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What is anime?

Simple question, and recently I’ve heard all sorts of thoughtful (and not so thoughtful) ideas about what it is. With its meteoric rise of popularity in the early 2000’s thanks to Toonami and the growing user base of the internet, ‘anime’ was once known as animation from Japan. It was a simple answer that was good for then, but as time when on, some people thought it was a style of art, and others thought it to be a cultural point of view, while others (as heard in in this podcast from ANN) feel its animation from a geographic location specifically the land of Japan. I’ve heard it all in the decades that I’ve been serving the anime fan base at my various stores, conventions, trade shows, and professional encounters, and here’s what I’ve uncovered.

Early on, some features had very anime-esque animation that could have been confused with anime like Avatar the Last Airbender, or the Boondocks. Though these look to be inspired by some anime, they are not anime.

Some major companies like Netflix are challenging the traditional term by calling anything with a semi-glossed animation style resembling some sort of older anime as anime. A good example of this would be the series’ Castlevania or Seis Manos. These are not anime.

I have found these perspectives to lack in at least one way when looking at the totality of anime coming from Japan. Therefore, I find all of these to be incorrect. One side is saying it’s essentially stylized adult animation, another is saying its got to have stylized overtly stereotypical characteristics, and another is saying its got to be from a special island in the Pacific. There is one more stance that is wrong, and that’s that the creators need to be of Japanese blood heritage.

Here’s an analogy to better illustrate that incorrectness of all of these aspects in a way that even my co-workers had to consider: Is Taco Bell Mexican food? For anyone who’s had authentic Mexican food, you’ll undoubtedly know that it is not. You will more than likely be laughed out of the cantina for even suggesting such blasphemy. Even if they serve a soft taco shell, its imitation Mexican food at best. If the Taco Bell hired a Mexican worker, is it Mexican food then? Its food made by a Mexican, but not Mexican food. It would have been the same as if the Mexican didn’t work for them at all. If the Taco Bell was located in Mexico, is it Mexican food? Again, the essence of the Taco Bell did not change no matter who works there and where its located as it’d be the same food as if it were in Los Angeles.

Taco Bell is a commercial company made by an American that serves, as the Britannica website describes it, ‘Mexican-inspired food.’ So it does not serve Mexican food. Its a marketing move. This is in the same fashion as Netflix is doing by bastardizing the word ‘anime’ to appeal to the demographic of anime fans by trying to convince them what they got is what they’re looking for. In their eyes, anime is ‘adult, mature’ animation. If that’s the case, then what’s Doraemon, or One Piece, or PreCure?

So what is anime? Its not a style as styles can vary by wide margins with absolutely No resemblance (Akira vs Pop Team Epic. Try…). Its not a word used to identify an audience as anime spans age ranges and maturities from Anpanman to Inter-species Reviewers. Its not a location or race based identifier, but doing it this way will get you closer than the other two widely held beliefs.

Why? Because anime is the initial term used to distinguish the excellence in animation, not story, as a result of the ingenuity, passion and work ethic from the artistic direction of devolopment that embody the philosophy of accomplishment most notably found in Japanese culture. It just so happens the majority of this culture immersion comes from one place and one race, and this lends tremendous cultural weight to the word Anime. Not all animation studios around the world are the same, and skill level with limited resources that come out of this country is good proof to this.

In the podcast I mentioned earlier, there was an interesting excerpt where they refer to Steve Bennett (founder of Ironcat Studios) as having spent a little time as an animator in Japan. Needless to say, it ended badly to the point where he simply couldn’t hack the workload and hours. For those artists who can hack it, and innovate on top of that, THAT’S ANIME. The interesting thing about the Japanese animators is that it’s nothing special to them as that’s just the way they are. This is why ‘anime’ in Japan is simply just general animation, but means something far beyond cartoons anywhere else in the world.

Its no secret that Japanese animators for decades have been paid poorly, yet dealt with it to create amazing works of cinema. Its this drive that’s so ingrained in the culture that not only results in amazing animation, but its the reason why Japanese companies make some of the finest electronics, automobiles, art, and cuisine in the world. In my own personal experience, the precision, dedication and focus that I’ve encountered with professional Japanese has yet to be matched. Its this cultural mentality above all else that best truly defines anime. Of course with every great stride comes significant consequence. Depression and exhaustion to the point of hospitalization are more commonplace in this environment. These are the risks that the Japanese work philosophy carries in order to achieve the greatness they are so known for.

