Disney’s licensing boss on Star Wars, Frozen and the ‘Disney machine’

Disney’s EMEA licensing boss Simon Philips on the success of Star Wars, the changing licensing market and how the ‘Disney machine’ can sustain a franchise.

Everyone is talking about Star Wars. How do you ensure you make the most of that opportunity?

Star Wars is a cultural phenomenon. It is very much a part of the fabric of our society. What we’re seeing with the Star Wars merchandise is a ramping up to benefit from a moment in time that the movie will provide us.

The movie is a rallying point for us to be able to introduce the franchise to a new generation but at the same time rekindle the emotional connection people have with the franchise and then use the movie as a way to amplify all of that, get the right consumer in with the right product and then move on from there.

What more can we expect in the run-up to the movie?

In EMEA we are structured in a rather unique way. We are focused on the consumer first. We have four teams – infant and children, a boys and geeks team, a girls and tweens team and an adult team. Those teams are responsible for leveraging all of the franchises across their specific consumer groups.

Then we add a dimension of the ‘good better best’ halo in every instance. We want to make sure for every product we have there is one that can sit in the discount trade and one a high end retailer and everything in between. It’s not just about licensing a t-shirt or a toy it is about licensing the right product for the right consumer for the right retail channel.

We’ve also entered into what we call lifestyle product. What we identified is that we have a consumer that is in many cases different to the shopper – the person who buys the product. There was a significant amount of consumers who wanted Star Wars merchandise but the shoppers – usually parents – didn’t want them wearing t-shirts with big characters on them. They wanted it to be more subtle and that didn’t exist.

What we’ve established is an entirely new programme that is about the creation of lifestyle fashion products that embody the characteristics of the characters so that the consumer – the kids – knows they are wearing a Hans Solo or a Storm Trooper product yet it doesn’t have a big character on it; instead it’s the embodiment of the character.

From a marketing and product standpoint that has enabled us to enter new retail and consumer channels. A diversification of product away from character based to a more sophisticated fashion forward cohesive collection.

You’ve been in the role for three years – what have been the main changes?

For us what has changed is a focus on the consumer first. It has really enabled us to ensure that we develop a programme around what the consumer wants and not what everybody believed was right. When we think about our sphere of influence it’s consumer first, then shopper, then franchiser, then product, then retailer.

What was Disney doing before?

We were very product orientated. In many instances we would have a list of products to license and the same products licensed for each franchise. Skateboards, tick. T-shirts, tick. It’s understanding the differences in the consumer to develop the right product.

Over the last few years we’ve benefitted from a phenomenal line up of content but we haven’t been fortunate with the economic environment in Europe.

“Getting the right product for the right consumer at the right retailer has enabled us to buck the trend of the economic reality and we’ve been able to grow our market share and revenues.”

Simon Philips, SVP & GM, Disney Consumer Products, EMEA

What areas still need developing?

The digital space – its not that we haven’t done much in it yet, we just haven’t finished the journey there. And I’m talking a physical product with a digital component to it. So we might think that a t-shirt is a static product, but maybe when the wearer is on a particular website it recognises the t-shirt and opens up new content. There are a raft of different things you can do to incorporate technology.

Or maybe it’s the tech that comes first and the physical part that comes second.

How do you pick which brands to work with?

First we have to understand what we want and what they want. Is there a particular consumer brand they are appealing to that we want to reach that we aren’t currently? How does the application of Star Wars or Princess work with them? We’ve had some amazing halo tie-ups – Givenchy and Bambi. That was great because that consumer was buying Givenchy but hadn’t thought about buying Disney and then the realisation it was Bambi brought a smile to their face and changed their perception of the product and of course of Disney.


What are the differences between creating merchandise for evergreen and newer franchises?

When we have something new or large coming out the way we approach that is different to Mickey Mouse, which is a day in day out franchise that doesn’t have new content. When we work with Mickey it’s about the marketing programme that we put together, the collaboration, Minnie. It’s very intensive marketing, creative approaches, keeping up with trends and styles and working hand in hand with licensees and retailers to make sure we deliver on-trend executions around our classic characters.

Not that we don’t do that with Star Wars or Marvel but because there is such noise around them all the time with new content and you have a different way to approach the business. We benefit from the research we do but at the same time we get a whole raft of new content coming in that allows us to refresh and benefit from new themes.

And what about something like Frozen where Disney might have been caught by surprise by the scale of its success?

When we saw the consumer reaction to Frozen we focused very quickly on fast fashion while also working with the longer lead time products – the toys – getting them up and ready so we could get them shipped. What is great about a franchise like Frozen is when something hits like that it doesn’t’ just go away because Disney is a machine that is able to utilise all its different components to sustain a franchise.

That is something that really separates us from everyone else. Even though we were behind the curve when it came to getting the Frozen merchandise out there, we were able to get it out and to sustain it and continue to sustain it. We are two years on since that movie came out and it has been bigger this year than we’ve ever had it and we are looking at a phenomenal year next year.

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