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Brands Go Digital

Hideyuki Saida 

Hideyuki Saida, Deputy General Manager, Property and Character Licensing Content Business Department, Pony Canyon Inc


“Do you have an app?” is a question consumer brands are hearing a lot of these days, and there is more to this than market hype. Pundits point to the shift from viewers to users. Users, the theory goes, have a closer relation with a character or a brand because they spend their time directly interacting with them through digital games or applications. When users go offline and see brand products, they also see a chance to extend their experience with these characters to the real world. License-holders are taking note.  

Mass Appeal

“Online has unleashed a floodgate of opportunity, presenting brands with new channels of communication and retail distribution, and also creating a platform on which new brands can develop, exist and thrive, entirely independent of traditional channels such as television and film,” says Josephine Law, Managing Director Asia for global brand licensing agency and consultancy Beanstalk.

“We have seen a proliferation of apps, gaming and social properties making the leap from online to consumer products through licensing, with enormous retail success stories for brands such as Talking Friends, Doodle Jump, Angry Birds and MovieStarPlanet,” Ms Law says. “These entertainment franchises of tomorrow and indeed today are not restricted by the same geographical boundaries as traditional brands and are the drivers behind change and innovation in today’s licensing industry. Beanstalk is at the forefront of this change as digital properties shake up the licensing industry. It is an exciting time for licensors, licensees and retail.”

Means of Entry

Many brand-holders have seen the potential of digital entertainment in new markets. In Japan, Pony Canyon is a juggernaut in the music industry with a stable of chart-topping recording artists. It has also developed a healthy character-based licensing arm, lending the animated personae of some of their recording artists to merchandising linked to musicians’ acts. The latest of these is the spread of U900, a ukelele duo who perform in the guise of a puppet-like rabbit and bear. 

Pony Canyon collaborated with Hong Kong’s XNT to develop a game app that uses the fish-like mascot o 

Pony Canyon collaborated
with Hong Kong’s XNT to develop
a game app that uses the fish-like mascot of a Japanese classic
folk song

Pony Canyon also began creating and extending characters related to other musicians. Its oldest is the fish-like mascot of a classic folk song from 1974, Taiyaki-kun. The song, Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun, is the top-selling single in Japanese history, and widely recognised across generations. "We thought to ourselves: 'this is a very important asset, so why don't we try to make use of this opportunity?'" explains Hideyuki Saida, head of Pony Canyon's recently formed property and character licensing division. Extending Taiyaki-kun's image to a variety of consumer products, from toys to home décor, met with success inside Japan. Outside of Japan, however, Taiyaki-kun is not widely known. 

 The ukulele duo U900 has spawned several lines of licensing merchandise for musical instruments and  

The ukulele duo U900
has spawned several lines of licensing merchandise for musical instruments and accessories

Enter digital entertainment. Hong Kong-based app-maker XNT was also looking to gain a higher profile for its apps in Japan. Both companies felt Taiyaki-kun was a natural fit for the app-maker's new game, Feed4Life. Now rebranded "Feed4Life Oyoge! Taiyaki-kun," both companies hope the app will serve as a gateway into new markets. 

These partnerships, where brand-holders with an established fan base work with app-makers who have a strong track record in a particular market, present both with a chance to expand into new markets while still focusing on their strengths. "Our expertise is in making music,” says Mr Saida. “IT companies are experienced in creating elaborate games. We each have our strong points,” he said, adding that he believes such partnerships will only grow in the future. 

Pony Canyon has a history of creating and managing video-game properties in the 1990s. Still, for digital entertainment, it is planning to produce simple apps in-house, preferring to pursue similar partnerships for more advanced digital entertainment. This, says Mr Saida, is part of the new licensing world Pony Canyon is facing. 

Companies no longer need to make major investments when entering the toy, décor or digital-entertainment sectors, he notes. "The field is flat. Working with a digital company is just one partnership. It's just one thing we're doing. We don't have to make a big push for digital entertainment."

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