THE BIG INTERVIEW: Darran Garnham, Head of Global Licensing, Mind Candy - Licensing.biz

THE BIG INTERVIEW: Darran Garnham, Head of Global Licensing, Mind Candy

We find out more about the smash hit social media brand's long-term plans.
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Without a doubt, Mind Candy is one of the biggest companies around at the moment. Of course, we’re not talking about when you compare it to the likes of a Disney, a BBC Worldwide or even a Hit Entertainment.

But it has a property which, at the moment, is equally as big as anything those firms have in their rosters.

Plus, it’s showing the ‘traditional’ licensing business a thing or two about new revenue streams.

Moshi Monsters has just announced its 50 millionth registered user and has already launched products in the UK and Australia. These include toys, collectables, a self-published magazine, membership cards and trading cards, with even more to come.

In April, UK NPD figures placed Moshi Monsters as the fourth biggest brand launch of 2011 (the top three were all from Lego). Consumer products are set to hit the States this summer via an exclusive retail partnership – due to be announced this week at Licensing International in Las Vegas – while there are also video games in the pipeline, plus talks taking place regarding TV and film, music and a live tour.

Moshi Monsters – and the man who created it, Michael Acton Smith – is everywhere. And it all started online.

It’s interesting then, that the man charged with building up the global licensing programme for the brand comes from such traditional stock. Darran Garnham began his licensing career with LCI, which become 4Kids Entertainment and enabled him to work on properties such as Pokémon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Cabbage Patch Kids and Yu-Gi-Oh. From there he moved into the agency model, working with licensors including Lego, BBC Worldwide, 20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount and Dreamworks.

Well qualified certainly, but how is he going to use that experience to his advantage with a brand which has come from such a different background? “My years working on Pokémon have been key,” Garnham explains to Licensing.biz. “The knowledge of how to handle the hottest brand on the planet, the positives and the pitfalls attached, will ensure Moshi Monsters transcends into an evergreen brand and not a flash in the pan. Working as a licensing agent is also valuable experience. This gave a wide insight into how different licensors work and the best learnings have been useful when putting the global strategy in place at Mind Candy.”

There’s a drive throughout the whole company, says Garnham, to make Moshi Monsters the biggest children’s entertainment brand in the world and he thinks the model – brands from the social media space moving into ‘traditional’ licensing – is one we’re going to see much more of going forward. “The power is no longer in the hands of Hollywood or television executives as to what kids watch and when. The accessibility for kids to use PCs, laptops and all the gadgets Apple offer has opened up a new world of opportunities.

“It’s refreshing to see some licensors and retailers are ahead of the curve and grabbing this new direction with both hands, but some still think they can throw an app out and that’s enough – it’s not.”

Garnham readily admits that the biggest challenge for Moshi Monsters has been convincing retail.

“Convincing buyers that kids will buy product linked to new media has been the biggest challenge. Of course, now that we have fantastic reads and sales data, this is getting easier. However, we still face questions such as ‘how much are you spending on TV?’. Moshi – like Amazon, Facebook and Google – does not need millions spent on TV. The organic nature of these brands has seen them grow into multi-billion dollar companies.
“Sustainability is a longer answer. Firstly, there are many attempts to create what Mind Candy has achieved with Moshi, but getting the critical mass is tough. By the end of 2011 we will have 60 million+ users and while we lose some as they grow out of the brand, we gain a new player every second. We are constantly updating our offerings to users with new characters, locations, games and missions – storytelling is key to us making Moshi an evergreen property.”

Another plus on Moshi’s side is the fact that, unlike conventional entertainment, where it can take years to launch new characters from TV and movies, Mind Candy can keep up with popular culture. “We can draw, animate, code and put live new elements in a matter of days, keeping our offering reactive, fresh and exciting – and putting us streets ahead of our competitors.”

Garnham is currently looking to expand the team in the recently opened US office, while new markets such as South America, South Africa and Asia are on the horizon. 2011, he explains, is a year for building the foundations and making Moshi into the biggest global online and offline digital brand.

And longer term? “Moshi will be one of the biggest entertainment companies in the world,” he confidently states. “We have a number of projects in the works from MoshiTV and film opportunities to our own toy/product developments. However, we will always have a Moshi spin on these launches; we like to lead and not follow. Mind Candy also has some new IP in development so the next five, ten, 15 years will be very, very exciting. That said, Moshi is our core and we will continue to focus on the development and expansion of this amazing brand.”

And what advice does Garnham have for any firms which have a social media property they’d like to break into licensing? “Know and listen to your audience. Make product relevant to the online play pattern. Don’t be put off by naysayers. And quality, quality, quality.”

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