Doraemon: An Excellent Partner
Doraemon, an animated series that has been a favorite of Japanese children for decades, will be turning 50. As one of the oldest, continuously running icons, Doraemon is a recognizable character in this contemporary generation.
The Doraemon, an anime composed by Fujiko F. Fujio in 1969 in Japan, came to India in 2005 through franchise route and was aired for the first time. Amongst many laurels to its credit, it won the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards - India twice in a row for Best Show For Kids (2013 and 2015) and was nominated in 2016 and 2017 edition for the same category. Presently, it’s aired on Disney Channel and claims to be the highest-rated kids’ show with about 478.5 million viewers. In 2007, Doremon introdcued its licensee for merchandise in India.
Nitin Kalra, Director at AI Licensing India Pvt. Ltd, a part of the Hong Kongbased Animation International Limited, manages the licensing and merchandising business for several popular global brands such as Doraemon, Shin Chan, Archie Comics, Garfield, Hallmark Design Collection, Hallmark Babies, Albert Einstein, besides others.
In August 2017, Animation International Licensing Pvt Ltd. engaged BD Nathani for marketing consultancy to assist in finding licensee partners in footwear, apparel and accessories categories. Nathani has had an opulent experience in managing licensee brands like Lotto, New balance, Hi-tec and Crocs in India. He had a robust stint in launching Disney Footwear as well as Chhota Bheem Footwear.
Nitin Kalra and BD Nathani share their views on Doraemon and licensing business in India with S&A’S Amit Chopra.
How big is licensing business globally as well in India? BD Nathani :
Brand licensing is at nascent stage in India but is set to grow manifold in the future with rising brand consciousness among consumers and high peneteration of modern retail coupled with E-commerce. Currently, India, with a turnover of $396 million in retail sales, is on 20th position globally. According to Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Associations survey, market size of the licensing industry stands at $271.6 billion with growth of over 4.5% pa.
So, when did you realise licensing was the way to go? Nitin Kalra:
The Doraemon International Licensing program was started by Mr. Hiroshi Kondo,chairman of the Animation International Group almost 3 decades ago. The vision was to create a global brand icon emerging from Japan that would appeal to both girls and boys. From then on, Animation International now manages the exclusive licensing rights to Doraemon across Asia, Middle East and CIS regions through its 17 offices.
Well, footwear is still at a budding stage when it comes to fashion category, which consist of apparels, accessories, shoes etc, but for some reason footwear’s share is quite low at the moment. It contributes hardly 10% of total fashion business pie.
Are there things people don’t understand about Doraemon and the market? NK:
What people don’t know is that Doraemon is a 48-year-old character and continues to grow strong on the back of its content. Our core content, which provides moral values and a mission to make the world a better place strikes a chord with consumers – kids and adults alike. In India alone, there is 38% coviewership of the program with adults over 18+, which means parents, young adults do like to watch the show with kids. With Amazon Prime now showing Doraemon,
According to Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Associations survey, market size of Licensing industry stands at US$271.6 billion with growth of over 4.5% pa.” – BD Nathani
How big is footwear licensing?
we are seeing more young people getting added to the bandwagon of Doraemon’s followers.
What is the future design direction? Can you tell us how this has evolved? NK:
Doraemonhas emerged as one of the most evolved design characters in the licensing business. From the basic styles to theme-based style guides (on an average around 5-6 style guides are released every year), Doraemon is now available even in a 3D Avataar. The future also holds good for customization – we have already launched specific targeted guides such as Chinese New Year or Japanese Sakura Festival based designs. We are hoping to launch Indian specific designs very soon – such as Diwali and Cricket.
How would you describe the current licensing environment in India? BD:
Major cartoon characters like Doraemon, Garfield, Disney etc contribute a lot in brand merchandise apart from media, entertainment, sports and fitness etc. Footwear category has brought in many characters like Micky, Minnie, Princess, Chhota Bheem, Barbie as well as Doraemon, Garfield etc. Doraemon was launched in India with Wiesnner group 3 years ago and has now signed an agreement with another company Color Foot Fashion Pvt Ltd, New Delhi and Doraemon Kids collection will be launched this winter. In fact, the same company has been signed for Garfield too and the products should be in market by January 2019. We are very confident of footwear category doing well in coming times.
What is your view on the competition between local and international characters ? NK:
We believe that every character has its own life and its own following. Competition is created by media, not by consumers. As long as the consumers love the character, get attracted by the design and the product is priced appropriately, the consumers will buy. And yes, everyone will have preferences and no consumer will buy just one brand. We have been doing business in India since 2005 and have seen many characters come and go. The fact that Doraemon remains rock solid and continues to appeal to consumers is the proof that we are not a weak brand in any sense.
What is that you would like to improve? BD:
More the merrier. I mean more characters, if launched, would create much bigger market and acceptability. It generates bigger market and much more sales revenue. Many consumers are not even aware that these characetrs are available in indian market. Hence more awareness needs to be created amongst consumers. My experience with Disney and Chhota Bheem was very good and I am sure with Doraemon being No.1 Character in popularity should have its impact on the sales of footwear category too.