That being said, if an American is raised in Japan, and is completely immersed in the culture, becomes a professional animator and independently artistically directs a title after moving to Peru, so long as that cultural spirit was at the essence of the production, I’d still consider it at the same level as anime. More than likely, it’ll have much better quality than other international counterparts. Now if he joined an animation group As an animator and the direction driven by the intense philosophies outlined earlier, i couldn’t consider it anime.

Many have tried to be anime, but have at best mildly succeeded with animation quality that never rivals the top tier Japanese produced features. Should an animation show true stripes as being worthy of anime, like the Disney animated feature Beauty & The Beast, then it would be a disservice to call it anime as the word is so culturally referential, and should be known as its own thing. In this case, it’d simply be ‘Disney Animation.’

Anime should continue to be recognized for its Japanese cultural essence as an example to others to make great work. I’m sure there will be a renascence somewhere where animation will be taken to the next level. When it comes, let it be know as something equally as influential. Elevated animation, animation cinema, or simply ‘<studio name here>’ animation.

I’d like to end on an exception as there’s always one to illustrate that the perseverance and intense work ethic are not limited to just the Japanese culture: D’Art Shtajio. The owner was such a fan of anime that he trained in Japan as an artist at a college level, worked for Production IG, one of the quintessential anime studios in the industry, and then went on to open his own animation studio in Japan. I would consider his output as anime, and low and behold, he’s got a feature on Netflix worth checking out: the anime visual album, Sound & Fury. You’ve got my respect, sir.

UPDATE 2/27/2020: I give some grief to what Netflix was doing, but they just broke the budget with making real anime. You had me at CLAMP. Bravo, Netflix.


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Thoughts: A Positive Economic Effect of COVID-19? Inventory hoarding is now good business

Its no doubt that the much feared coronavirus that sprung up from Wuhan, China late last year has created some serious waves with product supply all over the world. With the constant delays and lengthy factory reactivate times, product availability for all Just In Time (JIT) inventory has been significantly affected. Earlier in the week, I saw that MGA CEO Isaac Larian had made a video explaining how the production delays in China will ultimately result in holiday toy shortages all over the world as not only production, but also raw material curation has been hampered. This single point of failure was unlikely to happen, and for it to occur so suddenly, it left manufacturers and retailers scrambling.

For most efficiency based company’s, it does seem like 2020 will be chocked up as a break even in a best case scenario, but all might not be lost. For any companies who stock inventory on shelves in warehouses around the country, here’s your chance.

A big no-no in the modern age of manufacturing, shelved, aging inventory was seen as one of the biggest losses in most company P&L’s. Most have evolved and did away with this method adopting precision inventory counts on an ‘as needed’ basis. Some just couldn’t let old habits die and have stocked to the brim, and this moment is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. With units available, warehouses can now pump up the price on anything that was once on burn out fire sale (I’m looking at you, Funko) in order to leverage the shelf emptiness that’s expected to hit mid this year.

It must burn Funko’s soul to know that they took a $16M inventory dump right before the coronavirus became big news. It definitely would have got me gritting my teeth.

So, what can be done going forward to mitigate this from happening again? Due to China’s highly evolved methods of production over the past 20+ years, manufacturers there have become masters of strong craftsmanship on a mass scale. I remember talking with one of my old bosses in a previous job that did a lot of production in China, and he mentioned it would take 20 years before any other country could even match the skill in precision and timely efficiency that China is able to do. Some product types that are easier to manage such as textiles, can be moved over to Vietnam, Pakistan, and Cambodia, but items that take tooling craftsmanship like toys and electronics are way out of reach for any other place.

A country that could be a sleeping giant would be the Philippines. While working with my previous collegues, it was mentioned that most production was done in China with the exception of one brand that was exclusively produced in a factory in the Philippines. I did remember when there looked to be a dip in quality some years back when getting a few batches in my retail store days some 5-6 years ago. Things have changed since then. When looking at the products now, they were just as good as anything that came out of China. Definitely a place worth considering for anyone looking to diversify country production.


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Happy New Year, 2020!

Category : Blog

For the FigWiz, it truly is starting anew. If you hadn’t seen on my LinkedIn yet, I am now a Sr. Brand & Product Manager of Loot Crate, a new subsidiary of Loot Company! What do I do exactly? I’m setting the business direction and product curation of the Anime, Wizarding World (Harry Potter), Sanrio, Rick & Morty, Freight, and Sci-Fi crates. Not to mention a few of the specialty crates including the My Hero Acadamia and the Batman 80th Anniversary one-offs.

