A lot more play beyond cartoon in Back-to-School licensing

Once flooded by characters from popular entertainment channels, the back to school range is now witnessing a diverse set of IPs all set to tap into the market of kid's school supplies.
BTS Licensing

Touted as the second most revenue generation season globally, after Christmas, Back-to-School (BTS) category is gradually witnessing a surge in its share of the market portion, especially when kids have greater influence on the purchasing decisions of their parents.

“BTS, including stationery, bags etc is one of the most lucrative categories in India along with apparels and toys for any licensor,” said Anand Singh, Director, Turner International, South Asia.

“Gone are the times when kids used to have just one school bag. Now with growth in spending capacity of parents, most children have 2-3 bags, which indeed, is a welcoming change,” says Bansari Manik, Head – Business Development, Genius LeatherCrafts who are the official licensees for Pampered Girls school bags.

The number of licensees actively operating the market could be the reason behind this boost, other than the exposure to international properties like Dora the Explorer, Hello Kitty, Oxford University and the consumer’s inclination towards brands and licensed products.

Emphasising on the growing demand, Samir Virani, Founder, It’s Our Studio, says: “Parents are being more open to the options and are letting their kids to be a part of purchase related decisions. Moreover, the penchant towards characters has resulted in multiplying the demand by almost five times.”

“In recent times, everything is so much on the face that the child is well aware of all the characters. Further, the craze to own character inspired merchandise has boosted up to a level where limited edition merchandise is a big go,” adds Virani.

Unlocking the opportunities

While BTS spans across a varied array of products globally; in India, it is restricted to the basic utility products, of which bags have the maximum wallet share and stationery has most of the market share. Moreover, the shrinking age group is also modifying the BTS market. The category which was once heavily dominated by cartoon characters now sees football clubs, universities, and diversified properties such as FCB, Oxford, WikiLeaks etc as options.

In the words of Shree Narayan Sabharwal, Business Head, Simba Toys, “The age group is shrinking in BTS category and 10 is the new 12 at present. A 12-year-old student would now prefer Adidas or Puma and Messy, Ronaldo, Sachin Tendulkar etc adorning their backpacks instead of a Spiderman or a Batman.”

Catering to the changing demands of the target group i.e. school kids, the licensees are running over the mill to incorporate changes in terms of designs while sticking to the look and feel of the IP. “The product design is more childlike and soft in case of a 6-year-old girl; while the colour shades are altered, the logos are set in metal and more vibrancy is added to the product while designing it for a 12-year-old girl,” asserts Manik.

A different set of IPs is made available for the slightly older children, driven by their preference. “Oxford is the most impeccable IP that could be ever related to education, reason being the age-old legacy carried by Oxford University. Moreover, the merchandise under this brand addresses the early teens and teenagers looking for a change from the monotony of animated cartoon characters,” opines Hardik Vasa, the director of Vasa International, which is the Master Licensee of Oxford University in India.

Addressing the bottlenecks

The marketing of ‘back to school season’ is challenging because it’s not a defined season with a predefined start or end like Christmas or Diwali, it doesn’t “officially” kick off with great sales and promotional offers and is pretty much over within a fortnight.

Children in year-round schools could need supplies as early as the end of June or beginning of July, and schools on traditional calendars may not start up until September.

“What is selling more in BTS category is a rhetorical question,” says Anvita Prasad, Head – Licensing at Green Gold Animation Pvt. Ltd. Adding to it, Prasad says that BTS as a category can be fragmented into – seasonal and evergreen. Products like schoolbags, lunchboxes and water bottles are seasonal and a kid can have a maximum of three or four, but products like stationery and school essentials including notebooks, stickers, pencils etc are in demand throughout the year.

Seasonality obviously has a major impact on market performance as bag packs range up to Rs. 4,500 and comprise of a considerable portion of the wallet share, followed by lunch-boxes and water bottles.

Further, counterfeit and piracy is a concern for both the licensee as well as licensor, which is primarily driven by a lack of awareness about licensing in India. Manish Rajoria, Director, Adarsh Publication, who owns Purple Turtle, says, “There are two sets of retailers following false practices in licensing – one who is not at all aware of licensing, and the other, who does it knowingly. The task in case of the first type of retailers is to make them understand that why do they need to pay a handsome amount in the form of royalty to the brand owners.”


With hundreds of new properties and many more brands entering the market, the competitive landscape for licensed products continues to intensify, not only for new consumers, but also for the much-coveted shelf space at retailers and perhaps more so online.

To tap on this kids oriented market, the retailers are not only expanding their selection, but are also working on strategies like dropping prices on key school supplies to lure the audiences while forming new alliances; for instance, CNE inking pact with direct seller Tupperware and Genius LeatherCrafts adding Pampered Girls in its kitty for school bags.

Now when schools are opting for customised bags carrying school logos, it is the notebooks with superheroes or animated characters imprinted on them where the retailers have their eyes laid on. While Ben 10, and the like are the eternal IPs in this category; Despicable Me (Minions!), Frozen and IPs inspired from games like Angry Birds are the new entrants.

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