With licensing, comes a conundrum. At least for me.
We are currently in the midst of all the new consumer licensing and toy trade show season. Happens every year; with all sorts of creators, marketers, salesmen and companies across a vast array of goods, venturing out and converging at different venues across the world, looking to find that one licensed property they can put on their product that can take it to a financial windfall! It's big business for sure.
But does the license make a product better in some way, especially with infant and preschool toys? Announcing your membership in an admiration of a property on apparel is one thing, but what about those toys? Seems to sell a lot, if the property is hot. Guess that's good, but does the license make the product better? Does the license help with the child's play? There are a lot of people who would argue that identifying with a character helps broaden a child's storytelling ability, thus helping grow their imaginative senses. Agree, but I still have this conundrum.
Good story and good characters really make for a play experience that can be rich and entertaining. However, often times I see a licensed property slapped onto a product with really no reason other than awareness. To some, that's ok, but is that what the parent or caregiver had in mind when purchasing the product? "Oh, she loves this video, so she will love this product!" (Only to find she never seems to go back to play with it.)
We all know the licensing business is enormous and the royalties some of the top licensors charge are so significant that one of two things begins to happen to the licensee's product. The product features and play pattern are squeezed down to a minimum because the cost will not allow for the property to fully engage the imagination and thus lacks the child's interest. The other is to exact the correct price with features that support the uniqueness of the license and ensure repeated imaginative play is present. That's somewhat risky, since that fine line of "price/value" is often debated and the business is all too concerned about margins which are hovered over! But the products sell regardless and that good, right? Such a conundrum!
But there is hope for this dilemma if companies would just stop and think about the product and then stop and think about the license. They need to take the time understand the equities of the property and build them into the product. Don't replicate, but rather, build play around the experience of the property. Let the child use the license for their imagination and not the other way around. Don't force the child into prescribed play. Let them enjoy what they like about the property. It will be played with a lot longer and help cement a bond for the property and further products. I have seen this lack of understanding the license over and over. Companies wonder why the reviews were ho-hum. It does take some expertise too resist label slapping and get to the meaning of the property. Take the time to know the license and it will win.
There's part of me that says just make great product with all the play opportunity built in and then there's that part of me that says let's celebrate a well executed, popular licensed property. We just have to get it right! More food for that conundrum.