Since the ‘world of children’ landscape is constantly shifting, companies looking to use iconic characters to promote their products will need to maintain an in-depth understanding of the marketplace if they’re to be successful.
Consumer Knowledge Centre’s research work involves children from as young as 18 months, and research consistently shows that in order to build success using brand characters, marketers must develop meaningful stories that connect the brand values, personality and message with the character.
When utilising familiar characters from television, film, or even other new media such as video games, it’s important to build similar connections, but with existing stories and experiences from the original media.
Provided each is done in a way that’s particularly relevant to the target audience and gives them a new and different experience of the licensed property, it will enhance the success of the product. Equally, it’s essential to develop (for brand characters) or emphasise (for licensed character properties) personality traits that truly connect to and deliver a brand’s core message.
In the past, mere recognition of iconic characters would often have been enough to guarantee success of a product. This has changed. Consumer Knowledge Centre has identified five ‘tiers’ with regard to the use of licensed properties with branded products. These include:
Logo slap This is the use of characters on products merely to get ‘kid pull’. The market is rife with numerous examples of this, and these types of product tend to go out of market as quickly as they come in. Parents frequently resent them because they often end up buying products the child begs for, only to find interest is quickly lost and they don’t get good value from it. This approach may uplift sales in the short-term, yet can often generate bad feelings and doesn’t enhance the brand experience in the long-term.
Promotional use Characters and properties are used for a particular promotional reason (usually when a film is released, for example) and often have some giveaway that’s character- or property-related. It’s an old-fashioned way of promoting products, and parents may or may not like them depending on whether or not they were going to purchase the product anyway. Kids often pester parents to buy the product simply because they want the enclosed toy or link with the property.
Once purchased, the kids then ignore the product. This leads to parent resentment and cynicism, particularly if they have to pay a premium for the product. With food and beverage products in particular, this practise has been highly ridiculed in recent years predominantly because of the obesity issue.
Character-affected products The packaging or product shape is changed, or the character is evident on the product. Good examples are Lego Fruit snacks in North America (using the iconic Lego shape), Rev WV Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine pasta in the UK, and Colgate’s toothbrushes that have the character-shaped handles. The shape adds excitement for the kids and enhances the eating or usage experience. Parents often use these types of products to entice young children to engage in certain foods or categories, and the general acceptance is relatively high.
Character-related A nuance shift for character-affected categories, these have some relationship with the character or property and tend to have a more natural fit and a stronger chance of success.
Sports equipment with LazyTown’s Sportacus is a good example of character relationship. Not only do children see Sportacus having fun and therefore readily relate to the product, parents also view this favourably since it encourages their kids to get out and play. Dora the Explorer with Spanish tuition is another good example. Again, great take-up by the kids and full support from the parents.
Character-integrated Probably the most effective and likely to be longer lasting. This can be a combination of character-affected and character-related categories, but also include an extra layer of uniqueness that makes the product distinctive. They’re particularly valuable in the food and beverage sectors. Sportacus Sports Candy from LazyTown is a good example. Sportacus encourages the kids of LazyTown to eat fruit and vegetables which he calls ‘sports candy’. With character-integrated products, parents don’t seem too bothered by having to pay a premium because they know that the products they’re purchasing will achieve their objectives.
Whether a product is new to market or a relaunch of an existing brand, the use of licensed property characters can have a huge impact on market share and profitability. Marketers should aim to avoid the ‘logo slap’ and ‘promotional’ categories if they want the best and most enduring use of their licensed characters. Equally, understanding how to effectively reach an ever-changing young target audience is crucial to obtaining the financial returns expected from their investment.
Bryan Urbick is CEO and president of Consumer Knowledge Centre, a consumer research agency based in Middlesex, UK.
This article was first published
in Dairy Innovation.