It was Fisher-Price's biggest licensed toy launch to date, features within the top ten most watched series on CBeebies and already airs in 27 countries around the globe. Yet, Acamar Films says Bing is only just getting started. Robert Hutchins talks to Laura Clarke, senior licensing manager and Lee Harris, head of brand marketing, about the future of this pre-school hit.
A labyrinth of marketplaces, music venues and international foods, Camden Town is often ascribed the role of bohemian activity.
An area that the likes of Dylan Thomas and Amy Winehouse made their home, it is London’s epicentre of artistry that, across generations, has always appealed to the creative mind.
It stands to reason then, that four years ago its romantic allure was enough to entice the British film and television company, Acamar Films, into its cultural melee, and from it, produce one of the most successful home-grown pre-school characters of recent times.
That character is of course Bing, the three year old protagonist of a self-titled animated series that, since its launch, has been the source of huge success for the independent outfit; bringing home chart topping success across toys, children’s books and broadcast that even stretched to a BAFTA nomination and an International Emmy win.
Even if you’ve never watched an episode, you’ve heard of Bing, met as it was with a chorus of demand from kids and parents when news of its master toy line from Fisher-Price first emerged in early 2015.
Its episodes feature regularly in the BBC iPlayer’s Top 40 downloads and among CBeebies’ top ten shows, airing as it does five times a day, seven days a week. Now did Dylan Thomas ever achieve that?
With the backing of controllers at the Beeb’s CBeebies behind it, a master toy partner in the global toymaker Fisher-Price and publisher in HarperCollins, Bing couldn’t be in a better position to take over the world. But how does one independent studio and its flagship character do that? Well, licensing is a good place to start.
“The licensing potential for Bing was recognised quite early on,” Laura Clarke, senior licensing manager at Acamar Films, tells ToyNews.
“Our success in the UK has given us a ‘model market’ on which we have been able to base our future brand growth and international expansion. We have secured best-in-class broadcast partners internationally, including Clan (Spain), MiniMini (Poland), ABC (Australia) and KiKa (Germany).
“What’s more, the unisex and universal appeal of Bing, alongside the fact that it’s grounded
in everyday life making it relatable to pre-schoolers, as well as the grown ups in their lives, is a bonus. Whether you live in the UK, Japan or Italy, Bing presents the universal challenges of pre-school life, from the importance of sharing to being afraid of the dark.”
This, of course, has also meant that Acamar and its licensing agents have the perfect platform from which to create a ‘thoughtful, wide and varied licensing programme’ around Bing.
In 2015, Acamar Films teamed with Fisher-Price to launch a range of pre-school toys to select retailers. Kept to a carefully curated minimum number of products, the launch took social media by storm. The result, of course, was that Bing became an overnight success and Fisher-Price’s biggest licensed toy launch to date.
With a measured approach to the toy range – a contract that has recently been extended to 2019 – and the desire to avoid ‘flooding the market’ like some of its direct competitors, Clarke admits that Bing is only warming up.
“We have only really scratched the surface in the toy space and we are keen to explore ways in which we can bring Bing’s world to life in a myriad of ways.”
“We are looking at opportunities in the role-play and learning category, as well as arts and crafts, games, collectables and complementary toy sub-categories. Meanwhile, outside of toys, we are already seeing huge success in our first apparel range, which will continue into next year, as well as roll-out of the next phase of our licensing programme, taking Bing into food and health and beauty categories.”
Bing make-up remover, we think not. But themed toothbrushes or bath products are almost a certainty and the manoeuvre into the more oblique categories goes someway to highlight the strength of Bing in the traditional licensing space.
But why has Acamar seen such success with Bing, so early on and in a market as fiercely competitive as pre-school?
“Pre-school is very crowded, not just in content but across all categories in licensing and we try not to get distracted by that as every brand is different,” she says. “Our strategy to launch only categories which are relevant over a longer period of time has stood us in good stead for future growth. This is the model we intend to follow in other markets and those we are already in.”
While that licensing programme may still be in its infancy, Clarke certainly sees potential for Bing to have evergreen status, underlining the firm’s commitment to its long-term growth and global potential.
However, you can’t talk global domination and evergreen status unless you’re prepared to discuss the changing landscape of children’s media consumption. And as that landscape moves from linear to digital, so too is Acamar Films, aligning itself with the likes of Amazon and YouTube, as well as investing in digital marketing through online influencers, all in order to run parallel with today’s youngsters and grown-ups.
“We have seen the migration of shopping habits to online, with the emergence of digital first online retailers and have responded in kind,” Lee Harris, head of brand marketing at Acamar Films, explains.
“We are investing in our digital content development with more focus on YouTube and apps. With YouTube now the number one search engine for little ones, we need to ensure that we are a part of the mix.”
Investment in children’s digital is crucial to today’s entertainment studios. It’s why Acamar has already scheduled its second Bing app for a 2018 release, offering the consumer touchpoints for the brand where they require them most.
“That’s not to say that digital is our only focus opportunity,” continues Harris. “Following the success of the CBeebies Land Hotel partnership in which Bing is already a mini show. We will have another theatrical partnership in the coming months, launching our first nationwide touring Bing Live Show next year.”
But perhaps Bing’s greatest strength is in its universal appeal to the global pre-school market. The show already airs in 27 countries, making it a hugely translatable property not just in content but in its licensing strategy, too. Look up the translation of Bing in almost any language and you’ll notice the name doesn’t stray from its British moniker, while the themes tackled in each episode are not quintessentially British by any means, but the universal language of pre-school.
It’s why, when it comes to the topic of further European expansion over the coming year, both Clarke and Harris are confident that the animated series can mirror the success it has already seen on home soil.
“The UK is a key territory for us, but we are gaining traction in the European markets such as Spain, Poland and Germany, too,” continues Harris.
“We launched the master toy line with Fisher-Price in Poland exclusively with the toy retailer Smyk earlier this year with great success, and we’re collaborating with our licensing agent ELC to identify further licensees for roll-out next year. Meanwhile in Spain, plans are afoot for toys to launch in 2018 among a raft of other licensees in partnership with our local licensing agent, El Ocho.
“We are also exploring the potential for launch in other key European markets, as well as other regions including the US, Russia and Asia where we think Bing could have a similar level of success as the UK and establish itself as the newest pre- school evergreen classic.”
In what both Harris and Clarke describe as an ‘incredibly exciting time for entertainment and brand licensing,’ the studio is only forecasting more growth, be that in tech and digital, taking Bing into new innovative areas or across physical touchpoints, such as live shows.
What’s apparent is that with further global expansion on the cards for Acamar Films, Bing has and will, certainly continue to rack up the air miles as he continues to travel a long way from home.