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Licensed Internet Characters Take on TV, Comic and Movie Properties

The privileged territory once occupied by TV, comics and movies in the hearts of licensors is now under threat from a whole new generation of internet characters, with many of them proving particularly popular across the mainland.

Photo: The Mr Men: The granddaddies of the licensing world.
The Mr Men: The granddaddies of the licensing world.
Photo: The Mr Men: The granddaddies of the licensing world.
The Mr Men: The granddaddies of the licensing world.

Movie and comic book superheroes are having to fight increasingly hard to win the battle for lunchboxes and T-shirts, if the Hong Kong International Licensing Show is any measure. Internet games characters, especially those featured in games played on mobile devices, are winning an ever-larger slice of the licenced product market.

A number of long-established brands are also finding a new audience, as parents pass their childhood favourites down to a new generation. At the same time, new technologies are allowing licensors to get more money from their brand through an even broader range of products.

Games continue to provide a popular vehicle for licensing agreements. Amongst a plethora of games at this year's show, the Korean Maghead video game characters stood out. The company behind the game, YH Database, has been active in the video gaming sphere since 2006. In essence, Maghead, is a mobile phone game set in a post-nuclear holocaust world, populated by heavy-metal poisoned 'magnetic' people with atrophied limbs.

The game's creators, of course, have introduced a whole range of merchandising to support the game. At the last count, these included USB memory sticks, lunch boxes, bags, mouse pads, memo pads, notebooks, watches and pens.

EA PopCap Games, an online gaming company based in San Francisco, was showcasing its already popular Plants vs Zombies app. According to the company, over the past few years, the brand has blossomed, becoming much more than a casual game. As it a result, it is now said to have millions of fans worldwide.

EA PopCap has so far has sold 30 million children's books in just three years, and has also successfully co-operated with Shanghai's Meters/Bonwe group on a range of related clothing. It has also licensed it characters to several FMCG brands, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Hershey's, PepsiCo and Colgate.

One of the granddaddy's of all licensed properties is the Mr Men brand, which originally started life in the UK in 1971 as a series of children's books. The success of the Mr Men characters is in part due to their trans-generational appeal, with parents who grew up with the books now sharing them with their own children.

The characters also have a proven track record of translating well into new markets. To date, they have captured the imagination of readers, viewers and artists across the world. Their latest development seems to be an allegiance with the force behind the Hello Kitty brand.

Sandrine de Raspide, a spokesperson for Tokyo-based Sanrio, owner of the Hello Kitty brand, said: "We are now committing resources to the Mr Men and Little Miss franchises, creatively, in terms of marketing and also commercially. This long-term investment is already starting to bear fruit. Promotions are the lynchpins of our brands and we are working across the three pillars of fashion, gifting and publishing. Our intention is to keep the characters fresh in the minds and hearts of customers."

Photo: Maghead: Post-apocalyptic mobile gaming.
Maghead: Post-apocalyptic mobile gaming.
Photo: Maghead: Post-apocalyptic mobile gaming.
Maghead: Post-apocalyptic mobile gaming.
Photo: Plants vs Zombies: A worldwide phenomenon.
Plants vs Zombies: A worldwide phenomenon.
Photo: Plants vs Zombies: A worldwide phenomenon.
Plants vs Zombies: A worldwide phenomenon.

Media giant Warner Brothers, headquartered in Burbank, California, was a notable presence at the show and had on offer a number of promising franchising opportunities. This included a wide spectrum of properties, notably movies, live action TV series, animation, comic books and interactive games.

In addition to its licensing programs for its evergreen brands – such as  Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Batman and Superman – the company is also developing new licencing programs for upcoming major releases from the studio, such as Pan, (scheduled for release in October 2015), and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (due to hit the big screen in March 2016).

As well as licensors, a number of leading manufacturers also exhibited at the event, all keen to present their credentials for producing licence-branded goods. Among the most eye-catching products showcased this year was a 3D scanner from Tokyo-based Mutoh Figure World. The scanner can capture an image of an individual and then superimpose that image in 3D onto a customised printed caricature figurine. This can be wearing any one of a number of outlandish outfits, such as samurai armour, a bunny suit or a baseball strip.

The operation of the scanner is simple and it takes only ten seconds to capture an image of an individual. The virtual costume is then added, before a physical 3D model is printed out.

Located in Chenghai, Shantou Kangyuan Plastics Industrial was founded in 2003, with company currently holding both import and export licenses. It specialises in manufacturing a wide range of OEM products, including loom bands, hula hoops, colourful rope, and intellectual games. The company's building covers 10,000 square meters, and is equipped with more than 30 sets of high-tech production machines.

A number of other companies also had on offer significant new licencing opportunities. Fujian-based Qiloo International, for instance, a leading supplier of bags, shoes, garments, ceramics, and accessories, has the capacity to produce 10 million units annually. According to the company, its advanced technology, scientific management practices, and high service levels guarantee impressive quality.

Thailand's ProCraft, meanwhile, specialises in decals, stencils and paint, producing these items under private labels for their varied clientele. Customers can supply their own designs as well as their own packaging specifications.

ProCraft claims to invest heavily in its Netherlands-based product development resource. Its quality control is overseen by a team of European experts, with common raw materials sent to the company's production locations, ensuring uniform quality on a global basis.

Another Netherlands connection came courtesy of DP Specials bv, a company founded in 2003 in the city of Apeldoorn by Dennis Panhuijsen, a self-confessed karaoke expert. Explaining his company's USP, Panhuijsen said: "My goal is simple – to become the number one karaoke supplier worldwide. How? By saying what I do, and doing what I say."

The strategic importance of the ILS, was highlighted by a number of speakers in the associated Licensing Conference which ran concurrently with the event. Charles Riotto, President of the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA) headquartered in New York, and Rebecca Lo, Council Member of Licensing Executives Society of China, based in Beijing, both predicted that the mainland will become one of the world's largest licensing markets. This, no doubt, is one of the key reasons the ILS remains one of the world's most significant licensing forums.

Photo: Character Street: The heart of the 2015 Licensing Show.
Character Street: The heart of the 2015 Licensing Show.
Photo: Character Street: The heart of the 2015 Licensing Show.
Character Street: The heart of the 2015 Licensing Show.

The Hong Kong International Licensing Show was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The event attracted more than 19,741 visitors, a 10% increase on the preceding year's event. This year, the event featured 310 exhibitors from 18 countries and regions, including, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, UK, Italy, USA as well as Hong Kong.

Marvin Wallace, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

 

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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