Sony Pictures Consumer Products: From Sony Signatures to SPCP – A Legacy of Licensing Success

SPCP started as Sony Signatures, a sister company to Sony that handled the consumer products activities for the studio. About a decade ago, it officially became a division of the company, changing its name to SPCP.

Since its days as Sony Signatures, the division has created merchandising programs representing music talent for film and TV properties. That includes everything from classic titles like “Bewitched” to films like “Godzilla,” which really was the launch of the division’s efforts in multiple product categories and selling promotions into retail. The division also works on the “Spider-man” film series, handling global retail initiatives as part of a limited partnership with Marvel Entertainment.

“Five years ago, SPCP was combined with global promotions under Sony Pictures Consumer Marketing. The division consists of global licensing, promotions, marketing, and product placement,” said Juli Boylan, senior vice president of worldwide consumer products. “The idea was to become more integrated because each line of business was ultimately reaching out to the same consumers. Creating this division allows us to look at the big picture and determine what makes the most business sense.”

SPCP prides itself on standing out in the crowd when it comes to licensing. Boylan said every property the division works on is unique, allowing staff to be more entrepreneurial and opportunistic and to think creatively when developing strategies to determine a licensing program that will best support a theatrical release or the success of a TV series.

“The licensing business has certainly changed over the years, but there are properties that stand the test of time like ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy,’ due to their loyal fan base,” said Boylan. “We are also fortunate to have film franchises such has ‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Men In Black,’ and ‘Spider-Man’ that continue to resonate with the core fans and capture new fans as well.”

“Ghostbusters” is an exciting program for SPCP, and it has been done without the support of a current TV show or movie. The last film, “Ghostbusters II,” came out in 1989. But the franchise did release the highly successful Ghostbusters: The Video Game last year, which is available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation2, PSP, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and PC. Taking advantage of the 25th anniversary, SPCP developed a limited global licensing program targeting the core fan with apparel, accessories, gift and novelty, publishing, toys, and collectibles.

One at a time

Because each property is so different, creating specific campaigns for each franchise is done on a case-by-case basis. For instance, the work around “Ghostbusters” is much different than the work SPCP has put into “The Smurfs” franchise. In the US and Canada, SPCP represents both the classic property and the new film in development with the Sony Pictures Animation.

Regardless of the title, the process starts out essentially the same as SPCP begins to set the licensing strategy once a project gets the green light. Each campaign is based solely on the merits of the property, and various factors must be considered, such as whether the project represents an existing property with established brand equity or can translate across multiple product categories. The key is to be realistic about the products and licensees SPCP will pursue to support its programs.

“In the case of something with existing equity, you can really go broad,” Boylan said. “The most common and substantial licensing programs are generally driven by toys, so getting the best master toy licensee is critical to how the rest of the program develops.”

Boylan said partnering with A-level licensees on each project is a must. Partnering with licensees in each category that have built-in strength at retail helps put products in the right place. SPCP is retail centric, and its programs won’t work without products in the right retail locations. Some of the licensees SPCP works with include Mattel (“Ghostbusters”), Jakks Pacific (“The Smurfs”), and Hasbro (“Spider-Man”).

Sony’s theatrical marketing group sees SPCP as a valued assistant in the promotion of films. Therefore, the people working in the SPCP division are able to exhibit a high level of entrepreneurship. By helping to drive box office, it is driving revenue for the studio.

One example is with “The Green Hornet,” starring Seth Rogen and set to release this year. Instead of getting a master toy licensee, SPCP believed the franchise would be better served with a collector-based program. The division sought multiple toy companies to help create the program, ensuring the right licensees were involved with each product, thereby enhancing the success of the program and, ultimately, the film.

Promoting passion

Between SPCP and licensees, working on product development involves making sure the right passion, understanding, and products for the property are the result of the collaborative process. The division is also active with licensees at the retail level. For instance, whenever “Spider-Man” releases are forthcoming, SPCP and Hasbro work hand in hand to create retail programs that show retailers the strength of the studio and the power of the property alongside the strength of the licensee and the power of the product.

“Working in tandem with licensees is absolutely critical to the success of your property,” said Boylan. “It also helps you reach the appropriate fan base for each property.”

Understanding that fan base is another focus area for SPCP. With “Ghostbusters,” the company essentially let the video game speak for itself. Limited marketing went into promoting the game, as the fan base pumped up the title on its own, organically and virally. “The Smurfs” required a completely different approach.

“There had been little to no product for the past 20 years in the US, so we had to slowly build it to reach the original fan and create the next generation of fans,” Boylan said.

With many legendary titles already in the Sony portfolio and more sure to come, SPCP will continue to take a lead role in developing and enhancing properties in the years ahead. The challenge is to stay ahead of the competition and keep its products front and center on the retail shelves.

“We have to continue to prove to retailers that our properties are getting the level of support that will reach the consumer and drive consumers into their stores,” said Boylan. “We need to be great marketers and work in tandem with the different lines of business throughout the studio to truly support the property and create consumer demand no matter what the product.”