ITV Mobile has signed an exclusive deal to use the online character Jeb in advertising for its mobile portal. If you think you've seen Jeb before, his TV debut took the form of a series of idents for Cobra Beer's ITV movies sponsorship. And if you haven't, it's probably because you haven't been looking at that or YouTube, where Jeb was launched two years ago.
It's still unusual in the licensing industry for brands to team up with a relatively unknown web character, but it's a partnership that could become more popular in the near future.
Despite the lack of a TV show, Jeb has notched up an impressive two million web hits for his online movies in the two years since his launch. And he's not the only success story: Crazy Frog was born in 2002 when Erik Wenquist posted his "The Annoying Thing" animation on a 3D internet forum and asked for feedback. The brand has since sold more than one million toys, one million garments, 20 million mobile downloads and two million CDs.
For a property trying to launch in today's market, securing a TV or film deal straight away is almost impossible, says Steve Manley, director at AT New Media, a licensing company set up to manage characters launched online. "The studios control the top end of the market: 20 per cent of their characters demand 80 per cent of the movie market, and you would struggle to get a deal on TV because airtime is sewn up so far in advance." Manley believes that for some properties, the only way forward is to turn to the internet.
- What's to gain?
Social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace are a starting point for launching a character, believes Kelvyn Gardner, managing director at Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association (LIMA). According to a survey commissioned by search engine Google in 2006, Britons now spend more time on the web than watching TV: the equivalent to 41 days a year. "The internet is going to grow in importance for the licensing industry," says Gardner.
For a brand, opting to link with an online property with a proven fan base opens up more opportunities for an exclusive deal than linking with a Hollywood blockbuster, which will already have multiple partners signed up. If the online property becomes a success, the brand will also be associated with something "cool" and credited for being the first to launch the property outside of the online arena, says Gardner.
However, a potential drawback is that the character won't be successful when taken out of its comfort zone. Ian Downes, founder of Start Licensing, says: "A licensed property will only be successful if it is fully established in its core area and it has the attributes that will allow it to stretch beyond that area."
Another consideration is that retailers are dubious of selling merchandise for a character that doesn't have an established TV show. "Retail has not caught up with online. They want to know about TV ratings and aren't interested in the number of website hits it might have," says Karen McNally, vice president of licensing and marketing for Entara.
To make the property successful online and to grow a fan base that a brand can then leverage, web exposure alone isn't enough, says Keith Pashley, European marketing manager at The Copyrights Group. "You are building a profile by word of mouth and it needs a viral campaign to support it," he says.
At present, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, believes McNally. "We will see huge jumps over the next few years as kids' social lives are conducted online." While the success stories may be limited, the licensing industry is optimistic that the number of licences taking off from an internet launch will grow and online characters will become a more prominent part of the marketing mix.
BRAND LICENSING EUROPE
Where: The Grand Hall, Olympia, London
When: 2-3 October 2007
Contact details: www.brandlicensingexpo.com or 020 89562662
Seminar programme highlights: The good and bad of promotional licensing; Tips and tricks for successful licensing contracts; Royalties and licence pricing strategies to protect your revenue stream; Brand building through licensing; Brand protection for art and design;
Licensing trends: adult and lifestyle brands;
Licensing trends: style guides and packaging for the 21st century;
Kids, tweens and shopping: getting the retail experience right.
Who should attend: Anyone who has an interest in the business of licensed products.
Exhibitors include BBC Worldwide, Marvel Entertainment International, Disney Consumer Products, 4Kids International and Twentieth Century Fox.
Brand licensing Europe will premiere The Licensing Academy, a series of seminar and workshop sessions running alongside the exhibition.
This article was first published on Promotions & Incentives