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Mickey, Miffy and More

Shaun the Sheep  

With the Chinese Year of the Sheep in 2015, Aardman plans to mark the occasion by releasing Shaun the Sheep – The Movie

 

From Disney giants such as Mickey Mouse to Japanese favourites Hello Kitty and Doraemon, Asia is filled with Eastern and Western cartoon characters. The most enduring figures not only appear in cartoons, movies and comic books, but as soft toys, and their images can be seen on everything from clothing and accessories to stationery and games. 

Mickey Mouse, which made its debut in 1928, is Disney’s most recognisable character and the world’s most valuable franchise, according to Forbes magazine. “Mickey Mouse, Marvel and Disney Princess are three of the most popular character franchises for both the Hong Kong and China market, and our biggest markets in Asia are mainland China, India, Australia and Japan,” said Disney’s Lester Lee, Vice President and General Manager, Disney Consumer Products, Hong Kong and Taiwan. “We expect Star Wars to be just as popular and influential as a franchise, with the coming of Star Wars Episode VII in December 2015.” 

 Marvel
 

The Marvel Comics franchise
is among the top-three most popular Disney character franchises in China 

As Disney products increase in popularity in Asia, licensing issues inevitably arise. “Counterfeiting is a challenge for all major brands in the licensing business in this part of the world. For Disney, we make our legitimate goods available through a variety of distribution channels,” Mr Lee said. “Protection of intellectual property rights is of paramount importance to any creative company and vital to our business, and we continue to work with governments, industry associations and law enforcement on this important issue.” 

Asian Animation Success

Figo Yu 
Figo Yu, CEO of animation
content developer Beijing Dream Castle Culture

It’s not just the big players that are enjoying success in Asia’s character licensing market. Taiwan has had great success with A-li the Fox, a red fox starring in cartoons and comic books. “Our picture books are available in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and our animation episodes are available on Youtube and Facebook,” said Figo Yu, CEO of animation content developer Beijing Dream Castle Culture, which is responsible for the character. “In the future, we will explore the global market and distribute our products, picture books and animation episodes everywhere in the world,” he said. 

With more than 10 million registered followers online, Beijing Dream Castle Culture has provided content for various websites, including Tencent, Sina, Sohu, Netease, Baidu and Renren. It also makes such Internet content as emoticons, input skin and wallpaper for more than 100 domestic and overseas platforms. “We rank number-one on Baidu Tieba as an original Chinese animation character and, in 2012, Ali the Fox was the only one listed in the Top 10 Google zeitgeist 2012 for keyword searches of images as an animation character in China,” said Mr Yu. 

Tail Tale

 Miffy
 

The cartoon rabbit Miffy has been charming young audiences since Dutch artist Dick Bruna’s first book appeared in 1955 (photo: Mercis MV)

He noted that the company has doubled its annual growth in the past few years. Ali the Fox now has about 50 licensees and more than 1,000 items. These cover toys, apparel and accessories, bags and suitcases, paper and stationery, homeware and electronic accessories. “We have B2C stores at Tmall, taobao, dangdang.com, JD.com and franchise stores in Beijing, Shanxi, Henan, Jiangsu, Anhui and Guangdong Province.” 

With a new A-li the Fox book, A-li’s Tail, out, the company is busy developing merchandise for the book, including plush toys, suitcases, cushions and postcards. “We have also updated the licensing gallery to include the new elements in the new picture book, and we believe that we will have more licensees to produce more new products associated with Ali’s Tail in the future.” 

British Charm

Western cartoon characters continue to find favour with Asian audiences. One success story is United Kingdom-based Aardman Animations, creators of such characters as Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. Hong Kong retail brand Chocoolate chose Wallace and Gromit as the face of a recent advertising campaign across Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. 

Sheep Success

“Shaun the Sheep is our most popular character in Asia, although Wallace and Gromit are also very well-known,” said Rob Goodchild, Head of Licensing, Business Development, at Aardman Animations. “Japan is biggest by revenue, although we have nearly one million Facebook fans in Indonesia, and have had over 100 million game plays in China.” 

With the Chinese Year of the Sheep on the horizon in 2015, Aardman is gearing up to mark the occasion by releasing Shaun the Sheep – The Movie, to coincide with the lunar celebrations. “We see China as strategically important because of the size and potential of the marketplace. With 2015 being the Year of the Sheep, we hope to create some great assets for our Chinese fans, and think that our new movie will provide a great platform for new product launches,” said Mr Goodchild. He added that the company is in the process of signing a number of new licensing partners. 

Frank Padberg 
 Frank Padberg, Business Development Manager at Mercis BV, the company behind Miffy

 

The Wallace and Gromit films are deeply rooted in British culture and possess a distinct sense of humour. But Mr Goodchild said this has not proved a problem when it comes to targeting markets such as the mainland. “The “Britishness” is part of the appeal, as anyone who has seen the 20-foot high billboards used by Chocoolate stores across Hong Kong, Taiwan and China will testify. However, the main reason for the brand’s success is that the comedy is universal, and an excuse for families to sit down together, even if just for a few minutes.”

The success of character licensing has led to growing competition for business in Asia. The development of local characters and of brand licensing have contributed to making the industry a more crowded market, said Frank Padberg, Business Development Manager at Mercis BV, the company behind the Miffy character. “The latter means that the market for character licensing is shrinking. Besides this, the steep increase of licensees’ production costs in the last few years has put the margin for royalties under pressure.” 

Crossover Trend

Founded in 1977, Mercis BV is one of the oldest companies in the licensing industry. “Some of our Miffy licensees in Japan, where Miffy was introduced in the 1960s, have been our partners for more than 40 years now,” said Mr Padberg. The cartoon rabbit is based on Dutch artist Dick Bruna’s first book, which appeared in 1955. Since then, almost 30 more books have followed, and Miffy even got her own movie in 2012. 

The company has its main office in Amsterdam and a subsidiary office in Tokyo, responsible for the licensing in the Japanese market. In the rest of Asia, it works with licensing agents. Like Aardman, it has also found success with Hong Kong retail brands. 

Fashionable Character

“Besides working with the traditional kind of licensees, such as manufacturers and trading companies, there is a trend towards cross-overs with other brands,” said Mr Padberg. “Mostly, we work with other brands in promotional projects, but sometimes such promotions turn into regular licensing deals,” he said, citing a successful cooperation with Hong Kong fashion brand 2percent. 

In the last few years, the company has designed high-end fashion wear featuring Miffy illustrations and opened dedicated Miffy fashion-apparel stores in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland. “This cooperation started as a limited, special promotion in Hong Kong but, due to the success of the products, has grown into a steady licensing relationship.”

Related Links
Aardman Animations 
Ali 
Disney 
Miffy

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