Mumbai: Jiggy George, executive director, Cartoon Network Enterprises (CNE), India and South Asia, tells Mint why the company decided to get into merchandising for Bollywood movies, its future plans and how it is coping with the challenge of catering to a young audience. Edited excerpts:
Why did CNE decide to get into merchandising for Bollywood movies?
We wanted to experiment with every format possible, last summer we started merchandising with ‘Spiderman’, a precursor to our own animation movie business. Consumer products are such a strong link to animation films and quite frankly we didn’t have the experience. We’ve done long formats such as for ‘PowerPuff Girls’, which would run into years so the merchandise rollout has to be sustained but there is no huge pressure to dovetail with the launch… but (we have) never (done) short formats such as movies, so what better way to test this than with Bollywood; that’s when we decided to tie up for ‘Love Story 2050’. It’s very challenging, as the product life cycle is getting shorter by the day, so we need to be there for six weeks with maximum impact, need width of category, distribution, all of this in the shortest time. Also, we had to be careful that whatever content we launched was palatable to kids... The reason you see beautiful properties such as Ben 10 is that at the time of conception (of the television series), they did really think of merchandise. In the case of Bollywood movies, it’s a retro fit. The equity has to translate into product, which is why movies such as ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’ any of those films look like they were made for merchandise.
Movie merchandise:Cartoon Network’s Jiggy George
Any plans to get into merchandises for adults?
I believe it’s an underserved market and a niche but the good thing is that in India, niche is large. So it’s definitely on our agenda. But one thing we know for sure is that we won’t have the entire range like we do for kids, if I had my way we’d just do t-shirts. I just don’t think India’s ready. We live in a culture that associates toons to being equal to kids, unlike more mature markets such as Europe. The PowerPuff Girls are greatly successful with kids, but to my mind it embodies what the modern day woman is all about. Much like the characters who go to school, but also have super powers which they use to beat up monsters and keep the house safe, women today manage home and also kick ass at work. That sentiment has pushed PowerPuff Girls as a great brand in Europe among teens and adults. So we do have a plan to address that niche market (for adult merchandise) from a toon perspective in India. There is a captive audience, so we will definitely get into that and hopefully roll it out next year.
What are your retail plans?
We need to find as many influence points as possible to reach the consumer. So if you go to Crossword (a book store chain), were we are trying to see if we can set up a little niche corner as an experiment. Rather than to say that we will set up stand alone Cartoon Network stores, we want to start small, learn from the experience, and then take it from there. However, setting up stand-alone stores, with the entire Cartoon Network experience with all the brands and categories put together is definitely a priority for us. Unlike more mature markets such as the US where retail chains have about 2,000 outlets, here the biggest retailer would have at the most 50-60 outlets, and in a country as large as ours, that’s a small number. So, until retail extends itself, we will be available everywhere… So rather than going through with a business plan which looks fabulous on paper, we are willing to wait and do it right. It’s our role as marketers to ensure that we are not elitist. If we create a product for Rs1,000, we have to make sure there is a product within that range which is available for Rs100, if the larger vision is to reach an audience based on distribution and price points.
Research shows that kids today are more adult in their outlook. How do you cope with that changing profile?
Saccharine sweet characters are definitely not what kids today are about. So, you will see that change if you look at the characters, whether it’s the PowerPuff girls who have distinct personalities or Ben 10 who’s like every kid today. But they aren’t just free-spirited characters; there is also a very strong link back to values. Even the music is trendy... We are looking for ways to import new games for different formats, whether its Play Station or Gameboy, which are occupying kids’ lives these days... Also another way we’re addressing it is with our brand Pogo, which stands for everything that is amazingly imaginative. The onus is on us to launch toys that actually play on imagination; we’ll never launch a static dinky car, if the car flies, its Pogo. So our focus will be on four brands—Ben 10, PowerPuff Girls, M.A.D (Music Art and Dance) and Pogo—and a fifth brand, which will launch soon internationally. Idea is to touch kids lives through the day and not just on television.