Does it worry you that Doraemon might not make money of licensing in the short term in footwear trade? NK:
I find this question quite irrelevant. We have been in business since 2005 in India and our growth has only been upwards. We are making enough money to qualify to be a long term player in the licensing market in India. With Doraemon’s 50th anniversary ahead of us in 2020, we will only grow and the business multi-fold.
What’s the best advice you can offer to prospective licensees to adopt licensing method? BD:
From my experience of working with many sports brands like Lotto, New Balance, Crocs and Character Licenses like Disney and Chhota Bheem, I can assure that this is the ready made formula to success. Building a brand or creating a character of your own is a huge and difficult task which requires money and time with no guarantee that you will be successful. Hence, I advocate that taking a license or franchisee is the most successful method to start a business with lot of confidence as you are assured of brand awareness or popularity of character.
Whatpeople don’t know is that Doraemon is a 48-years old character and continues to grow strong on the back of its content.” – Nitin Kalra
How do you think the licensing market will shake up the footwear business? NK:
The licensing market is still very small in India – just about 4-5 major players – yes, more are coming, but some have already weaned out as well. That’s the law of nature! We foresee this market to continue to grow massively, with 350 million children below the age of 14 years, we are only here to see an upward trend. The licensing companies will lead the way in ensuring best of the brands are launched and offered to consumers who are constantly looking for better products. With the tier II and III towns set to join the licensing bandwagon, the party is just about to start!
Have your ethics ever been tested in licensing business?? BD:
This is the most difficult question to answer as in India ethics and business hardly go hand in hand. With footwear category being mostly in unorganised sector, many enterpreneurs who take the license indulge in wrong reporting of sales figures as more sales one shows, more royalty you have to pay. I have faced this challange at few places where I could not agree with my superiors to report low figures to avoid paying royalty. But I have followed the path of ethical business and preferred to quit rather than work in unethical environments.
What is your view on those who seek to infringe on the official Doraemon brand? NK:
Piracy is a “reality” which we cannot ignore and no one has a permanent solution to it. However, we do have a strong in-house legal cell that works with our licensees to address this issue. I can proudly share that in 2017 we got over 400 illegal vendors black-listed on prominent e-commerce portals and the list continues to grow in 2018. All our partners are cautious and report any infringement that happens from time to time.
Do you think ecommerce players would be getting into the licensing business? NK:
They already have. We were amongst the first licensing companies to sign direct to retail online deals with Myntra. Com. Now we have several Direct Deals with Bewakoof.com, Souledstore.com, Teestory.com, etc. And it’s just getting bigger. For e-comm companies it makes perfect sense as they have the suppliers and we have the designs, it helps in more margins for everyone and more so cheaper products direct to consumer.
Disney characters are very strong. How do you plan to take on them? NK:
The irony is that Doraemon drives Disney Channel in India, all 3 of their channels survive on Doraemon. Like I said in the previous question, each character is unique and we don’t believe in competing with anyone. Disney is a great company and an inspiration for everyone in the licensing business. There are only learnings for all of us to grow together.
Many products have gone from wooden to plastic. Does the company insist on environmental concerns? NK:
Yes, as a matter of fact by 2020, we aim to eliminate plastics from all our products in India as much as possible. We are also working on certain bio-degradable packaging options, which we may make mandatory for all our licensed products to use in times to come.
What is future of licensing business in India? BD:
It’s very heartening that 32 brands have forayed on online and 22 other global brands have
Its very heartening that 32 brands have forayed on Online and 22 other global brands have launched in brick & mortar stores in 2016.” – BD Nathani
launched in brick-and-mortar stores in 2016. There are over 300 new global brands planning to enter India in coming 2 years which includes many footwear brands too. As per LIMA’S survey report, organised retail which is growing very fast and with present tax structure modified to GST, retail is estimated to touch $220 billion by 2023.
What will be your primary focus for licensing this year?
NK: We are adding some major partnerships for Doraemon leading up to the 50th anniversary in 2020. Our line up of licensees at present include big players like Reliance Trends, ITC, Dabur, Titan, D’décor, Asian Paints, Usha, Monginis, Kinder Joy and many more. We are excited that major companies now recognize and want to work with Doraemon to provide a delightful experience to their customers.
What has been the most successful and impactful promotion that you have run over the past years ? NK:
There have been several such promotions but in particular the one we ran with HP Printers was the first of its kind and was also recognized as one of the top promotions from Asia at various Licensing forums across the world.
Where do you see the Doraemon brand a year from now? NK:
Doraemon is heading for very exciting times – we are adding more content to Amazon Prime, launching the show in English on Disney and adding some topnotch brands as our licensing partners. We are soon announcing our Experiential Licensing project with Doraemon that will really help us connect with consumers directly across major cities in India.
How much would your involvement be in the licensees marketing initiatives ? NK:
Our licensees love the fact that we don’t let Doraemon sit dormant in our office. Our character costumes are always on the move. In 2018 alone, till now we have done mall events in over 24 cities across the country. This just adds to the noise on ground and helps our licensees sell more products. Keep an eye for Doraemon 50th – we will be doing a lot more than people expect from us!
Piracyis a “reality” which we cannot ignore and no one has a permanent solution to it.” – Nitin Kalra
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