Licensing lessons build character

Retooled properties like Superman to hit confab

What’s old is new again at this week’s Licensing show, where the hottest properties are upgrades of old-school characters like Superman, Cinderella and King Kong.

As desirable as buzz on a new property can be, retooling a hit is generally a safe and profitable move for consumer products divisions.

Show unspools June 21-23 at N.Y.’s Javits Convention Center.

The aim of licensors: “To keep building and building until properties are always in the consumer’s consciousness, like Mickey Mouse,” says Charles Riotto, prexy of the Intl. Licensing Industry Merchandisers Assn.

One such property is Superman, around whom a whole new product line is being developed in conjunction with the upcoming Warner Bros. film.

Brad Globe, exec VP and general manager of Warner Bros. consumer products, says, “We want to make this a longer-term program, and the movie is a great way to relaunch the whole franchise but we’re going to keep it going.”

The Mouse House’s Disney Princess brand, providing little girls with all the Cinderella, Snow White and Mulan paraphernalia they can stuff into their toy bins, has also successfully built on familiar characters.

The line, launched in 1999, has achieved remarkable financial success (it’s topped $2 billion in sales and posted 300% growth over the past three years), and done so relying on evergreen standbys like Sleeping Beauty and Ariel and not one feature film.

Making sure not to lose those customers as they hit 5 and age out of the Princess brand, Disney has for 2006 created Disney Fairies, a “graduation brand.” Based on a forthcoming novel by “Ella Enchanted” author Gail Carson Levine, product is based on the adventures of well-known fairy Tinkerbell and her friends.

Marvel will also follow that logic, launching a Marvel Heroes brand. Tim Rothwell, the company’s worldwide prexy of the consumer media group, describes it as, “the Disney Princess program — but for boys. It sustains itself without any traditional forms of entertainment.”

The line features combinations of the 5,000 characters in the Marvel universe. Even product destined for niche auds has gotten into the recycling act.

New Line will package Freddy Krueger, Jason, and Leatherface in its House of Horror brand — a Disney Princess for Halloween that skews toward teens.

When studios do create first-time properties, retailers often won’t buy in and “opportunities are lost,” Riotto says.

The licensing program for the first “Shrek” film, for example, was fairly limited, relative to the pic’s boffo B.O. Retailers saw demand for “Shrek” products but didn’t have enough wares to sell.

DreamWorks is determined not to repeat that oversight.

At the show, the studio is touting “Shrek 3,” by now a sure thing, and its upcoming “Wallace & Gromit” pic.

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