Superheroes are back in town with the opening of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and there has been a flurry of activities pertaining to merchandise for Iron Man, the incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America monetising the huge success of the movie.
The superhero fervour catching up with movies and serials is what has grabbed the attention of the retailers, and the race to have a superhero on their portfolio, is paving the way to the most innovative licensing agreements. Of a plethora of Superheroes under portfolio of Disney owned Marvel Studios, Warner Brother owned DC Comics, 20th century fox, a majority of the superheroes are in the kitty of Marvel Entertainment LLC followed by DC Comics and both have managed to transform themselves into billion-dollar film juggernauts. Of all, licensing in superhero genre is money-making machine primarily due to the associate merchandising. And this is what has helped Disney Consumer Products (licensing and merchandising arm) garner revenue of $1.1 billion in 2014.
Superheroes in Indian market In Indian scenario, the superhero merchandise space driven by movies, is predominantly ruled by Disney India with its superhero cadre including the likes of Avengers, Superman, Daredevil, X-men, Luke cage and many more of which Avengers merchandise is selling like hot-cakes. Marking with Avengers: Age of Ultrons, Disney India has claimed the highest brand association for any movie superheroes in India, with its consumer products business which has collaborated with as many as 50 brands including Amazon, Myntra, Funskool, Liberty, Hero Cycles, Pantaloons, Tupperware, Kinder Joy, Hamleys and Landmark.
Closely following is Spiderman again from the portfolio of Disney India which had made 38 brand associations in 2014. Commenting on what drives the market for superhero merchandise, Disney Consumer Products India VP and Head, Abhishek Maheshwari, said, “Marvel Super Heroes showcase great power, unique characteristics and more which the fans love. Post the success of the first movie – The Avengers, the popularity of the franchise has grown exponentially over the years in the country amongst kids and adults alike. The growing affinity towards the superhero movies translates into fans wanting to own a piece of their favourite Super Hero.” Pertaining to superhero merchandise, the superheroes topping the demand hierarchy are Spiderman, Superman and Batman along with Avengers team, especially Iron Man.
According to a survey by The Licensing Letter, Marvel Studio’s IP - Spiderman rules the global retail scenario. Marvel sold approximately $1.3B worth of Spiderman products, which is approximately four times the $325M they made from the Avengers. Meanwhile, their competition over DC’s most popular property Batman brought in a $494M, while their second most popular hero, Superman, brought about $277M. Of the total global revenue, less than 2 per cent comes from India.
What categories are selling… The retailers have obtained licenses for products across categories like Toys, Fashion, Consumer Electronics, Stationery, Publishing, Home and more, catering to a wide spectrum of age group; right from kids to adults. Of all these products, T-shirts and apparel are the most in-demand products followed by accessories such as Toys, pen-drives, laptop skins, mobile covers etc. The trump card with stuff around superheroes is their availability across the price spectrum starting from around Rs 150 to several thousands. Commenting on similar sidelines, Maheshwari added, “In the Apparel category, the trend of character tees has risen over the last couple of years and Marvel Super Heroes form a big part of it.” An underlined trend aiding the superhero merchandise, especially T-shirts is - the actors donning related apparels on screen, which is reciprocated by their fans - for instance, Salman Khan wore Superman T-shirt in his movie Wanted. "Studios creating great movies and TV shows creates a strong affinity with Superheroes and consumers want to wear their fandom on T-shirts” said Sidharth Taparia, CEO & Founder, VoxPop Clothing.
Toys are by default one of the highest trading categories in superhero stuff, where Mattle, Simba etc are the big names. Further taking a leap, retailers have come up with some niche categories. For instance, FirstCry dealing into superhero imprinted helmets, sports equipments for kids, Firefox Bikes have licensed Superman and Batman for their power bikes. Also, the target group for superhero genre pumps that much-need rush of adrenaline to retail in this space. Away from the tiny tots, superhero merchandise is focused on the 18 plus generation as in the youth, especially for products like racing bicycles, power banks etc, where the customer hogs on the super-logo, while paying special attention of functionality of the product. “Superhero merchandise drives in 20 per cent more revenue than other products of same category,” asserted Ajit Gandhi, Marketing Head at Firefox Bikes Pvt Ltd who deals in Spiderman and Batman bikes ranging from INR 6,500.
Superheroes have marked their presence in FMCG sector as well, with Subway launching limited edition subs around Avengers; Domino’s including Ninja Hattori in their Fun Box; Ferrero India’s association with Disney India to introduce Marvel’s The Avengers in Kinder Joy. The price in this space starts from as low as Rs 35.
What makes superhero merchandise easy to sell? In the words of Chitra Johri, Vice President, Bradford License India, “The reason why superhero merchandise is extremely successful is largely due to high exposure leading to enormous fan base – kids, youth, rather across age group in some cases! Movies or the series lay the base, topped with high penetration through Internet, new media, merchandise enhance visibility! One may not have seen Spiderman movies, but almost every youngster knows the character well." There is a distinct competition amongst the content creators and the best way to monetise content is through movies and retail merchandise. “In the case of specialised products, such as limited edition Action Figures and hard-to-find accessories, the price never matters, fans understand their value and end up buying them despite the steep price,” asserted Jatin Varma, Founder, Comic Con India.
Conclusion Superhero merchandise has its distinct cadre of audience which is on the rise with every superhero movie releasing. And making space for more opportunities, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Bros. Consumer Products have teamed up with Mattel to launch “DC Super Hero Girls,” a new multi-platform superhero universe aimed at female fans aged 6-12, which is typically an under served arena when it comes to superhero properties. Image courtesy: Nurul Q Khan (GracefulLights)