THE BIG INTERVIEW: Bruno Schwobthaler, Senior VP Sales/Business Development EMEA, WBCP - Licensing.biz

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Bruno Schwobthaler, Senior VP Sales/Business Development EMEA, WBCP

With 2008 having been a record year for the firm, WBCP certainly isn't short of confidence as it readies for its first major releases of 2009. And with the likes of Batman, Looney Tunes, Scooby-Doo - and a small brand called Harry Potter - you shouldn't be surprised...
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“Even in difficult times there are business opportunities, but you will need to find a very specific niche rather than try to go too broad,” Bruno Schwobthaler, WBCP’s senior VP of sales and business development EMEA explains to Licensing.biz.

Well, Warner has certainly found its niche – in fact the company has just experienced a record year. Of course, the resurgent Batman played a huge part in this, but properties such as Looney Tunes, Tweety, Scooby-Doo and Harry Potter, plus the licensing programme of UEFA Euro 2008, are all worth noting.

“Our three-year roadmap is clearly identified and well-balanced between evergreens, superheroes and Harry Potter,” Schwobthaler admits. “Whilst we’ll be rationalising, we will still be driving our brand messages through partnerships with creative licensees, product innovation and effective cross category development.”
Schwobthaler is obviously a man with a plan. Indeed, it pays to have one when you’re in his position, dealing with two of the hottest brands around at the moment – Batman and Harry Potter.

“The success of The Dark Knight at the box office did not only support the Batman franchise in the toy category, it also accelerated demand for merchandise targeting older age groups especially in the apparel category. Several of our licensees achieved results well above expectations, sales in the hundreds of thousands of units, especially in the non traditional channels.”

While it would be fair to say that the record breaker that was The Dark Knight reignited the public’s enthusiasm for the Batman brand, WBCP is now doing everything it possibly can to keep this going and Schwobthaler has no intention of giving up that superhero crown any time soon. New TV series, Batman The Brave and the Bold is due to air in the UK this summer and Europe from the autumn, and a major merchandise plan is in place with Mattel heading the charge as master toy licensee.

“The key learning is that any new Batman initiative creates a halo effect for the whole brand – we have just completed focus groups with kids in the UK and they have confirmed this,” Schwobthaler says. “Whether it’s the live action Dark Knight, DC Comic graphic style Batman or the bright cartoon-like Batman that is seen in Brave and the Bold, kids relate to the Batman brand. As one child said “they’re all Batman”.”

The success of Batman has led WBCP to think long and hard about the potential of the rest of the DC Comics universe, too.

“Super heroes is a major industry trend – they captured nearly 20 per cent of the box office in 2008. Following the incredible global success of The Dark Knight and with preparations for DC Comics’ 75th anniversary in 2010 underway, we are focusing our attention on maximising the commercial potential of the DC Universe.

“Led by Batman and including Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Plastic Man, Supergirl, Justice League and The Gotham Girls, to name a fine few, DC Comics offers the broadest portfolio of iconic characters appealing to all age groups and genders. The potential for product development across all categories is vast.”
Schwobthaler’s goal is to “assert DC Comics as the home of the greatest superheroes across the whole of the EMEA region”.

So what is it with consumer’s obsession with superheroes? Why does Schwobthaler think that many of them have become almost timeless creations?

“It is a combination of multiple factors,” he starts enthusiastically. “Firstly, the focus by the owners of superhero properties to deliver a more compelling consumer proposition – content, products, retail activations. Secondly, the increased segmentation that has taken superheroes outside of the usual ‘toys for boys’ strategy but has added new demographics, new partners and new product categories.

“We have worked with D&G on Batman and Superman, Armani partnered with WB for The Dark Knight and we are working with Diane von Furstenberg on Wonder Woman. Thirdly, the current economic climate that makes superheroes more appealing, born amid the depression of the 1940s, historically superheroes have always done well in difficult times as consumers look to brands with a heritage that they can trust.”

WBCP has worked hard over the last few years to structure a solid property portfolio to grow the EMEA business. And it is this portfolio which Schwobthaler believes will stand it in good stead to ride out this year’s storms. “Whilst we did not anticipate the current crisis and its effects, we are fortunate to have a portfolio that includes established evergreens supported by relevant brand stories.”

Of course, the ace up the firm’s sleeve is Harry Potter, which is, as Schwobthaler points out, the only entertainment property offering a movie blockbuster every year over the next three years.

Away from this, the active programme for Looney Tunes is also gathering momentum across Europe, the evergreen Scooby-Doo is entering a new phase with the Scary Fun proposition and the firm is also eyeing new initiatives for classic brand Tom & Jerry. It’s no wonder Schwobthaler has such a confident air about him. He’s still more than aware of the potential pitfalls ahead, however.

“2009 will be a tough year, because it will be a transition year. However, as long as the key players like ourselves keep delivering new and improved consumer propositions we should be able to cope,” he concludes.

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