Not only is it a fresh start for me getting back into the hobby industry professionally, but also for my company which had some, shall we say, speed bumps earlier in the year. Having filed for bankruptcy in mid 2019, the company had gotten acquired by the owner of NECA toys. This is a marriage of hobby industry heavyweights that couldn’t have been better.

What’s happened so far? The infusion of money gave Loot Crate the financial leverage to play catch up on all the crates that have dropped in the last few months insuring looters will get all their crates originally ordered. It’s still taking some time due to making sure all is proper with curation and licensing. Having learned from the company’s past mistakes, its my job to make sure everyone plays by the book and strictly within budget. Looter’s first.

In addition, the funding has allowed our offices to move out from the awkwardly settled warehouse HQ in Lincoln Heights to the strategically centered pit of all business action in So Cal, downtown LA. Minutes away from the Convention Center, Staples Center, Little Tokyo and countless massage parlors, our new HQ will bring the nerdy hipness long needed in the area.

There’s a lot of data, and the Brand group is needing to read, digest, interpret, report, analyse and decide on it all. Thankfully, my time cracking away at my Bellwether portion to FigWiz came in handy as trendline study over time is going to be a big part of our daily conversation. It also helps that my system reads new, upcoming licenses about to make splash in the figure scene.

My new company has an amazing stable of talent, and although I sense I just might be able to outnerd a greater portion of them, I feel their sense of spirit firm and dedicated to putting smiles on hobby fans’ faces. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Here’s to the new year: may it be joyful, safe, fun, prosperous and full of success!


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Bellwether Updates: Linear Regression Breakthroughs and Brands put on point!

I did some exciting additions to the Bellwether system including a trendline on our graph using linear regression and a ranking page by license showing top and bottom 10 on Amazon

Trendline Graph – The new trendline seen on the dynamic graphs generated at the item level is the result of some extra variable setting and some eighth grade linear algebra. With this, we can now see a possible forecast of rank position and visually witness an items velocity of popularity based on the slope. I only have it for the last 14 days as my chart was made for that time frame initially, but I may widen the window to get a better view of longer term trend.

License Ranking – this is a tricky one. Essentially, all I did was take the earliest rank and the latest rank of each item in a brand, found the difference and calculated the % change, then averaged the sum of all the % changes of all the items in the brand collection. I feel there’s some truth to it as I’m only showing licenses that have more than 10 skus, and the more skus there are the better overall weighting the average will hold, but I don’t take into consideration any explosive or deflating ranking values that may have occurred in the middle. Ideally, I’d like to include this as it would lead to overall brand trending, but its interesting to see how accurate the current equation is turning out to be. Check out the brand ranking here.


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Perspective: The Toys That Made Us (TTMU) Season 3 Episode 1 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers / BANDAI America

What a way to start off a Friday! I’m a big fan of the entire TTMU series by Netflix as a toy buff myself, and the first episode of the newest season was a doosey as it was pretty close to home. To sum up my thoughts on this in one word: OUCH!

This episode went into some pretty intense detail talking about the rise/fall/rise/fall/rise(?) of the Might Morphin Power Rangers, Saban Brands, all the hands that touched the property, and my alma mater, Bandai America (BAI) which I worked for during its speedy spiral face first into the ground. A fitting sub-header for this episode could probably read BANDAI: From Broke to Billions to Busted.

Important note: I wasn’t part of the MMPR at ALL. I was part of their ‘New Business’ department trying to capitalize off of niche collector’s markets, which they really wanted to exploit at a mass retailer level. I did what I could, but in the end, niche markets belong to community curators, not mass market, and social media was not Bandai America’s greatest concern.

I knew the Power Rangers toys built Bandai America, but it was eye opening to see the business risks taken and the tenacity of Saban trying to make all this work.

In the end, it basically showed how Saban took what was ahead of its time in Japan and applied it in a streamlined fashion to America. In a time of no internet and opposite points of the planet worlds apart, it was a refreshing injection of kid interest that really surprised me to the level it had blown up to. I finally saw what carried Bandai America for the last 20 years because it wasn’t like there as anything in there catalog that had busted down doors in quite a while.

