Canadian toy maker Mega Brands' licensing deal with Activision, the video games publisher behind the widely successful game series Call of Duty, has come under fire from advocacy groups and politicians amid concerns that the partnership exposes children to adult content. The company has hit back at the criticism, but the debate highlights some of the issues that can arise when licence strategies become reality. 

This week, co-founder of UK education pressure group Parents Forum Sarah Williams told the Express newspaper, “I think a lot of parents wouldn't really know what goes on in these video games, and so if they see these toys being marketed at young children might think the games themselves are ok. They don't have the 18 rating for no reason. There shouldn't be spin offs from games that have adult ratings.”

When told about the toys by the same newspaper, Labour MP Keith Vaz, who chairs the UK’s Commons Home Affairs Committee, stated: “The name Call of Duty brings to mind a violent video game which is only on sale to adults. It is totally inappropriate for a company to use this name for play materials for those too young to play the video game. They should think again and not promote this brand to children.”

However, Mega Brands vice president of marketing Bisma Ansari has hit back at the claims, telling World Trademark Review that they do not actively promote this particular toy line to children. She explains that the Call of Duty Collector Construction Sets are “a unique, highly detailed range of buildable military vehicles, collectible micro action figures and themed locations that provide creative experiences for fans of the franchise, adult collectors and sophisticated builders. They are part of a long tradition of military-themed products, which have been popular for generations."

“Importantly, the Call of Duty Collector Construction Sets are specifically designed to offer a unique, sophisticated and age-appropriate alternative experience to the video games. In addition, the packaging depicts product photography so consumers can see exactly what is included in the box, and make their own purchasing decisions.”

Knowledge of your brand identity and target audience, and identifying appropriate licensing partners that allow you to deliver products they will want, is central to any successful licence agreement. In this instance Mega Brands has clearly identified synergies between the Call of Duty brand and segments of its consumer base. However, the discussion over the Call of Duty line highlights the challenges that can arise when the target audience is multi-layered. Different products will be appropriate to different age groups, although all will feel an affinity with the masterbrand, making the messaging surrounding different products key.


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