MIPJunior’s first day ended with a pair of “blockbuster” case studies from Mattel and Nickelodeon. One focused on Monster High, which was born on the web, and has since expanded into books, animated webisodes and interactive games and merchandise, while the other looked at a reborn brand: the 20 year-old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
First to speak was Mark Kingston, GM and SVP of Nickelodeon and Viacom Consumer Products Europe, Middle East, Africa & Australia, to talk about how Nickelodeon brought the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back last year.
He noted that the turtles started their life in 1984 in comics, and have generated more than $5bn of global sales to date. The new series has three seasons green-lit, aimed primarily at boys aged 6-11, with toys targeting boys 4-12 (with a secondary target of teens, and adults who remember the Turtles from first time round).
“First off, we started by fuelling and supporting the super-fans,” said Kingston, about the relaunch. There was a huge promotional campaign across Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central, as well as a presence at major Comic-Con events, and “legacy buzz kits” sent to key press and fan bloggers.
The TV series launched at the end of 2012, alongside a toy range. “We’re using toys as much as TV to establish Turtles as the iconic heroes for today’s generation,” said Kingston, showing off the new action figures range. The key point: toys don’t have to come out after the TV show nowadays – although the characters being familiar was one key aspect in this case.
He outlined some successes to date. The new show has reached more than 41.8m viewers across 18 countries since its relaunch, and its dedicated vertical sites have had more than 3.5m visitors. Its Facebook page has more than 1m fans, with more than 50% coming from outside the US. And the TMNT Rooftop Run iPad game hit the top of Apple’s App Store charts in 55 countries.
What’s next? Season two of the show: 26 episodes with new themes, villains and vehicles. 2014 will see more product categories, and new digital content – including updates for the Rooftop Run mobile game. And then an official movie in summer: Ninja Turtles, a 3D live-action + CG movie directed by Michael Bay, and starring Megan Fox.
Next to speak was Rosa Zeegers, SVP of global business development at Mattel, to talk about her company’s work with Monster High. “Our first serious foray into a brand driven by content” as she put it. “We were looking to talk to an older girl that was very different to the Barbie girl… We noticed that the goth trend was prevalent among these girls, and that proved to be the inspiration for our design team.”
The core brand message: embracing who you are, including your imperfections. Albeit in this case, the imperfections are related to the fact that the characters are monsters. Nearly 100 characters have been featured in Monster High, with 50 of those being turned into dolls over its history.
“It is really all about witty, humourful, relatable high-school storytelling,” she said. Monster High launched in 2010, with an objective of creating awareness and engagement among the target audience. “We realised that this audience needed content in order to buy into the brand,” said Zeegers. Hence the decision to launch content first, not dolls.
Within six months, the brand was – wait for it – “a monster success”. In fact, three years on, it’s become the fifth largest toy property in the US, the second largest doll property, and a $1.4bn brand at retail. “Now in the third year, we are seeing double and triple digit growth in every single market we do business in,” said Zeegers.
Plans for 2014? Two DVDs, more webisodes, another book, app and mobile games, a brand new theme song, and lots of user-generated fan videos. “By the end of 2014 we will have produced approximately 800 minutes of content, and that for a toy company. Just for a comparison, this is more than the first six Star Wars films all together.”
Monster High has passed 520m views on YouTube and 2m fans on Facebook, with both platforms continuing to be key channels for both storytelling and fan engagement, according to Zeegers. Monster High has 9m registered users of its website, too, and has sold 1.2m copies of the official books in the US.
More stats? Monster High’s first two console games for Wii and DS have sold more than 2m units, with a third launching in November. Meanwhile two Monster High mobile apps have been downloaded more than 2.6m times in total.
The session then shifted to a Q&A with moderator Tony Lisanti, of License! Global and Advanstar Licensing. “The world of traditional marketing is over, but you all know that. And Mattel has discovered that as well. So you’ve got to engage with your fans at every single touchpoint that you can possibly create,” said Zeegers. She added that the challenge is to understand which of these touchpoints are genuinely driving sales.
Both speakers were asked about their use of social media to understand fans’ preferences, and integrate that into product plans. “The beauty of social media now is that you almost have instantaneous feedback,” said Kingston. “You can engage with the audience via social media in terms of what your future plans are, and then take on board that feedback, and start either adapting the products or the marketing plans.”
Zeegers talked about the notion of second (“and third and fourth”) screens, and connecting TV commercials with Twitter, and also fielded a question about whether Mattel sees its mobile apps as pure marketing for other products and the brand, or whether they’re a new revenue stream in their own right.
“That is one of the internal discussions,” said Zeegers. “Some of them are marketing tools and some of them are revenue generating. And quite frankly we haven’t found the golden egg: the nugget of what’s the strategy, what criteria should you use. In this new world you have to try out a lot, and we’re doing both.”
Kingston agreed, saying that Nickelodeon is trying both models and “having mixed success in both areas”. Sometimes apps act as marketing tools to drive additional awareness for a franchise, but the company charges for the TMNT Rooftop Run game, and also makes money from in-app purchases of virtual items. “We are also in that paid space as well,” he said.
The last question: is this just big money making big money? Can independent producers learn from these case studies? “We started off with webisodes, which don’t cost much to produce,” reminded Zeegers. “Honestly, I believe it was the power of the creative that caused this success, and that can come from any producer.”