Having lived in Japan for much of my youth (Okinawa for the most part), I grew out of ‘Super Sentai’ stuff way early so I didn’t think much of it when it debuted on US TV. Of course, I was 10 years older than the intended audience, but still, even I couldn’t believe how kids could eat up this low budget crap… low key though, I still watched it for Amy Jo Johnson, but that’s an interest for another website…

To see a more unbiased explanation of the Bandai America appearance in the US market was refreshing as the intro I got from the company was understandably all about their successes, and not the failures. To be quite honest, looking at past issues of lines gone by and my experience in retrospect, it didn’t look like the company learned from their mistakes and were too afraid to do anything outside of what’s been done.

The evolution of the toys was really interesting too. To think the Japanese toys were the thing that started it all, but it was the head switching transforming figures made by the US unit that was the biggest seller of any toy. As time went on though, it looked as if the US faction took on risks that were really stretching the limits of fans. I remember the strange motor cycle that would slightly fold to make a weird tall cycle that didn’t look to really fit any other toy and just seemed… awkward. It still surprises me that something so outside the series was even conceived.

Looking back, I feel if Bandai America would have taken more risks to change a bit with exploration and experimentation on media, promotion, and directly connecting with fans, they could have went much farther. Instead, it looks as if their razor focused hopes of a brand that once was hot bled them high and dry until they simply couldn’t afford it. When you’re latest release for a high budget movie is a key line item ‘henshin’ belt that never got featured in the film and worked off the same tech as the belt made for Japan almost 40 years ago, you’re not realizing that times have changed. The tech is old. Give the audience more credit for demanding something modern. Above all else, there needed to be much more planning.

As always with these episodes, I learned more than I expected. It did a great job in digging into the history and referencing all the key players throughout its history. How the name was conceived, how the business model was designed, the risks taken, the victories won, and the dramatic fall from grace of a once formidable juggernaut.

It was exciting to see so many familiar faces that I’ve had the chance to engage with including Greg Mitchell, Shin Ueno, and Eric Phan, but strangely absent were any of the current Bandai America employees. I wonder why??? Oh, was it the shady slap in the face when Saban basically explained the company lost its way and couldn’t sell water to a desert dweller? To paraphrase, ‘In the last year that they had the license, they only sold $20M. To put that into perspective, they were selling hundreds of millions.’ Then Saban sells to Hasbro whose leadership and lead toy designer for the property coincidentally worked for Bandai America during the MMPR heyday. As it was stated ‘when BANDAI America lost the Power Rangers license, it was like they lost a part of their soul.’

Ouch…

Things learned:
1) Be it brand, client, or business as a whole, always have an exit strategy (diversify)
2) When all you got left to run on is pride, step away (stop digging)
3) Never lose the connection with the customer (MMPR movie toy fail)


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Brands Waking Up to the Amazon Effect

Category : Blog

In a bold move, Nike has decided to pull the plug on direct retail with Amazon. Decrying that “Amazon is just a traffic aggregator that reduces friction in consumption… It doesn’t build communities,” Jefferies analyst Randy Konik hits the nail on the head.

The ‘community’ Amazon would probably express in rebuttal (if ever they answer the article) would be all the buyers attached to its service as well as its massive network of resellers who’ve long made a living conducting business on their platforms. But even looking at these groups, as an Amazon customer, I rarely interact with other buyers outside of reading some reviews which have been widely known to be plagued with fake booster testimonies for years. And it only takes one visit to the Amazon seller forums to see how disgruntled many of the sellers are with the lack of affect support and every changing anomalies putting to risk many seller’s way of life.

Two communities that are notably missing are the brand owners and manufacturers. Until recently, there really hadn’t been any true enforcement of Minimum Advertised Price to protect an IP’s value integrity, or counterfeit/copycat regulation, which are the two communities that don’t make as much vocal noise, but affect the platform drastically from on a day to day basis. As a matter of fact, in many cases, Amazon themselves are part of the ‘copycat’ community feeding off of sales metrics of items from other sellers and brands that can be easily white labeled and sold under any number of Amazon owned brand names. You can see a rather exhaustive list here , and this is from 2018. Probably many more have been added since.

As a long time reseller on Amazon, this has been a long time coming. Although Amazon has always been the golden marketplace for small entrepreneurs, in all honesty, its really just a platform that simplifies the process of facilitating a sale for a quick buck. Stay there too long, and you’ll get the community of listing leeches undercutting you on your own product offering in no time. Trying to promote a small business on this platform has become practically non-existent as Amazon has made it impossible to enable sellers to manage customer information, and put restrictions on what you can communicate to customer through messaging, packaging, and item listing. You can’t even put a return email address in your Amazon messages without the Amazon authority knocking on your virtual door. Speaking about Amazon authority, they are ruthless in their suspensions that are well known in many cases to withhold funds for months on end. With slow response time and criteria held at a highly ambiguous standard, filing an appeal for re-reinstatement is no simple task.

