Dentsu's DCI to export popular toys from Japan

Merchandise tied to pics like “Star Wars,” “Toy Story 3,” “Iron Man 2,” “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” are expected to dominate Toy Fair when it kicks off Sunday in Gotham.

But don’t count out the bean dogs.

Japanese advertising giant Dent­su is looking to export “Mameshiba,” an entertainment property revolving around beans with puppy-dog faces, to the U.S. and turn what’s become a surprise hit in Asia into the next fad for teen and tween girls.

The property was launched in 2008 as a series of 30-second animated interstitials to fill airtime on Japanese TV. The spots aired when traditional advertisers opted not to buy time during shows as marketing budgets were slashed during the recession. Dentsu manages about 50% of the terrestrial TV time in Japan.

The cast of 25 bean-dog characters, with names like Fava Bean, Red Bean, Soybean and Chili Bean, surrounded by quirky trivia questions like, “Did you know? The inside of a kangaroo’s pouch is smelly” and “Did you know? A hippo’s sweat is pink,” quickly developed a following with viewers. It also generated $30 million from the sale of merchandise in its first year and another $55 million last year.

In Japanese, “Mameshiba” translates to “bean dog”; “bean” often refers to random bits of trivia.

“Sometimes the simplest ideas work the best,” said Marc Harrington, VP of business development for DCI-LA., the L.A.-based arm of Dentsu that will handle the launch of the Mameshiba line in English-speaking territories. “It’s a bean with a puppy face.”

DCI-LA is introducing the line through an online store and MameshibaWorld.com that houses games, a series of videos (essentially the animated spots shown in Japan) and other licensed content. Toys and other gear will appear in specialty retailers like Hot Topic sometime around Easter, with the first wave of products. They range from T-shirts to children’s books produced by Heroic Prints, Toynami, which launched the popular Skelanimals line in the U.S., VIZ Media & Happy Six. There already are more than 250 products and 20 licensees in Japan.

The rollout of the property could provide Hollywood with a case study in how to effectively use new media to introduce a new entertainment property that’s not based on an existing brand. That could come into play as DCI-LA develops Mameshiba into its own animated series on TV, homevideo or other platforms.Animated shorts featuring the bean-dogs went viral last summer and have already been viewed more than two million times on YouTube.

“The success of Mameshiba is a very welcome surprise,” said Mameshiba project manager Atsushi Higashiyama. “The characters have a quirky tone and family-friendly message that appeals to children and adults alike. People are clearly connecting with the Mameshiba family of characters, and all indicators are there to suggest they will be popular in English-speaking markets as well.”

DCI-LA last month paired with Malibu-based toymaker Jakks Pacific to launch “Monsuno” as a new TV toon property that will be exploited across various platforms, including playthings (Daily Variety, Jan. 6). Last year, it picked up the rights to Internet and toy property Chub City to develop into TV shows.

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