When Kingfisher Airlines Ltd launched operations in May 2005, every little girl that flew with it received a Barbie doll dressed in the airline’s trademark red uniform and toting the same luggage as the crew did. The airline, which handed out the doll during a two-month long promotion plans to recommission the order for “Flying Friend Barbie”.
Barbie’s ride on Kingfisher marks a new trend among advertisers who have started putting their names and sometimes their products (albeit miniature versions) on toys. This helps advertisers to, literally, catch them young. In the short term, such efforts can also build brand recognition with parents and leverage pester-power to the advantage of companies issuing the toys. Pester-power is a marketing term that refers to the purchasing power of parents being influenced by children.
While branded toys and promotions currently account for just 1% of sales revenue at Mattel Toys (India) Pvt. Ltd, which owns toy brands such as Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher Price in India, experts say the potential for growth is significant. Such ventures are also profitable: The toy company would earn not just through sales, but also through royalty from other brands riding on their properties. According to the Toy Association of India, the Indian toy market is estimated at Rs1,500 crore in terms of sales, of which Rs500 crore comes from the organized sector.
For advertisers, the upside is brand recognition among a growing set of consumers. “The direct objective of handing out Barbie dolls in Kingfisher uniforms is to ensure that they (children) feel welcome and at home with us,” says Vikram Malhotra, general manager, marketing, Kingfisher Airlines, who says children are an important community for the airline. “Of course, pester-power works beautifully for us, as children are strategic influencers to our guests,” he adds. Kingfisher’s parent, the UB Group, is currently in talks with two international players to manufacture toys sporting the Kingfisher and Force India (the Formula-1 team backed by the group’s flamboyant promoter Vijay Mallya) brands.
Sanjay Luthra, managing director, Mattel Toys, is looking forward to pursuing what he believes will be its first premium deal in India, with Tata Motors for Jaguar replicas should the deal go through. Luthra’s reference is to the fact that most such deals between toy makers and companies are struck globally, and the same extended to India when the companies start operating here. “We can’t wait for the Tata Motors-Jaguar deal to come through. That deal has tremendous global potential.”
Logistics company DHL Express India Pvt. Ltd hopes to create recognition for its brand through toys. “The brand name ‘DHL’ may not sink in when the kid is playing with the toy at home. But when he sees a yellow delivery truck—synonymous with DHL—on the road, he will make that association,” says Chandrashekhar Pitre, the head of marketing at DHL Express. As the consumer grows older, he is likely to bring some of that association, that fondness for the brand into his decision-making process, Pitre adds.
The trend is even bigger at the international level, where advertisers pay a 10-14% royalty fee to be featured on toys. Brands such as Michelin tyres, DHL and Shell feature prominently in Mattel’s Matchbox collection—a range of delivery trucks which are scaled-down versions of the original trucks. And brands such as Levis, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Skechers and Adidas see association with a 48-year-old blonde, Barbie, as a good investment.
While brand placement in films, television programmes and gaming is fairly big in India, the trends of using toys as brand vehicles is just beginning here. “Brands are yet to understand the strategic value attached to such tie-ups in India....,” says Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, who suggests that having a toy version of a brand could fix it in public imagination firmly.
“We are currently reviewing requests from some big real estate developers, and some names from the hospitality industry in India who are keen to feature in a Monopoly (game) version,” says R. Jeswant, general manager, sales and marketing, Funskool (India) Ltd.
Internationally, the Monopoly board game has several versions. A US version actually has tokens which are miniatures of a box of McDonalds French fries, a cup of Starbucks coffee, a Toyota Prius hybrid car, New Balance tennis shoes and a Motorola RAZR cellular phone.
In the spring of 2007. Mattel tied up with Make-up Art Cosmetics Inc., to launch a range of cosmetics inspired by Barbie. The hip doll carrying a branded make-up case was sold in toys stores across the globe.