The articles above are absolutely correct in that Amazon is really only about furthering their own brand impression with little regard to any brand unless a hefty investment is made, but sellers don’t need to be subject to this type of treatment.

In Amazon’s defense, I do understand that their mission is to protect the consumer at all costs, but what they don’t seem to realize is that Brands, manufacturers, and sellers are also their consumers… of their services. They are treated so differently than the consumer side that in the long run, its a losing game.

Giving away the sales metrics of your products, no price control, no appearance advantage over competition, mixed within counterfeit and low quality products. Game Over.

Nike gets it. The one thing Amazon can’t sell other than for itself is a product’s brand. With that brand comes a real community completely dedicated to not the shopping platform, but the product makers, the rabid enthusiasts, and the influential fans free of copycats, counterfeits, and ‘fake’ fans. The brand isn’t in it for the quick buck, and those who invest a little more time to experience the brand, whether it be from attending a major release event or downloading an app, deserve a product that retains its value. That’s where your long term sales potential is: in the impression of not necessarily just the product, but the brand experience. When a company has customers live streaming and Instagram posting not their newly bought shoes, but the confirmation of purchase for shoes on a branded app, that’s momentum Amazon simply hasn’t figured out yet.

There will always be a space for business for Amazon, but I do feel other brands will follow suit behind Nike in the pursuit to preserve meaning in a company community and its long term loyalty of its clients. It won’t be long until many premium brands utilize Amazon like I was told by an old friend in the anime retail biz, ‘I only use Amazon to blow items out at deep discounts. The market is cutthroat with amateur sellers trying to make a quick buck. No money to be made by racing to the bottom.’

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/11/13/brands-dont-need-amazon-nikes-departure-could-prompt-others-to-go.html

https://www.inc.com/cameron-albert-deitch/nike-amazon-breakup-brand-loyalty.html

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-11-13/nike-will-end-its-pilot-project-selling-products-on-amazon-site




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Introducing The Bellwether

Category : Blog

I see online that many professionals share artwork, animation samples, video edits, TED talk speeches, seminar sound bite platitudes, and incredibly well thought out articles on everything from how to score big on an interview to the top ten newest pronouns to hit the workforce this week.

These are things I wish I could add to my portfolio, but alas, my real calling is none of these.  What I do is harness the powers of everything that I’ve been and fold them into an ever evolving blob of processing code that I feel has finally started to come to fruition. 

This I am calling ‘The Bellwether,’ a system built that reaches across the web to aggregate data to track and rate hobby collectible products.  Of course, the details are so much more than my single line introduction… I’m still working on that…. but while I do, let me give you a little tour of the elements used to create this data churning entity.

Mission: to collect sales data across a number of sales channels on hobby collectible figures so as to be able to have a growing history of the viability of various hobby collectible product types from a variety of manufacturers working with various licenses down to the actual character selection. 

I’m putting all these elements on point.  Having worked in the marketing field and interacted with some of the brightest veteran toy marketing managers transitioning to hobby collectibles, I found the toughest questions to answer were ‘Will this toy type sell?’ ‘Who’s the number one in this segment?’ ‘What brands are hot for this demographic?’  I knew quite a bit since I had some pretty deep empirical data, but there weren’t numbers to show for it.  It was viewed as simply my ‘gut feeling,’ which is was, and it normally lean in reasonable direction, but numbers are what moved the businesses. NPD reporting was the bible by which decisions were derived, and even they were still trying to figure out how to report on the niche hobby collectibles genre.  Very much in the same way Amazon grouped hobby collectibles in the ‘toy’ category, NPD had no way of differentiating either.  For the two years we had them over for reporting, I asked the reps if there was a timeline for this info and they were ‘working on it.’ To be fair, traditionally, growth in hobby collectibles would be insignificant in the toy business, but a player like Funko broke the mold.  Every toy manager was scrambling to replicate the same idea in the mass retail segments not understanding that the strategy Funko used was carefully grown over time from collectors to mass.  Most toy producers wanted to instantly leverage their buyer connections and tried going from mass to collectors, which resulted in complete and utter failures across the board from large chain retailers to top brand toy manufacturers.  Inventory saturation due to over production was one of the very first problems presented to me that was plaguing my new corporate employer as it had become a massive stain that took years to wipe clean.

