THE BIG INTERVIEW: Gustavo Antonioni, Commercial Brands Director, ITV Global Entertainment

?People are not going to believe what they?re going to see at Brand Licensing Europe.
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"I'm really excited to go out there and tell you all about the exciting plans we have for ITV Global Entertainment and its great portfolio of brands."

When met up with Gustavo Antonioni, the commercial brands director at ITV Global Entertainment, he's clearly enjoying every minute of his new role. When we caught up with him, Antonioni had only been with the firm for about four weeks, but the progress he had made in that short time was, quite frankly, astounding.

Some of the changes at ITV are already known - the name change, for example, to ITV Global Entertainment, plus the split of the commercial brands team into three separate divisions (sales, within which sit merchandising and licensing, plus promotions and new business).

There is much more to come though, and Antonioni is confident about how the firm's new approach will be received in the business.

"I'm doing something very different for ITV and I know this is something that we need to do," he enthuses. "We were competing in a children's market, but we're not a children's company. I'm not afraid to speak my mind and I'm at the point in my career where, you know, let's rock the boat a little bit, and we're doing that. We're taking our brands forward and helping to drive visually what our television content is all about.

"We have amazing brands that are recognisable, great creative people and a lot of access to them, which I've never had before in other jobs. Here, we are at the heart and soul of what is happening."

Our first glimpse of this all-new ITV will be this week at Brand Licensing Europe and Antonioni makes it clear that the focus going forward will be on lifestyle brands. Leading the charge will be Britannia High, a brand which Antonioni is incredibly excited about. As he talks through the thought processes behind the forthcoming range of merchandise and style guide, it's certainly an eye opener, not to mention completely different from how the firm used to run.

"I came back to the licensing industry after two years away with an enthused spirit and energy and a new way of looking at things," Antonioni explains. "I spent eight months consulting before I took this role and I think we all sometimes need a break, to get off the wheel and look at where the industry's going, where the trends are going. And these are things that I was able to bring back by disconnecting from the industry and really looking at what's happening out there. All the answers we need are out there."

The style guide for each of the Britannia High characters (each of whom is based on a real-life person), for example, was developed directly from the set. The style boards use intrinsic things from the show which are particular to each character - what they would wear for example - and from this Antonioni and his team came up with what they considered to be relevant products for each of them.

"Even though it's a licensing programme, it's a lifestyle licensing programme for kids and young people," he says.

For the design of the logo, the firm took its lead from what today's kids are aspiring to buy: "From a product perspective, we were inspired by Abercrombie & Fitch which is a strong brand for fashionable teens everywhere. We looked at what they were doing and mocked up how we saw Britannia High. Again, an example of our drive and connection with what is happening out there. It really came from us understanding what the customers are buying."

This approach has also been applied to a number of ITV's other brands. Coronation Street, for example, will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2010 and Antonioni says that his division will be leading the commercial brand strategy for this. Plans for Emmerdale are looking particularly exciting - Antonioni has been taking people to the set to try and find out exactly why viewers have such an emotional connection to the soap and why people engage with it - while he's also looking to bring some of the fire and passion we see in the kitchen in the TV series into the merchandising campaign for Hell's Kitchen.

Kids' properties Bella Sara, Numberjacks and Pocoyo are still in the portfolio, of course, although they're already pretty advanced in licensing terms as this is where the focus has been for the past year and a half. The plan for them now is to grow them overseas.

"Our only competitor really is Disney. In a sense we can go out and give a partner, a branded licensing offer that really goes across a lot of different communication platforms. From a delivery point of view, we've engaged a 360 offering with an unrivalled shop window," Antonioni explains. "It's an exciting time to come here. As a team we are all incredibly enthusiastic to move forwards with exciting ideas and partnerships, delivering superb opportunities for our existing and upcoming brands."


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