Most popular children-oriented brands start their lives as traditional entertainments with fixed production cycles such as television series, films and comic books. While new characters, settings and elements within these properties are regularly introduced and then licensed for toys and other merchandise, the turnaround time could take weeks or months depending on the medium, leaving retailers and consumers hungry for something new in the interim.
As a property with online origins, Moshi Monsters can meet the need for the new on a much more frequent basis. “Retailers are looking for brands that are fresh, adaptable and change over time so they can adjust their stock seasonally,” says Darran Garnham, Chief Licensing Officer at Mind Candy, the company behind the Moshi Monsters brand.
“We have a brand that is changing and improving on a daily basis,” Garnham says. “We’re constantly introducing new characters and elements to the world and new ways for kids to engage with one another. We create not just entertainment, but entertainment that is always evolving.”
An Evolving World
Moshi Monsters is a free online world aimed at children ages 6 to 12. Visitors to www.moshimonsters.com can adopt, name and customize the appearance of one of several pet “monster” characters, which grow and develop over time. Monster owners can further develop their creations and their environment through playing games and solving puzzles to earn “Rox,” an in-game currency. Premium membership cards, available for $5.95 a month, enable access to different parts of the site and more Moshi characters, including the hugely popular ‘Moshlings’ – tiny collectable pets for users’ pet monsters.
Users can share their creations and connect with others through safe social networking features including blogs, news feeds, bulletin boards and buddy lists. The site is a persistent world, meaning it continues to exist even after users log off. “New things await users upon their return,” Garnham explains. “Every time they log on they’re getting a slightly different experience.”
Since launching in 2008, the site has grown to more than 50 million users worldwide. Moshi Monsters counts the United Kingdom and Australia as its largest user bases, and has an increasing presence in the United States and Canada. With localization plans underway, Mind Candy will launch the property internationally throughout 2012.
Moshi Monsters’ brand licensing is driven by three major toy companies: Spin Master, which distributes plush toys and collectable figures; MEGA, a construction toy maker; and Innovation First, which produces robotic toys.
“For all kids’ brands – whether digitally or traditionally-based – toys are a major driver, and those three companies really make up the toy locomotive for us,” Garnham says.
Another key distributor in the toy and game segment is Activision, which last year released “Moshi Monsters: Moshling Zoo.” The Nintendo DS release expands on the games and puzzles featured on the website and introduces new characters and settings. The debut console game sold way above expectation, topping the UK DS charts.
“We look forward to building on Mind Candy’s success as we work closely with them to extend the brand experience,” said David Oxford, executive vice president and general manager of Activision Publishing, at the time of the game’s release.
Outside of the toy segment, the brand has more than 50 top-tier licensees, including trading card maker Topps, which has sold more than 7 million cards to date; Mead; Crayola; Scholastic and Hallmark. Moshi Monsters is also a presence in the publishing field – Moshi Monsters Magazine, launched in February 2011, is the largest-selling children’s-title in the United Kingdom, and soon will be available in the United States through online subscription. Other licenses and properties are expected for 2012.
“We pursued potential partners who were the best-in-class for every market category, as well as some companies that were smaller, but had a shared vision and enthusiasm for the brand,” Garnham says.
Moshi Monsters toys can be found in major retailers including Walmart, Target and Toys”R”Us, and advanced discussions with other specialty and mid-tier retailers are underway.
Ahead of the Pack
Mind Candy invests millions yearly into marketing the Moshi Monster brand, including television, print, direct mail and online advertisements that reach 140 countries.
Each television spot is tagged with a unique URL, which allows Mind Candy to measure the number of visitors that accessed the site based on that ad. “We have absolute confidence in knowing that site visits came from that particular commercial, so we’re able to measure the success of each spot with almost pinpoint precision,” Garnham says.
Mind Candy’s ability to specifically quantify the effectiveness of its marketing is one example of its corporate focus on adaptability and innovation. “I think as a company, that we’re not afraid to break new ground and take risks,” Garnham adds. “We face some of the same challenges every entertainment company faces, in that there’s a lot of choices out there both traditional and cutting-edge.
“We adapt by keeping ourselves relevant, improving on the content we have and trying to break ground on a regular basis. We also listen to our users and the content they want to see.”
A team of experienced programmers and creative staff continuously works to maintain and adapt the site to its users’ needs and feedback. “We learn from our mistakes and replicate our successes,” Garnham says. “It’s the nature of owning and managing a persistent world that we can give our customers all kinds of interesting things – if they like it, we can expand on it, and if not, we can drop it at a moment’s notice.”
This open and dynamic atmosphere extends to the workplace at Mind Candy itself. Entrepreneur Michael Acton Smith founded the company, which has offices in London, Los Angeles and New York City, in 2004. “We interact with one another the same way we do with our user base,” Garnham says. “We take input and ideas from everyone on staff, whether it’s the newest employee or the longest-tenured, and from every level of management. Our culture is open and extremely collaborative.”