With this in mind, I wanted a tool that could gather information on products selling out in the wild and get a read on its popularity through site rankings and sell thru. In addition, apply my dormant brain trust of hobby figure knowledge to the definition of what demographics brands really cater to, and what related brands might go well with riding on the success of others.  I see this missing in even Amazon’s site where its common to see figures from a mature rated anime title being advertised as a pre-school toy for toddlers (Magica Madoka is cute and all, but definitely not for kids). Appreciation for niche category insight of this type is difficult to earn in the mass market crowd as it takes a fan to know what a fan wants, and to know why fans want it.  Apply this know how to a computer learning system, and you’ve got a kick started analytics system that can drill down to the selling success and failure of any collectibles of any character from any series by any manufacturer.  I do believe in time, systems will begin to learn more about the license associations, but over 20 years of having been a part of every angle of niche genre categories from being a fan to owning my own store, to working in a lead managerial role in a corporate office, I feel I have a unique head start.  In short, when the data comes in, you’ll still need someone who can speak geek.

I do see other sites trying to do something similar like hobbydb which feels too broad and poppriceguide which seems way more niche than I want.  Part of my angle is to roll up products to see who the most effective manufacturers are in a particular sector.  I don’t feel that from these other guys even though I really like what they’re bringing to the table. 

For the one person that got through all the dribble above, thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts on the system as I’m always looking to improve its features.

I pulled out all the stops on this one by smashing together every platform and coding language I’ve ever practically used in the last 10 years.  And, yes, I and I alone designed, programmed, and currently manage the entire system from back-end database grooming to Google Chrome Extension development to applying a weight to the likelihood someone will like Lobo if they’re into Wolverine.

Platforms:
WordPress
– wooCommerce
MS-SQL Server

Coding Languages:
PHP
Python
ColdFusion
– Dynamic Image Generation
JavaScript
-JQuery
MySQL
T-SQL
HTML
CSS
XML/JSON

Automation:
Python
– DataMining – (Node.js in the future)
ColdFusion

Databases:
MySQL
MS-SQL Server
– Views
-Stored Procedures

API Connections:
WooCommerce – Python
Amazon – Python/ColdFusion
Google Chrome Extension API
eBay – TBD

 

 


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Brand Burnout – A stream of thought

Category : Blog

Having been in the hobby industry of nerds for the last 20 years and a life long fanboy of all things geek before they were chic, its been an incredible ride to see all those childhood escapes come to the forefront of popularity. These were brands that at time I’m sure were to be simply a one-and-done wonder that simply followed the standard product lifecycle which eventually dribbles into obscurity, but now seen as icons and old gold. You hardly see the reruns that burned these brands into the brains of bumbling boys and girls. Its more reboots which honestly never really hold a candle to the originals for some reason.

Unsurprisingly, some of the biggest business acquisitions in recent memory in addition to tech is entertainment holdings companies for the stable of brands. I’m talking not only in the Mouse’s purchases of Fox, Lucas, and Marvel, but also of Hasbro’s pickup of Entertainment One. The thing that tipped me off on the license grab bag dash was the fact that Hasbro now owns the Death Row Records with the IP collection that is eOne. A traditional toy company really has no need for such a brand, but its valuable nonetheless.

It’s the mental real estate that they’re after. These big companies understand that that nestled deep down in the neurological nexus of the pre-internet children is a dry wood tinder that can light at the slightest flicker of a brand blaze.

And its limited.
I asked my kids, and outside of the few titles that I’ve tried very hard to get them into (someone should pay me for this), they essentially shrugged their shoulders and continue to watch whatever spoon fed content was coming in from YouTube. Brand loyalty seems to be disappearing with the newer generation. Ask kids now if there are brands that they’re loyal to and its more personalities than a carefully crafted and calculated brand. Personalities are hard to cash in on as the volatility is too extreme unlike the control of rock solid IP.

How’s anyone’s investment in Kevin Hart after ousting from the Oscars, or internet personalities PewDiePie or Logan Paul after the controversy they stirred? Most traditionally built companies would be wise to steer clear as bigger bank rolls make for bigger targets.

‘Where are we headed?’ is the riddle that keeps me excited. Will my kids grow up to look at YouTube as the next Marvel, or will it get ‘MySpace’d? I can’t think of any brands directed to kids that stay relevant as they get older as more and more strategies revolve around hyper focusing on the segmentation of KGOY. Can you think of any memorable original titles and features from 2000’s to now that can achieve the 20,25,30 year anniversaries that so many 80’s and 90’s brands are celebrating ? Its a tad depressing that we still cling to these dinosaur brands, and its sadder to think that my kids won’t have any decent original brands they can claim for their generation.


