Rethink pink: MGM’s 55-year-old fashion icon

Interview: Robert Marick, EVP Global Consumer Products at MGM, on taking Pink Panther from the catwalk to the confectionery aisle, and why the silent protagonist speaks to consumers in China

Written by Rhys Thomas

Posted 30.07.2019 | Entertainment

Rethink pink: MGM’s 55-year-old fashion icon thumbnail

Few brands illicit an identity as vivid or coherent as the Pink Panther. The theme tune, the enigmatic silent protagonist, that distinctive pink fur, Peter Sellers as the moustachioed Inspector Clouseau.

Originally the name of the flawed diamond at the centre of the first movie's plot, Pink Panther took the form of an anthropomorphic big cat when the franchise made the leap to animation – a character which has since become an icon.

The property, owned by MGM, has been around for more than half a century, and yet today it remains as popular as ever, with new audiences and generations discovering it for the first time. Now busy taking over the world of fashion, from haute-couture catwalks to mass-market fast-fashion outlets, LTW.MEDIA caught up with MGM’s Robert Marick, EVP Global Consumer Products to learn more about teaching an old cat new tricks.

Robert Marick

Robert, it seems like Pink Panther has been part of pop culture forever, so why now are we seeing such a busy licensing programme?

Pink Panther is a 55-year-old franchise, iconic and beloved by multiple generations. It’s penetrated across film, TV and was available in 200 markets on DVD and sold a staggering amount – around 20 million or so copies.

All these things are very important, and yet what really piqued our interest is the emergence of Pink Panther as a star on modern streaming services. There’s a huge content presence on YouTube, with around 3.3 billion views and 6.5 million subscribers on the official channel alone, which have played a significant role in its on-going popularity.

Even though there hasn’t been a new movie or any content in a while now, those figures proved to us that there was a market for product, and there was still a huge fanbase out there that were underserved. That sparked this whole retro angle that we’ve taken Pink Panther down – and that got straight to the heart and minds of fans, not just across the US and Europe, but Asia too.

Why do you think that is? You said yourself that there’s been little in the way of new content in recent years – but audiences around the world are still returning to it, or even coming to it for the first time.

There are no words; Pink Panther doesn’t speak. His silence is his hallmark, but he still communicates with the audience. He expresses himself very clearly and effusively through body language. That breaks down boundaries between the past and now, between cultures and language barriers – really, it makes perfect sense that a global audience would gravitate towards that.

It also makes sense to bring those expressions to fashion designs: everybody can relate to him, and clothing gives you this great canvas to work with. That makes the character ideal for fashion.

So we worked on our initial collaboration with Mimi Wade, and consumers really gravitated towards it. That sort of collaboration penetrated to where fashion was heading at the time and where we find it now, and it made ripples throughout the scene, from high-end luxury through to fast-fashion.

Tell us about the collaborative process when it comes to working with artists. How much free reign do they have and how proscriptive are you?

There are certain elements that make Pink Panther unique, right? It’s the sleuthing, the expressive movements and features, and obviously the colour. So there are characteristics that are part of the brand’s DNA which you can’t leave behind entirely. But other than that, we looked to artists, fashion designers and creatives of all kinds to reinterpret the character through unique and wonderful lenses. That’s the reason you collaborate, right?

And so we brought this icon of pop culture up to date, in interesting and relevant ways with some truly incredible creators, and that’s what fashion is and why it worked. This approach also proved that Pink Panther isn’t just an icon in the traditional sense, but actively a part of the modern fashion.

Why fashion though? It’s a very popular licensing category, but so are toys and confectionery and gifts – and while synergy isn’t everything there’s little in the content that’s explicitly concerned with haute-couture.

Looking at the numbers on YouTube, it’s clear to see that there’s an audience, and that audience is online. Reaching people online now means social media, and there are a few core categories that really drive influencers and make for engaging content. Toys and fashion are the two major ones, and when you have a hit with a high-end fashion line, that trickles down into mid-tier brands and fast-fashion, and then you have momentum.

Food is another great one, and the fashion lines have played their role in triggering that. I know over in the UK you’ll be familiar with the Pink Panther biscuits. But we’ve replicated that in donuts, cakes, bottled water is a big one for us in Spain, cookies in the Middle East – each territory has its winning products, and it’s up to us to bring consumers the goods they want.

What’s your approach to picking these key categories and audiences out. Is it a data-driven process similar to what you described with the YouTube viewing figures?

It’s a loose math, and there’s a science to it, but it’s not necessarily scientific. We know who’s watching – generally speaking – and where and when they’re watching. Social media can tell you lots of things – sometimes too many – but it does tell you a lot about who and where the audience is strongest. That gives us a good baseline of who the audience is.

My background is in building global brand franchises, so I take my experience and knowledge from that, our data on who the audience is and where we need to be. In fashion, for example, it’s critical where you start – that means on the high-end fashion, because while trickling down to malls and high streets is a proven system, its far more challenging to start on the low-end of fashion and grow your business upwards.

What about China? It’s moved beyond the ‘emerging’ market label in many ways and you’ve been doing some real business there.

We won an award for our collaboration with Miniso at China Licensing Expo 2018… And see, here’s what’s interesting: China doesn’t have YouTube. Audiences in China access and view their content in other ways, so when we looked to the YouTube stats there’s this big void in our data for that territory. That’s what I mean by not scientific – we used other ways to gauge the audience, not just a spreadsheet.

What we do know about China is there’s an enormous, growing middle class of almost one billion consumers who love entertainment and iconic brands from Hollywood and the US in particular. So going back to the strengths of Pink Panther, you don’t need to go through the translation process, there are fewer hurdles for localisation. Consumers understand his capers and the way he communicates through movement and expression. That really gave us a leg up on the competition.

Just looking at the success we’ve had in China in a very short period of time. We launched our Miniso collaboration back in October 2017, and that capsule did so well that it is now extended into 2500 shops around the world and extended into cosmetics, homes, stationery and tableware. Now that’s fantastic growth, but it’s growth driven by consumer demand and the experience of our teams to deliver.

What does the future hold for Pink Panther?

Pink Panther resonates today and the brand will only grow. We have a great base – the best you can have – with tons of high-quality content, coupled with the success of our mid-tier and mass market fashion launches. This is translating into other categories.

What you should be looking out for from us is growth and expansion in categories we’ve never been in before – or have never reached the full potential in. That will mean experiences, certainly you’ll see us opening up opportunities in games and publishing. We want to build on this momentum and grow Pink Panther as a global consumer products brand that will hit all consumers at all price-points, tastes and styles.

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