PR will drive sales of licensed merchandise this Christmas

Last Christmas, cash strapped parents splashed out on average £280 per child on Christmas presents, equivalent to a whopping 34 per cent of annual toy sales in 2011.

This year, the Toy Retailers Association predict that records will once again be smashed with retail sales topping over £1billion with Saturday 22 December being the busiest Christmas shopping day of the year.

“Without a doubt, a huge success story at retail will be the continuing popularity of licensed toy products such as Moshi Monsters that’s helped to define both on-line and off-line play for children between the ages of 6-12 years old,” observes Andrew Levy, one of the UK’s leading brand licensing experts.

And much of this success at retail will be attributable to imaginative and well-targeted PR efforts aimed at both parents and children that’s both appropriate and non-exploitative – something that many other sectors that are struggling in the current challenging retail environment can learn a lot from.

Moshi Monsters is the brainchild of internet entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith who founded the online games company Mind Candy back in 2004, with its HQ in trendy Shoreditch, east London.

The global website is filled with exciting characters, educational puzzles, nurturing play patterns, customisation tools and a social layer so kids can share, show-off and communicate with their friends in a safe environment similar to the way in which adults interact on Facebook.

The website has accumulated over 60m registered users around the world and as a result has exploded from its on-line base into the physical world with an array of products including best-selling toys, books, membership cards, trading cards and lots more variants of the core brand. And it’s only just scratching the surface!

Moshi Magazine, launched a couple of years’ ago, is now the largest kid’s title in the UK and recent developments include Moshi TV, Moshi Live and Moshi Music that will also drive loyalty and interest in the brand for years to come.

“In the licensing industry, premiums (free branded stuff), competitions, prizes, product placement and above and below-the-line advertising have all been used to help drive retail sales of licensed merchandise but PR around licensed product is now much more sophisticated and can make the difference between moderate and massive success at retail ,” adds Andrew Levy.

A key critical success factor for Mind Candy and its Moshi Monsters brand are the breadth and depth of the characters that interact with children hooked on Moshi Monsters, like my own ten-year daughter Zara and her friends at school.

“Story is becoming increasingly important within Moshi Monsters and is key to the brand’s enduring popularity and longevity.

“We have a team that’s dedicated to looking at the breadth and depth of each character and introducing a compelling narrative in a multitude of ways, whether via in-game missions, the Moshi Magazine or music and video clips on our own site and on YouTube.

“There are literally hundreds of characters in Moshi and new ones are being developed all the time,” explains Darran Garnham, Head of Global Licensing at Mind Candy UK.

A key part of the PR strategy for Mind Candy is viewing the Moshi Monsters brand holistically; with each strand required to work in its own right but also to fit into the bigger 360 degree picture.

“We are a trans-media brand, offering our fans several ways in which to experience and engage with the Moshi Monsters brand. Kids can learn cool new things via the Magazine or on YouTube but it must always relate back to the main story and for the foreseeable future the online world remains the heartbeat for the company,” says Darran Garnham.

And it's on special offer today, batteries included!

The following are top tips for PROs engaged in turning licensed product within any market segment into a major retail success in 2013:

Get to know the market segment that the licensed product competes in as much detail as possible. Get to know the trade media, understanding the audience they are reaching and the differences in editorial direction. Remember, some may be looking for media exclusives whereas others may prefer in-depth analysis. Always ensure that images supplied with news releases are appropriate for the title, correctly formatted and the right size.

Be prepared to write longer copy for trade titles, such as features. These should be written to style and not as PR ‘fluff’. Trade titles may be looking for advertising support so be aware that promotion of licensed product to the retail trade may require deeper investment than just on PR activities and promotions.

Don’t ignore reaching consumers through social media directly in the same way as done by Mind Candy – it can be extremely effective and of course it’s highly targeted. Reaching consumers can be achieved by many means outside of the usual media outlets. For example, consider events such as costume character appearances, or tie-ups with existing organisations such as nursery groups or charities if the licensed product is aimed at children and families.

Take care when linking personalities and celebrities within the PR campaign around a licensed product as this can at times be very difficult to control, particularly on radio and TV channels. Think about the use of surveys as a way of driving more interest in the licensed product with the national and trade media.

Don’t ignore the power of local media – retail on a local basis can vary and local markets may have their own peculiarities and interests. And constantly think of creative ways which that will create a point of differentiation for the licensed product.

Ensure that PR messages are distinctive, add value for the recipients of those messages and influence not just their purchasing preferences but also their purchasing behaviour – which is how the success of any licensing programme will ultimately be judged.

Ardi Kolah is author of High Impact Marketing That Gets Results (£19.99), published by Kogan Page on 3 January 2013. Order your copy today from Amazon by clicking the image of the book.

  • Gary Robinson

    A very Anglo-centric commentary. In Scotland, saying that there are 4% swing voters is utter rubbish – there is a predicted 20% swing from Labour to the SNP. The analysis above is VERY over-simplified and only really applies to England.