands will continue to reach across aisles to form unexpected partnerships, leaving plenty of room for creative marketing campaigns and new product innovation.

From the toy aisle to the catwalk:

We’re also seeing a resurgence in creativity, particularly in the relationship between toy and kids’ brands and high-end fashion – encapsulated in the recent Balmain and Barbie collaboration, amongst others. These partnerships reflect and embrace popular culture and add value to offerings for both parties.

In part, this has to do with nostalgia – tapping into the original consumer demographic who grew up with a now iconic toy brand. Some major children’s brands have been around for many decades and there’s an intersection where the parents, who now consume premium brands, see their children playing with a toy they themselves loved. This offers opportunities across both the luxury and toy markets in playful and surprising ways, positioning the younger brand as aspirational, which then has a halo effect to the rest of the brand and licensing programme. From our own stable of IP, we see many examples of this: Peanuts, especially, has signed many diverse but brand-relevant fashion collaborations; LEGO has collaborated with YSL fashion; and Teletubbies has expanded from its core preschool audience to reach an older Gen Z fanbase through activations such as appearances at New York Fashion Week.

I feel we’re at the start of a new phase in licensing, where there’s a willingness and openness from brands to explore new and creative paths augmented by retail and technological evolution. Lockdown may have been a time of introspection, but it has also driven innovation, and as a result I believe there are many reasons to be optimistic about 2022 and beyond.”

Jasen Wright, VP North America for WildBrain CPLG, has developed consumer product and licensing programmes for some of the world’s leading brands across food & beverage, home improvement, automotive, art, sports, lifestyle and entertainment. Wright leads a team responsible for growing WildBrain CPLG’s North American portfolio of entertainment and lifestyle brands, as well as growing licensing business for WildBrain’s proprietary properties, including Strawberry Shortcake, Caillou, Teletubbies and Chip & Potato.