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Interview Question: Prompt

Category : Blog

This question was posed to me in a recent interview. I was given a limit of 1,500 words or less. My initial outline was only around 300 words, and with so much excess, I needed to add more flavor. I feel my response helped me land an interview, which was quite the ‘gauntlet’ as one of my friends put it. It had been a while since I had to go into essay mode, and I felt it’d be such a waste to simply sideline since the opportunity slipped by me more likely due to the interview. I was ‘too seasoned’ (aka too nerdy for the hip cats) and would get bored of the opportunity. I’m sure this was a polite way of saying I was simply to raw or rigid for their corporate rigmarole . If they truly believed I’d get bored, then they might not of realized that the business of geekdom is really my kick, and I never get bored of analyzing marketing methodology. See my response below. Maybe it’ll help one of you out some day. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’d like to hear it.

Question:
Unexpectedly, a key partner has scheduled a meeting in your office and expects a top-level presentation of marketing strategy for a game. Your manager is on vacation. What would you do, and what would you need to know to make your decision?

Answer:
Unexpected key partner visits can pose quite the challenge, but can be extremely rewarding in immediate and future opportunity. When it comes to marketing strategy, anticipation of such situations would be the greatest asset as this type of occurrence is rather commonplace in professional convention and trade events. Of course, before any other factors are to be considered, verification that a presentation in this circumstance complies with our company policy and the terms associated with the contracts of all stakeholders involved in the project. For the sake of this exercise, let’s assume the meeting is to occur in the company building and it falls in compliance with business and contract terms. As a marketing manager, having a marketing strategy at all levels is an essential responsibility, and ownership of that duty will demand a high level of understanding on the marketing direction that can be clearly communicated to the audience. The presentation of a top-level marketing strategy plan could lead to a discussion that becomes a great base for brainstorming with the partner that might lead to new business. As the visitor is a key partner, it would be in the company’s best interest to cooperate and ensure that when we present our strategy that we do so with the idea that anything less than the best rarely ends in success. To that end, though it is always a good sign to take on what might be an incredible opportunity for a strong business partnership, there are several factors that I would confirm before committing to a presentation. The key factors I find most important in this situation are authorization of materials, preparation of the presentation, and awareness of the company.


The flow of information is now more important than ever as timing plays a critical role in the momentum of promotion and business success in general. With the incredible value of licenses today, secrecy is a highly coveted asset. As this marketing strategy would be regarding a specific game, I would need to ensure that any focused information presented including license assets, schedules, budgets and all other marketing matters be authorized to share by both internal and external stakeholders. The premature reveal of any data before its authorization may present unnecessary risk of jeopardizing our relationship with licensors, distribution partners, and possibly the visiting party if something shown be met with critical complaints when still in development. Learning this lesson the hard way a few years ago, I had built a marketing plan around one of Japan’s most popular monthly release programs of competitively priced figure collections that were originally made to be redeemable through crane game arcade machines. My division was charged with creating a domestic program that could sell figures at a retail level as crane games are not as accessible in North America. Clients and partners were eager to hear more as it involved several popular licenses in the Japanese pop culture genre that had been evergreen or were quickly gaining momentum. These products were promoted to be targeting older teens to young adults who were tech savvy, socially connected, interested in animation and gaming, and appreciated collectibles. All the marketing numbers were set including offer dates, monthly wave release schedule, product copy, negotiated costs, client specific marketing strategies and promotional opportunities. Clients liked what they heard, they liked the calculations, but clients weren’t able to actually see the products or concepts of the actual product as images were not available due to licensor restrictions. This was proclaimed by clients and by our lead sales representatives as the single most critical component of the campaign. The program worked well in Japan as the distribution went to partners who had built a trust with the company in the confidence that the product quality was always going to be of high standard. For the most part, that was true, and that enabled the manufacturer the ability to offer products simply by name in advance of a public reveal forgoing the need for an image. However, when offering this same product line to a national chain store merchandiser in a different global region, success was limited. To resolve this, we had to reassess our strategy with our key product producer in Japan, and create a plan that allowed the proper release of image assets in a timely manner. This alignment laid down a path for our sales division to successfully secure big unit opportunities for future quarterly offers.

