How brand Doraemon has stayed relevant for over a decade in India

The editorial team at caught up with Mr. Nitin Kalra, Director, AI Licensing India Pvt. Ltd to get his views on a range of topics related to the outstanding success of Doraemon in India and other territories. Read on and enjoy!

1.     Is having Doraemon on TV the single biggest ingredient that helped build the licensing program?
Doraemon’s core audience is 2 to 8 years and that’s largely driven by television. Content has played a major role in the success of the licensing program for Doraemon across the world. Having managed Doraemon Licensing for over 2 decades across Asia, Middle East & CIS region, we at Animation International strongly support and believe in our television partners. In India we started with Hungama in 2005 (when it was owned by UTV) and later after it’s merger with Disney, we expanded the program across the Disney Network. Doraemon has been the strongest property for Disney ever since and our
alliance with them is rock solid. Despite the program starting to air in 2005, it was only in 2010 that we actually saw the licensing program starting to fructify the way we would have liked. Today Doraemon is the strongest property on Disney Network and for us it is certainly one of the key drivers for the licensing

2.     Is there a strategy that you have worked on to pace the growth of the licensing and merchandising so as to not lead to over saturation? “Saturation” is a very subjective term – for a lot of people the more the exposure the better the program.
For some it’s the complete opposite. It really depends on how you see the use of the character in your portfolio. Again out of our two decades experience of managing Doraemon in multiple territories, we see a gradual increase in its exposure, we see years of absolute peak and then a decline. However unlike most brands that fail to recover once they fall from their peaks, Doraemon has the tendency to bounce back – it has sustained in a strong manner in markets like Thailand, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and many others, thanks to the continuous content support our Licensors provide from time to time.

3.    How many categories is Doremon currently available in and whats been the pace of growth?
We are currently spread across all major softlines and hardlines categories across 30+ licensees.
Promotions are one of the biggest revenue streams for us but we don’t over expose the brand with multiple brands. We always restrict our promotions to 4-5 major ones each year. Thankfully most of our partners have stuck on to us and have done multiple year deals with us for promotions and product. Our next big push is on the digital front, where we are a bit weak – but since our core TG of 2-8 years, as a brand philosophy Doraemon doesn’t encourage the use of high tech digital gadgets for kids and hence this isn’t our core area of licensing. However considering the way the market consumes content, we are now seriously focusing on making sure we are present across all digital platforms too.

4.    Since Animation International manages this business across Middle East, Southeast Asia- how does
the property fare in India vs. the other markets?
Revenue wise, Thailand and China continue to be our growth leaders whereas India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Vietnam and South Korea are our fastest growing markets. We see the acceptance a bit slow in Turkey and UAE but it’s still early days in those markets. India continues to grow at a rapid pace and we are investing further in our business.

5.     Is there any very India centric case study that you could share as something that AI is proud of?
There are quite a few things, which we have put together, which have been well appreciated by our licensees.

We are probably the only agency where 70% of our licensees use our designing services. We have a full-fledged design studio with experts from the field of merchandise designing and licensees now find it very easy to get ready-to- produce files. It has also helped us reduce approval time, which in turn reduces the overall product development time leading to faster product to market making everyone in the chain happy.
We are also amongst the first companies in India to start charging malls for character appearances. Our first event was in 2010 and since then we have never given our character costumes to malls or schools or even exhibitions for free. There is always a fee that’s attached to it and our event partners have seen value in the association and hence have always come back for more. As a principal in Animation International, our characters are our stars, we don’t use them for free promotions but always ensure they get their due and add value to our partners.
Again we have been instrumental in opening up new markets across the country – one instance is that of Guwahati. We were the first agency to step foot in that market when nobody had even looked at going there. Our first deal with a snack food company there opened up a plethora of opportunities for the region and within a year all major brands flooded that market. We still feel special as being the first there, the companies and our partners there still value the first lessons in licensing we gave them. What makes us happy is that we were able to create a business opportunity for the entire industry.

6.    Since you deal with a brand with mass appeal- how have you been servicing the captive consumer
need via the unorganized market?
Yes we do have a strategy to focus on the unorganized segment of the market. Since this segment fuels piracy, our in-house legal team works with a network of anti-piracy agencies that help us reach out to this
segment. However our approach is not to approach them with the objective of putting them behind bars.
Our first priority is to convince them to convert into official retail partners. We have created a “Doraemon Retail Partner Program” whereby we enroll retailers who wish to buy official merchandise from us directly.
We have seen many unorganized players who have enrolled into the program voluntarily. We started this as a pilot this year in Mumbai and already have 100 mom-and- pop stores with us. We will scale this to 500 stores in Mumbai by end of this year and then aim to roll out nationally.

7.     What would be the single limitation that stifles growth of licensing in India?
The entire retail ecosystem itself is our biggest limitation. Consumers need product but due tothe high- handed ways of retailers, the consumers are not able to get the right kind of product at
the right price. Retailers have put licensees out of business by refusing to give them space or due to their business practices. Policies of returns after years of buying the stock, without any
explanation, erratic delays in payments, adjustments of payments, unusual fees and charges – all add up to the chaos that licensees experience. This in turn doesn’t lead to the growth of the business and the captive demand is serviced by piracy and counterfeit. Unless there is a partnership approach on the retail front the licensing business will continue to be small.

8.     What would you like to see as change in the Indian licensing ecosystem?
Indian Licensing is still at a very nascent stage but the explosion of growth in this industry will happen at a pace, which will be beyond anyone’s imagination. That’s also the opportunity in India. If we as brand owners and licensing companies want to be a part of this growth phase, it is extremely critical we start collaborating together. We need to find synergies, ways to help each other, which will in turn help the overall ecosystem grow. There is a need for a collaborative effort to handle piracy, issues related to talent acquisition and talent management, issues of retail, payments, audits, etc.