Licensing – Tried and True vs. New Kid on the Block: The Ultimate Smackdown

This summer CMA teamed up with Women in Toys for a panel discussing the ins and outs of licensing.  Particularly, tried and true brands vs. new properties emerging into the market.

WITlogoOur illustrious panelists included:  Liza Abrams:  VP, Global Licensing and Marketing Sakar International.  Her work at Sakar includes brands such as Hello Kitty, Monster High, Spider Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Dara Beckerman:  Senior Director, Toys and Consumer Electronics at Nickelodeon.  On Dara’s watch Dora the Explorer became Fisher-Price’s fastest-growing property ever in the US.  Way to go!  And last but not least we had Lindsay Martinez:  VP of Licensing and Business Development at American Greetings where she works on such tried and true properties as Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears.  The panel was moderated by Martin Brochstein:  SVP Industry Relations and Information for International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA).

Those are some impressive big wigs!
Those are some impressive big wigs!

Whew!  That was a lot of street cred to drop!  So what did they talk about?  Lots of stuff.  That’s it.  End post.  One topic that came up is the challenge of launching a new property.  The landscape for toys and media is constantly changing as new shows are more bountiful and shelf space is more scarce.  Licensors track the appeal of new brands and do lots of consumer studies.  For AGP it was important to keep the emotional aspects of their properties intact when re-launching retro favorites like Holly Hobbie or Care Bears.  A parent nostalgic for these toys isn’t going to shell out hard-earned money if they’re unrecognizable from what they know and loved but a kid isn’t going to react well to totally outdated designs.  Properties, whether new or old, have to translate to the kinds of products each company makes.  For example, the iCarly product lines were very gadget-driven because that fits in with the sensibility of the show.

Though Holly Hobbie didn't really look modern for the '70s either.  1870s, yes.
Though Holly Hobbie didn’t really look modern for the ’70s either. 1870s, yes.

So the big question from our show creators in the audience was will a show be considered without an obvious consumer product angle?  The answer was – it depends.  Preschool properties need consumer products, kids want to play their favorite shows.  Shows for older kids are a wild card.  Dara pointed out that at Nick not every show has a consumer product line.  Tweens are fickle, they may love a show but just not want to advertise that on a t-shirt.

Products are planned 2-5 years ahead of time so it’s difficult to gauge what’s going to be a hit and what’s not.  And depending on the kinds of products certain things are easier to make:  T-shirts are easy, toys are hard.  Disney took a huge chance launching consumer products for Doc McStuffins when the show premiered but that risk has paid off.  Dara admitted Nickelodeon is starting to launch products earlier, too.  They launched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys alongside the new series and they’re already creating Peter Rabbit toys for the fall and the show just launched in December.  It’s important to keep track of things like ratings and social media.  If there is a demand for product, folks online will not be shy about it.

When dealing with tried and true favorites, you still have to keep things fresh. Hello Kitty gets revamped a few times a year and even Care Bears has added a new character.  For human properties you have to keep them cute, contemporary and fashion forward.  Even Mickey and Minnie Mouse had to be revamped when Disney got too precious about them and their style fell, well, out of style.

Old Turtles
Old Turtles
New Turtles
New Turtles


All in all, I don’t think we had too much of a debate on our hands.  At least I didn’t see any boxing gloves, which, frankly, is what I expect.  We did have a rather interested talk about all things licensing which was a little over the head of this writer who still believes that a guy from the North Pole just magically brings us the toys we want every year.  Still, I tried my best to takeaway something valuable (in between jotting down my Christmas list of course).

Main Takeaway: I was all set to declare evergreen properties the winner but even these tried and true brands need to be updated constantly so everything is new – so everyone wins!


Personal Takeaway:  I can’t even imagine planning anything 5 years out.  I have trouble planning month to month.


Inappropriate Takeaway:  My brothers once convinced me to let them blow up my Lemon Meringue doll with firecrackers.  I still feel terrible for poor Ms. Meringue even to this day.

Poor kid - Never even saw it coming
Poor kid – Never even saw it coming