Building Brand Connections: Sony Pictures Consumer Products Strategy

Strong Properties

SPCP represents Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TV and theatrical properties. That includes both library titles and current releases. Economos says consumer product activities are a key component of the Sony Pictures strategy because they help to increase the connection between consumer and property every time a sale is made.

“Increasing consumer engagement is very important for us because it increases value for the whole studio,” he says.

SPCP separates the properties it oversees into several different buckets: current TV, current film and classics. Classics include both TV and film properties.

In the current TV portfolio, Sony Pictures has a wide array of strong properties. In the game show genre, it boasts “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune.” It has top daytime programs, such as “The Young and the Restless” and “Days of Our Lives.” In the primetime segment, it has shows that recently wrapped up like “Breaking Bad,” current shows such as “The Blacklist,” and upcoming shows like “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad” prequel.

As for its current film portfolio, Sony Pictures has recently released – or will soon release – many top titles. These include “The Smurfs Movie” and “Hotel Transylvania 2.”

Then there are the classics. On the TV side, these include titles such as “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” With films, Sony Pictures classics include “Easy Rider” and “Ghostbusters.”

For each property, unique marketing and product campaigns are created to fit the fan base and property elements. For example, the game shows have seen strong success in gaming with slot machines and lottery programs. Soap opera programs have included collectibles and cosmetics. Economos says primetime programming can be the most challenging.

“Some primetime shows often don’t have obvious merchandising elements,” he says. “But, in the case of ‘Breaking Bad,’ the apparel and merchandising programs came about because the show was a big hit and the fans wanted consumer products. For shows that are coming down the road, we try to define the iconic elements of the shows to determine what could resonate with the audience.”

Defining the right kind of programs for films is similar to the work SPCP does on the TV side. Economos says SPCP expects to create strong merchandising programs around titles such as “Annie,” “Goosebumps,” “Popeye,” “Hotel Transylvania 2” and a Smurfs reboot, which will be entirely animated. These properties should resonate strongly with young audiences and allow for campaigns in many product categories.

“We can create programs that can reintroduce characters people know and introduce them to new characters that will resonate with consumers,” Economos says. “For a property like ‘Hotel Transylvania,’ we can do seasonal programs in the fall around Halloween.”

On the classic side, the market dictates whether or not a campaign is warranted. In the case of “Ghostbusters,” its 30th anniversary in 2014 has rekindled fan interest in the classic property. “Sony Pictures is working on a rerelease of the film with our distribution partners, and we will have programs that include apparel and collectibles,” Economos says.

Key Elements

One of the challenges involved in a successful campaign is choosing the right partners. Economos says SPCP doesn’t necessarily always go with the company considered to be the top player in any given category. Its partners must have the capacity to handle a project, but it is just as important that it has a passion for the property.

“Their development team must have that love for the property, because they can be our best salespeople,” Economos says. “They need to have the affinity for the property, along with the development capability and financial wherewithal to produce items and get them to retail. We select partners based on their interest in the property and their go-to-market experience, and we will sometimes take some risks if they have a huge passion for a property.”

Another challenge is choosing the right categories for a property. Economos says the key to any licensing program is making sure it fits the right demographics. The studio wants the property content to reach as many people as possible, but merchandising programs must be broken down to the key merchandising elements.

“We have to be targeted and find the right target area for a product,” Economos says. “We need to determine what the consumer wants to purchase, what the market trends are and what the retail opportunities are.”

Speaking of the retail environment, it is one of the most pressing challenges facing licensors today. There are many intellectual properties competing to get in front of the consumer. SPCP devises programs that can appeal to mass market and specialty retailers, but shelf space is more limited than ever. In addition, it is no secret that e-commerce is on the rise.

“When you introduce a new property, it is difficult to get the retail buyer to be interested,” Economos says. “You need to find the right niche and have a focused pitch. We tell them why we think a property will work and how long we think sales will be strong. We have also embraced the digital world and are pursuing it heavily, such as with our Smurfs iPad app.”

Despite all of the challenges, SPCP is extremely confident about the future and pursuing growth opportunities. In the film space, its focus will remain on those properties that have strong merchandising potential so it can help market content and bring in revenue. It will look to do more on the TV side, too, because TV content has a constant connection with consumers through appointment viewing and binge watching.

“Each side is important to us, as it allows us the opportunity to create cultural phenomena with some films and shows,” Economos says. “We will also work closely with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, because popular content leads to home entertainment purchasing. We can work together on merchandising programs so we can engage with consumers through merchandise and content.”