Ever since their first appearance in a comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) have become a worldwide phenomenon seen in practically every available medium and product form. After more than 350 half-hours of television, four live-action and animated films and one of the top 10 bestselling action figure and toy lines of all time, the Turtles show no signs of slowing down even as tastes and technology have changed greatly during their 29 years.
The newest phase of the Turtles’ legacy began in 2009, when Nickelodeon –a division of Viacom Inc. – acquired the brand from The Mirage Group with an eye toward bringing the property to new viewers. “Nickelodeon is known for amazing animation and popular brands such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer,” says Julie McKenzie, senior vice president of global consumer products licensing for apparel, accessories and home products for the network. “The network was looking for something to add to our arsenal of hits. While TMNT has been revived and revamped a number a times, we really thought that with our experience, we can truly take it to the next level.”
In September 2012, Nickelodeon debuted the newest animated series to feature the Turtles, the fourth such series to air since the 1980s. The computer graphic (CG)-animated show traces the story of the four Turtles as they “emerge from their hidden lair in the sewers for the very first time, ready to confront the wondrous and hostile world of New York City and face enemies more dangerous and pizza more delicious than anything they could have imagined,” the network says.
The action-comedy series features the voice talents of Jason Biggs (“American Pie”) as Leonardo, Sean Astin (“Lord of the Rings”) as Raphael, Greg Cipes (“Teen Titans”) as Michelangelo and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Raphael in the first TMNT series from 1987 to 1995, as Donatello. Other regular cast members are Mae Whitman (“Parenthood”) as April O’Neil, a 16-year-old who befriends the Turtles after they save her from an alien attack, and Hoon Lee (“Royal Pains”) as Master Splinter, the Turtles’ sensei and father figure. Kevin Michael Richardson (“Penguins of Madagascar”) provides the voice of Shredder, the commander of an evil ninja army and one of the deadliest martial artists in the world.
The series, renewed for a second season of 26 half-hour episodes, preserves the things that made the TMNT popular to begin with while adding new elements. “The things boys love haven’t changed much in 28 years,” McKenzie says. “They love action, fighting and good vs. evil. All we’ve done is updated the concept so it appeals to today’s kids.”
In addition to martial arts action, the series also emphasizes the unique character traits of each of its leads, giving viewers something to relate to. “Kids can all identify with part of these characters,” McKenzie says. “We’ve done a good job of really bringing out the personalities of each character.”
With the new series averaging 2 million viewers a week and regularly ranking high in viewership among kids ages two to 11, TMNT is positioned to once again become a top brand in the licensing world.
“We knew the boys licensed space was going to be crowded with superheroes, apps and toy properties in 2012, so we went to market with product and graphics designed to impress the buyers and earn their way into assortments, and retailers jumped on board even more enthusiastically than we expected,” McKenzie says.
Along with the series’ return, 2012 also marked the relaunch of the phenomenally successful TMNT toy line courtesy of Playmates Toys, the brand’s toy partner for more than 20 years. The first line of toys tying in to the new series includes action figures as well as deluxe figures with sound effects and accessories and vehicles.
Playmates will unveil the next generation of figures, vehicles, playlets and role play gear at Toy Fair 2013. These include:
The “Flingers” figures, “Mutagen Ooze” line and “Anchovy Alley” hit the market in January 2013, while the other toys are anticipated for an August launch.
In addition to Playmates, Nickelodeon worked with the LEGO Group to develop construction toys based on the show that launched in North America and the United Kingdom in January 2013, with a global launch anticipated in 2013. The sets include vehicles, playsets and mini-figures.
Nickelodeon is working to expand TMNT’s licensing presence into the apparel, accessories and home categories. Augmented reality t-shirts – which feature graphics that can be scanned with smartphone apps to unlock exclusive content including music videos and mini-games – are available nationwide at Target. Bedding, bath and décor items – including TMNT Chia Pets, lighting, beach towels and drinkware from licensees including Thermos, Zak Designs, Jay Franco and Joseph – are set to launch in 2013.
With the future of the television series secure through 2014, the next few years look to be big ones for the TMNT brand. There will be new video games, digital apps and a feature film is now in development at Paramount.
While it would be easy for Nickelodeon to capitalize on the TMNT name through sheer product volume alone, the company takes a selective and strategic approach to licensing.
“Anything you see branded with TMNT will not be just for the sake of branding; we brand whenever it makes sense for the brand and for Nickelodeon,” McKenzie says. “Our licenses have to be something that makes sense for the Nick brand, or something innovative that we haven’t done before that can take the Turtles’ brand to the next level.
“Understanding the consumer is the key to Nickelodeon’s success. Our brand has been able to remain relevant on TV, online and in stores for more than 30 years because we literally talk to kids and their families every day,” McKenzie adds. “When developing products, we do not brand for the sake of branding. We challenge ourselves and our licensees to produce and create innovative products that will appeal to our fans.”