Talking Friends is the entertainment franchise and digital app phenomenon that started with everyone’s favorite cat, Talking Tom. Since Tom’s rise to international stardom, he has been joined by a whole cast of characters including Talking Ben the Dog, Gina the Giraffe and Ginger the Kitten. Talking Friends apps have been downloaded more than 500 million times in less than two years. This amounts to 120 million monthly users and more than 850 million plays per month.

The characters recently transcended the world of apps when they were featured in an animated series broadcast on www.disney.com. The burgeoning franchise is supported by an extensive global licensing program managed by Beanstalk, the exclusive global licensing agent for Talking Friends.

The Talking Friends app capitalizes on the human tendency to express one’s own creativity through other characters, who appear on a device’s screen and can repeat what the users say. The characters also can be directed to perform certain functions – such as folding a newspaper, eating, drinking, or belching, or even doing a newscast of the user’s own design – by prodding them through the phone’s touchscreen.

Videos can be assembled from these interactions. With a virtual camera, a movie set and other interactive items, users can film their own mini-movie and then share it with their friends on YouTube, Facebook or by email.

Outfit 7 Ltd., the developer of Talking Friends, is focused on building the property to ensure its long-term success. Licensing is seen as a means to support the continued growth and longevity of the Talking Friends brand. The licensing program seeks to secure partners whose products allow fans of the Talking Friends apps to continue to express their affinity for the brand, while transferring the creativity they develop in the digital world into the physical world. Today’s technology user is equally demanding when purchasing real-world products based on digital properties, so finding ways to reward the consumer in the same way an app does is key, emphasizes Dan Amos, associate director of brand management at Beanstalk.

Many Partners

Since its introduction at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo in June 2011, the Talking Friends licensing program has grown at a pace that reflects the app’s 500 million downloads. Currently, 17 licensees are in the program. Early retail success has been seen in key categories including plush, which was the first natural extension with animated and sound features. Plush partners include Dragon-I and Sound ‘n’ Light, who distribute across the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and China.

“Both plush partners recognized the strength of the brand globally and have developed products that replicate the same enjoyment users get from the app on a mobile device,” Amos says. Continental Europe and Israel, along with additional territories around the globe, soon will see Talking Friends products hit their retail shelves.

Recent additions to the program include a licensing agreement negotiated by Beanstalk between a leading European childrenswear company, TV Mania Europe GMBH, and Talking Friends. TV Mania will launch childrenswear across France, Benelux, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Spain for the spring and summer of 2013.

TV Mania joins Funky Pigeon as one of the latest licensees to join the Talking Friends global licensing program. Funky Pigeon will develop a range of fully customizable greeting cards and gifts for the United Kingdom that will allow consumers to interact with and share their favorite Talking Friends characters. Burolink also has recently signed on to develop a line of stationery for the Russian market.

Digital Popularity

Digital properties extending into consumer products is a growing trend. As consumers continue to become comfortable with accessible, sophisticated technology, more properties will make this leap. Children have access to electronic devices at a much younger age, and many do not see a difference between the character on their tablet and the character on their television – it is all entertainment to them. However, when considering a digital property, ensuring significant user engagement is important.

“Many successful apps can gather hundreds of millions of downloads, but those that can be extended into products have the same licensable equities of traditional brands, although they are coupled with a direct and significant connection to their audiences,” Amos says.

Although Talking Friends characters have a depth that can be explored in a Disney animation, those same characters are available on smart phones for five minutes of play.

“A strong emotional connection and associated equities always will be required when extending an app into a product,” Amos emphasizes. “Even though an app property may have amassed a significant user base, that does not necessarily guarantee success. Many apps and social platforms have significant user bases, but extending them into consumer products would prove challenging if they lack an emotional connection.”

Not only are Talking Friends appealing and loveable characters, but the creative opportunities for users of all ages to engage with and share their Talking Friends’ experiences are integral to their popularity. Although download statistics can measure the buzz around a new app, they do not measure consumer engagement. Talking Friends has more than 750,000 user-generated videos available through YouTube, which demonstrates the affection and time consumers spend with the characters creating new experiences.

The newest member of the Talking Friends app collection is Ginger the Kitten, who now has his own app, Talking Ginger. After appearing in last year’s Talking Santa app, Ginger became a fan favorite on Disney’s new Talking Friends Web series. Other Talking Friends include Harry the Porcupine, Larry the Bird, Baby Hippo, Lila the Fairy, Talking Santa and Talking John.

International Characters

The international flavor of the Talking Friends is nurtured carefully due to the way the app is designed. The characters have their own sounds and voices but speak only the user’s language. The reason is that the characters repeat back whatever their users say.

In 2011, 40 percent of the Talking Friends downloads were from outside the United States. “The second highest number of downloads after the United States was in the United Kingdom, followed by China, Korea and the rest of Europe," Amos shares. “Outfit 7 is considering localizing Talking Friends further with its character names and wardrobes.”

Another expansion of the Talking Friends characters is into additional app categories, such as music, books and games. Talking Friends is listed at online app stores where it is purchased in the entertainment category. Of the thousands of Talking Friends videos that are uploaded daily, usually at least half of them are of people singing.

Outfit 7 is devoting all of its creative energy to the character creation and story development of its current franchise. More character development in additional media is planned.

Talking Friends t-shirts, holiday ornaments, drinkware, accessories and phone cases have been available at the online store at talkingfriends.com since December 2011. Among the new products that are expected to showcase Talking Friends characters are apparel and accessories, footwear, sleepwear, home décor, collectibles and plush toys. Additional products debuting in 2012 will include back-to-school, greeting cards and gift and novelty products.

The demographics of Talking Friends enthusiasts are broad, but some of the products are aimed at a certain demographic. Much of the apparel is designed for those around the age of 12, but canvas shoes with the characters illustrated on them will be available in sizes to fit wearers from toddlers to adults. “Outfit 7 considers the licensing opportunities represented by an app like Talking Friends to be limitless,” Amos says.