Do you want He-Man to sell your insurance plan? Donatello to eat your jello? Robocop to drink your fizzy pop?

As part of the research for our white paper called A Case for Characters: How Fictional Characters are Under-utilised in Advertising, we conducted qualitative and quantitative surveys with advertising agency creatives and producers about their experiences with using film and TV characters or clips in their work. 

We discovered that 83% of creatives and 81% of producers had worked on a campaign that involved licensing characters, clips or other forms of IP. Of those, 100% of creatives and 61% of producers said that they have worked on at least one that did not materialise. 

Our research also allowed us to understand the barriers and pain points leading to scripts featuring fictional characters not making it to production. Here we highlight some of the leading reasons, and how we would encourage them to be addressed in order to give these concepts a better chance at being produced.

Money Supermarket – #EpicSkeletor

powered by Source

Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.

powered by Source
Show full credits
Hide full credits
Credits powered by Source

Licensing fees and limited budgets

The leading reason for scripts not materialising when asking both creatives and producers was licensing fees. In fact, half of the producers we surveyed pointed to licensing fees as being the reason behind them not being able to proceed with a project featuring characters or clips.

Use is important

Rights holders will always want to understand specifics around the usage in order to determine their fee. A 2-year global campaign across all media is always going to attract higher license fees than a UK only campaign for 6 months across TV only. This is important. We always encourage investing time into nailing down exactly the right parameters of usage to ensure the fee is reflective of the actual use and no more. This ensures the Client avoids paying for use in markets, materials, media or a time period that will not be exercised.

Not all characters are equal

There is nothing more frustrating than a brilliant script that everyone loves which can’t be produced due to licensing budget restraints. A possible fix we would suggest is tweaking the script so that it features a different, more feasible character. That doesn’t mean it will be a less-popular, less-suitable or less-effective character. 

Because fictional characters are featured so rarely, there is limited awareness within the advertising community around how licensing fees are structured. 

For example, if a script has incorporated a well-known villain from a blockbuster franchise that is not affordable, we would encourage those involved to consider how the script can be tweaked to include a different villain with smaller licensing costs. Or perhaps there is a 90’s cartoon character that may be outside of budget. In that scenario we would encourage a list of back-up 90’s characters to explore which we feel would still achieve the same result. 

Less precedence and experience

According to our study of over 4,000 UK advertisements from 2018-2020, fictional characters appeared in 1.1% of advertising, compared to celebrities, sports stars and musicians who collectively appear in 14.5% of advertising. Because fictional characters are featured so rarely, there is limited awareness within the advertising community around how licensing fees are structured. 

For that reason, we find a lot of those who reach out to us are wanting to get a sense of ballpark fees they can expect to pay for the license. A licensing expert can not only help provide you with ballparks in order to help with understanding the feasibility of the script during early stages, but their involvement further down the track also ensures the final fee is fair, reasonable and of industry standard. 

Losing a pitch or a different script being selected

These reasons were also common with both Creatives and Producers.  We know how frustrating it can be when a script we love doesn’t have the opportunity to come to life. One creative told us that they felt ‘rubbish’ when a script they love can’t move forward.

Do you have data to support your creative?

In addition to having strong creative, we know that having metrics, data and information to support a particular idea can help add context and add weight to a pitch. If a fictional character is being featured, it makes sense to include available data such as awareness metrics, social media followers, key demographics, market split, viewership and other details. Rightsholders of characters tend to have some or all of this type of detail available.

What else is the brand up to?

Much like celebrities, characters are usually quite busy with a lot going on! Showing upcoming activity will also support your decision to align with that particular character. Do they have a new film coming out? Perhaps a new TV series? Are their classic episodes available on Netflix or other streaming platforms? Are there any live shows, consumer products, content launches or anything else coming up that could boost the interest in being involved with the character? Is there an anniversary being celebrated soon that you could tie the campaign to? 

Much like celebrities, characters are usually quite busy.

Perhaps a character doesn’t have any ‘new news’, but you know they’re still culturally relevant and popular. There are ways to demonstrate that too. 

Are you using the best assets?

Ideas and concepts are always presented at the very best level when using assets that don’t consist of grainy, pixelated or unofficial assets found online. Rights holders may be able to provide official hi-res images, logos and other brand elements to assist with your pitch. Non-disclosure agreements will need to be signed to ensure the assets won’t be used for any purpose other than what has been agreed. 

Click image to enlarge
Above: Findings from the white paper.

Licensing experts are key

This area is very niche and as a result those without experience, knowledge or contacts in the licensing space are likely to come across challenges they’re not sure how to address.

Only 2% like to work directly with Rights Holders

When surveyed, only 2% of Producers said they would be happy to work with Rights Holders directly. This indicates that they do not feel that they have knowledge, relationships, bandwidth or resources to manage these projects without help from an expert. 

No budget for licensing expert advice early on

However, when conducting our qualitative surveys, a major barrier to bringing on a licensing expert is having a budget approved to pay them. They explained that often these ideas need to be explored very early on, often before the client has even seen them. 

Challenges will come up

As with many aspects of advertising production, challenges relating to licensing can (and almost certainly will) come up. Having an expert on board to help address these challenges from the outset will give the concept the very best shot at moving forward. They will be able to help guide you through any barriers that come up, to ensure the script stays alive and moving forward. 

Creatives want to work with characters more

78% of creatives believe that featuring fictional characters or clips would make their work more successful. While only 8% of creatives said they wouldn’t want to include characters and clips from movies and TV shows than they already do. This shows that there is a real appetite among advertising creatives to explore incorporating characters into their work more. 

Born Licensing just released a white paper called How Characters are Under-utilised in Advertising, which can be downloaded for free here.