Predicting the next big franchise has never been more difficult – especially when it comes to the youngest generation. Generation Alpha has a different approach to content consumption – they spend an estimated 15 hours online each week; have access to hundreds of TV channels on catch up; and spend hours gaming. Even the big film and TV studios are not getting the same attention from this generation – there is simply too much choice.
On the flip side, these children are more demanding and more informed than any before. And more influential – the latest Cartoon Network New Generations study reveals children aged 4 to 14 wield an annual spending power of $1.8 billion. This is not a market to ignore but how can licensees predict the next big thing? Or get products designed and into the market before the craze is over?
The days of the sure fire winners are long gone. Looking back just a decade, from the new Disney blockbuster to the favourite children’s programme on BBC 1, ITV or Sky, choice was limited and demand a given. Decisions regarding licensing, product design and manufacture were simple. Plus, with the majority of children’s items purchased by parents, marketers had a clear understanding of the target market.
Now Simon’s Cat gets millions of views on YouTube and becomes an overnight hit. Generation Alpha are confident and increasingly directing buying activity; and the concept of loyalty – and hence brand longevity – is becoming as outdated as watching TV in real time. When children can watch a zillion YouTube channels, play Minecraft or opt to watch ‘traditional’ channels on catch up, is it any surprise that a recent episode of Blue Peter, once watched by eight million children live on BBC 1, apparently had zero live viewers.
Who can plan for that? How can any company predict viral trends, get the right products in place and, critically, convince the retailers to take a punt on what may well be a short lived craze?
Of course, Generation Alpha is just the latest generation to embrace an entirely new way of consuming content. From the Millennials and their box sets, to Gen Zs checking out new gaming apps on a daily basis, influencers are continually evolving. The most noted difference with Gen A, however, is the way they are influencing content trends – from an incredibly young age. Parent power has most definitely been replaced by pester power – and that creates new challenges for organisations looking to identify the next brand to license.
There are a few products that defy the constantly changing trends. Minecraft. Thomas the Tank Engine. Peppa Pig. And companies that hit the jackpot can still gain very significant returns. The tough challenge is to pick out the commercial success from the massive pool of content now available – the risk/reward model has changed fundamentally.
Plus, of course, these new content generators are often individuals – not the established TV and film studios of the past. Success can be overnight – and these individuals have no back up infrastructure, no knowledge of product licensing and, sadly, no guarantee of following up the first success with second. Just consider the phenomenal global success of Flappy Bird – companies that invested in the creator’s planned follow up caught a massive cold as he was simply overwhelmed by the entire process and never delivered the next game.
Tracking market dynamics
This is an industry in transition – with so much change, companies need new skills and a far more proactive approach to getting products into the market. Understanding trends is clearly essential and the onus is on companies to become far more rigorous about product and market research, to leverage tools such as Buzzfeed to understand trends in viral activity, and analyse app sales to identify a spike in popularity for a specific game.
In addition companies need to diversify – there is simply no room for any business to be entrenched within one market sector. A company with a strong foothold in cuddly toys or dolls must be willing and able to embrace an opportunity it identifies within a different area – such as games or gender neutral clothing.
Companies also need to take a far more proactive approach to product marketing if cautious retailers are to invest in a new product or concept. Timing is everything but right now lead times remain a challenge – aside from high cost print on demand solutions, companies have to effectively take a punt on what could be a very short lived opportunity. This is massively daunting for retailers operating on ever tighter margins – and the onus is on the licensing and product design industry to work with retailers to improve the process and manage risk.
Exploiting social media
There are significant opportunities to work with influential social media platforms, such as Pretty52, to entice retailers to support a product. For example, a recent launch of adult Clangers products was heavily promoted on the Clangers’ Facebook page with active redirects towards retail stockists, and resulted in a significant boost in sales.
This social media based marketing is still very much a work in progress within the industry, but in such a time of change experimentation is key. Simply sitting back and saying it is too hard to predict the next trend or that lead times are too long to get a product onto the shelves before the next big thing hits is a fast track to business closure.
The fact is that there are massive opportunities for those companies that can find the right, commercial content. When four year olds are driving sales based on their content experiences, and their older siblings have more money to spend that any previous generation, the opportunities for those that get it right are significant. Being proactive is key: in addition to great research it is by embracing social media channels to market these products that companies can actually influence content engagement and drive up product sales as a result.
Gurdev Mattu is the managing director at Fashion UK.