New children’s brands can spring from all angles in 2013: games, apps, YouTube, books, toys and yes, TV. A session at MIPJunior this morning looked at two case studies of « borderless IPs », starting with MakieLab, a startup making customisable 3D-printed dolls.
« We started out to create physical goods from virtual goods, » said CEO Alice Taylor (photo). MakieLab was born when its team watched children collecting in virtual worlds like Moshi Monsters and Club Penguin to customise avatars, and wondered if there was a way to turn avatars into real dolls.
MakieLab now has a website and an app, with a game to launch early in 2014. Children can build their own doll through simple slide-bar controls, then MakieLab handles the 3D printing in London and Amsterdam, packages them up and sends them out to their young creators – completely certified for children using existing toy standards.
« We don’t even consider ourselves to be out of beta, or even in beta yet. We’re literally developing this live, » said Taylor, who said she’s fascinated by the evolution of the toy industry and its retail partners, and the disruption that 3D printing is bringing to it. Taylor talked about American Girl and Monster High starting to make customisable dolls, but in a different way to MakieLab.
« They brute-force the system by producing lots and lots of moulds, and you put them together, so you have a combinatorial toy, » said Taylor. « The interesting thing about 3D printing is it opens up a new area that wasn’t really there before: completely unique dolls. »
She also talked about MakieLab’s philosophy of « learning in public » and building a community of early adopters. « The thing is people tell you what they like and what they want. If they get to feedback into your product they feel like they’re helping you make the brand as you go, » said Taylor. MakieLab also does things like putting its clothing patterns online for people to adapt themselves, and share back to the community.
MakieLab has fielded interest from the retail world, with London store Selfridges hosting a MakieLab stand for people to create and order their dolls. But now MakieLab is working on the narrative for its dolls.
« We wanted to encourage making and creating, so we’re building out that world where the characters encourage kids and adults alike to remake the world around them, » said Taylor. Thus MakieLab is making a 52 x 11mins animated show aimed at girls, based on the Makies characters and world.
Taylor also talked about how to compete against the big brands in the toy space, and suggested that games are the growth area for the future. Hence the upcoming Makies tablet game, with a creative theme of designing clothes – with the twist that they can then have those items printed for use in the real world on their dolls. « 3D printing is very hyped, it can’t print everything right now, but it is ideal for toys, » said Taylor.
Second up in this session was Marcelo Liberini, COO at Compañia de Medios Digitales (CMD) in Argentina, talking about his company’s work on an IP called Gaturro. It started as a newspaper comic strip in 1993, then moved to books in 1997, and a licensed product in 2005. In 2010 it made the leap to digital and gaming, and in 2013 to TV and video.
« We ended up building a full transmedia property around this character, and this year we are finishing the work on the TV series for full TV, » said Liberini. « In Latin America, it’s the number one full transmedia property. Obviously we are not the only one, but we don’t see any other character that has all the kind of businesses that we have developed around it. »
On the physical side, more than 50 Gaturro books have sold more than 3m copies across Latin America. For licensing, there’s a range of merchandise, a live show to come, and a music CD with Universal Music.
On the digital side, 2010 saw the launch of Mundo Gaturro, a virtual world, which has since spawned online radio, a social network called Picapon, webisodes and a video-on-demand platform. Not just with official Gaturro videos, but with user-generated videos created by children within the virtual world. CMD is aggressively expanding into mobile too: « We are now in the process of porting everything, all the virtual world, ready to be used on tablets, » said Liberini.
Stats? There are almost 9m registered users on the virtual world, and every day around 10,000 new users sign up, and 300,000 log in for an average length of 35 minutes. But Liberini said CMD always knew that TV would have to be part of the picture too: « Even when the children are multi-screen, they are also tied to television, » he said.
So CMD started with 20 three-minute episodes of an animated show starring Gaturro and his friends, and is hoping that they will help the IP go beyond Argentina to the rest of the world. « It was a bet. Obviously everything is a bet at the beginning. We could fail, we could be successful. Luckily we were successful! » said Liberini.
In the Q&A session, Taylor was asked about whether people believed a startup could be a success in both the toy and games worlds, and she agreed that there had been some scepticism.
« When we were raising investment, we were asked whether we were a toy or a game company. And of course, we’re both, but people were like ‘no, you have to choose!’, » she said. « We’re half and half. » But she stressed that MakieLab does work with partners who know the different business areas in detail.
Both MakieLab and CMD drew great strength from their communities as they grew. Liberini talked about seeing children creating videos on YouTube, some of which have nearly half a million views. « It was crazy for us! We didn’t expect that. And that made us think about doing our own webisodes, » he said. MakieLab has also seen its early adopters sharing videos of their dolls and related creations on YouTube.
« If a kid makes a product, it’s not going to be the same standard as if a professional does. We’ll see dolls with felt-tip as makeup for example. But you can see straight through that to their pride in making it. It’s about celebrating creativity rather than polish, » she said.
Taylor also talked tech: « The tablet has replaced the computer for the kid at home. They will no longer go and sit down with a mouse and turn on the big screen and click around with the mouse… There is no doubt that every kid will have one. »