25 Nov 2019
Chances to Climb the Properties' Ladder Abound at UK Licensing Expo
The boom in digital media has seen an explosion in the number of licensed properties, with online-characters competing with cinema and TV icons for T-shirt acreage and plush placements, according to exhibitors at Brand Licensing Europe.
This year's Brand Licensing Europe show in London made it glaringly clear that international licensing opportunities are in abundant supply right now. Moreover, they're coming from a wide variety of media, and not just the long-established traditional sources.
Established just two years ago, Happy Ink BV was present in London to showcase its popular Hamsta brand. Saskia Keiser, Executive Creative Director / Owner of Happy Ink BV, said: "Hamsta World is a lifestyle brand for teenagers and children for all ages. I created it myself and I'm based in Amsterdam in Holland, but Hamsta has an Asian feel, intentionally so. It's cute, it's kawaii, which I love – I'm a huge fan of that. The Hamsta brand has been inspired by those old-school Japanese brands such as Hello Kitty, but the thing that I've added is a really quirky, cheeky Western sense of humour, so it's different from the Asian style."
The Hamsta product range includes plush toys, stationery and collectable figurines, as well as branded healthy snacks such as dried fruit. However, the Hamsta characters – bright, funny, cuddly rodents who speak a language called "Hamstanglish" – didn't originate in books, films or a TV show. Instead they star in short animated videos accessed via a variety of social-media platforms.
Keiser said: "They are on YouTube and Instagram and in particular we do a lot of campaigns on TikTok. They've had more than 300 million views on Giphy. Hamsta is on Spotify too, because the characters have their own songs and music. Stickers and gifts are available from app stores and everywhere on social media."
Hamsta branched out into the UK early, appointing Allsorts Licensing to handle its property there shortly after launching, and the company now considers the UK market a flagship territory. In summer 2019, it also signed a deal with LICENT to develop the brand in China, and there is a desire to take it even further.
The appeal of Hamsta seems to cut across demographic groups, with Keiser saying: "Teenagers are our inspiration and main target group, but adults like them as well – all ages in fact. Every time we try to specify one target group, another target group joins in, so it's really hard to distinguish. The brand is absolutely gender-neutral, too."
Also exhibiting at the Brand Licensing Europe show was Lumo Stars, from Finland. The brand has developed from a successful children's picture book, Northern Brights, by Kati Heljakka and Paulina Linjama. Inspired by nature and local mythology, the book is set in a Nordic forest and features a group of animal friends whose rainbow eyes reflect the colours of the northern lights. Now Lumo Stars offers a range of popular toy and game lines featuring the book's characters, with new products being added all the time.
Jussi Lindberg, Principal Designer of Lumo Stars, said: "Everything is based on the book and the ideas of the story. We've created several lines and plush toys is the biggest one. The Lumo Stars brand is less than two years old and we have sold over six million plushes all over the world already. They're aimed at children from the age of zero up. Some products have an AR feature, so you can download the app and scan them to hear that character's story.
"We're expanding beyond the original book now. We have additional books – activity books, sticker books and other storybooks for small children. There are other kinds of variations, too. Now we have the Panda Stars range. They're like the Eastern cousins of the main characters. We also have collectable figurines now. You'll have heard of the so-called 'kidult' target group, and I know grown-ups are also very fond of the figurines. Our main target group, though, is from three to seven years old."
Lumo Stars recently launched a 'surprise egg' range, with each egg containing one of a variety of small collectible character toys for children to discover. At the show, the company was even exhibiting limited edition branded coffee from a local Finnish roastery.
Already active in the UK, Lumo Stars is seeking to explore new opportunities, with Lindberg saying: "We are very open to different kinds of licensing activities, for instance food or apparel. Not especially the games or parcels, because we have that covered already, but of course, if we find a good partner, then why not?"
Some licensing industries, although non-traditional from a historical perspective, have now been established long enough to offer a certain retro appeal. CEE, for instance, is the European arm of Japanese video game developer / publisher Capcom and was attending the show to highlight its gaming properties, some of which have more than 30 years of market success behind them.
Tristan Chilvers, Licensing Co-ordinator of CEE, said: "Capcom is here today with some of its legendary IPs such as Street Fighter, Mega Man, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry, among many others. It's a brand that's been going for many years, over 30 years, and we're looking to try to expand our European licensing base. We've always had quite a big market here, especially in the UK, but we're getting new territories like Greece and Italy that we're trying to push more into. We're really interested in Russia as well, which is another territory we look after. We're always finding new markets. Gaming is just getting bigger and bigger every year, really."
These video gaming properties can have widespread appeal, offering retro appeal to young gamers and the nostalgia factor for an older, middle-aged demographic.
Chilvers said: "It's quite a mix actually. For instance, Mega Man has been around since 1987, so it appeals to both old and new gamers. We've just had Mega Man 11 coming out this year and that's done really well. With Street Fighter it's the same again. You've got the nostalgia value to it but it's still really popular, one of our best-known IPs around the world. Everyone's played Street Fighter or knows about it. We're getting people who are into Street Fighter 2-style retro animations and things like that. Nostalgia is booming, there's just so much demand for it. It's massive, and obviously we've got a big back catalogue. We're trying to push Monster Hunter, which was a big Japan release back in 2004, but now it's selling really well in the West, so it's gaining traction as well."
CEE already has licensees handling lines such as T-shirts, figurines and plush toys, but there are always fresh possibilities. Highlighting this, Chilvers said: "We're moving into more board games. They've always been quite popular but that's a growing market so we're trying to get into that. Probably our biggest surprise this year has been the popularity of vinyl records of music from our games. People just seem to love the soundtracks from the old games. From what I've been hearing, sometimes they don't even open the vinyl. They just like to display it on walls. We're working on more of those."
One exhibitor at the show with a very traditional and distinctively British brand was Aardman, the Bristol-based originator of Shaun the Sheep, a spin-off from the animated Wallace and Gromit films, which has in turn spawned the hit spin-off show Timmy Time.
Hannah McFarlane, the company's Licensing and Marketing Co-ordinator, said: "Aardman exhibits every year at BLE. We can meet all our international agents as well as our licensees here so it's good to get everybody in one place. There's a new Shaun the Sheep movie out now, so obviously that's already been discussed with licensees. The focus here is on what we're doing with the brand. We've got a new TV series of Shaun the Sheep out next year and then we're having specials coming from it, so it's about getting that on everyone's radar. Timmy Time is relaunching on TV this month, too. A new version of the series has been made with a voice-over, so we're talking to people about that as well."
Aardman's characters have spawned reams of merchandising in the form of books, clothing and toys, and they have found success all over the world. The company's output, which uses traditional stop-motion animation, is anchored in an old-fashioned sense of Britishness, but it's exactly this quality that fuels its international popularity. McFarlane said: "For Shaun the Sheep, our biggest market is actually Japan. The next biggest markets are Germany and the UK. So it's got a lot of International appeal. I suppose it's just a character that people have latched onto."
Brand Licensing Europe 2019 took place from 1-3 October at London Excel.
Catherine Jones, Special Correspondent, London