In addition to authorization, I would also consider the preparation of the game’s current marketing strategy presentation. Though we may have all the necessary permission for showing assets, should these data points not be arranged to deliver a meaningful story of business opportunity both with visual aid and key talking points, it may not impress upon the visitors the best perception of the prize. By being prepared, unexpected situations will be much more manageable for delivering maximum business impact, and it certainly is a vital element when making any type of presentation. As an example of needing to be prepared, one of my first assignments as a Brand Manager with my previous employer was to quickly communicate critical sales information to the collective sales managers from one of our key distribution partners presenting at the New York Toy Fair, Diamond Comics Distribution. I was two weeks into the assignment, the previous owner of the project left without delivering any copy, and our distribution partner team was going to try and sell our lines without the faintest clue on figure collections’ back story. Realizing this weakness, I arranged pre-event daily stand-up meetings with the managers collectively, and coached them through key sales points that had them presenting confidently and had earned back the trust of the partner who did have concerns about the absence of information. Having immersed myself in the product line details before heading out to the trade event, the preparation allowed me the time to consider the most important elements that I could quickly deliver to our partners in the sales effort. Needless to say, that edge opened many discussions with major clients that hadn’t known the details beforehand with one client that would later sign on directly as one of our biggest customers and product advocates, Hot Topic.


The last factor I would need to consider would be my awareness of the company offices. Should a key partner visit my office, they are not only seeing me, but the company itself. By the time the audience arrives on the premises and enters our lobby, the presentation has already started. Should there be any onsite events whether it is construction, a visit from another key partner, or absence of other key stakeholders of the game property, the impression may not be of our highest caliber. By not properly notifying key internal team members on the marketing project, and by being absent minded about the company environment, we may run the risk of damaging not only the business opportunity of the game, but also tarnish the perception of our company unit. I feel a marketing presentation does not simply showcase a game title and sales numbers, but also represents the efforts of the stakeholders that have worked on it including the company as a whole, and along with that comes the trust shared that if a game is to be featured in a presentation, those who need to know should be made aware.


There are several other factors that I would consider in this situation including the relevance of the title to the key partner and showroom availability, but specifically, regarding a marketing plan for a particular game, the above factors are critical. Under extremely rare circumstances, I may entertain the idea of possibly presenting a marketing plan from a previous title that had been cleared for presentation that the client may have successfully been involved with that has a similar strategy, but this is
contingent on if that type of presentation is even available as today’s marketing opportunity is constantly changing which in turn forces strategies to evolve with every title release. Depending on the strategy in place, presenting something that may be only similar may run the risk of undermining the master plan.


Should any of the above factors not be met, I would strongly move to politely approach the partner, and being honest about the situation proposition them with a later time and date where we can more fully present the strategy with the title. From my experience, honesty goes a long way in business as its part of the foundation of trust. As the visitor is a key partner, paying it forward through openness will save time on both sides and more often supports mutual respect. To present a marketing strategy plan at a moment’s notice does come with high excitement, but high risk on many levels as well if baseline requirements are not met. Once these requirements are fulfilled, we can then follow through accordingly with the highest chances of success.


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Tour of Power Anime Store 2014 by Japanese YouTuber

Category : Videos

YouTuber Megumi Sakaue featuring our store in 2014. Thank you so much for this time capsule. Sounds like everything was a tad expensive? Fans loved it!

Japanese YouTuber swings by my store’s 6th incarnation that was open between 2012-2014 in the West Los Angeles Mitsuwa Marketplace on Venice and Centinela.

The store features some of those outstanding eyecatches including the 6 foot Mazinger statue bought by ATS in Japan, and the official BANDAI Gashapon machines.

As books and DVDs were the bread and butter of the previous stores and at this point now pretty much extinct, trading cards were a new focus we used to capture that repeat clientele. Thankfully, Bushiroad was making a bigger move in the industry at the same time and we road on the coattails of Card Fight Vanguard and Future Card BuddyFight. Both are fresh, appealed to a mid-teen, young adult audience, and didn’t carry the baggage of the popularly known rowdy Yugioh crowd. This video features a young group of tournament players that would go on to be legends in the card scene in both tournaments and on YouTube (shot out to NexusCorp.)

At only 400 ft. x 400 ft., the anime focus was on genuine Japanese figures popular in Japan, not just features popular in the US. This meant carrying PreCure before they were on Netflix, Anpanman, Ultraman, and Kamen Rider.

Power Anime alumni included Paulo, Jason, Juan, and Britney for all they put in. Special shot out to William for his help in our final months.


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