Most Australians know Angry Birds as a hugely popular app from Finnish games developer Rovio, but now there's a feature-length movie in the making and in coming weeks a range of Angry Birds soft drinks vying for Australian tastebuds.
Mika Ilmola, export manager of Olvi, the Finnish beverage maker licensed to make the Angry Birds drinks told ITPro, the drinks would arrive in Brisbane this week.
Four containers of the drinks, in three flavours – citrus, tropic and paradise – will be distributed to select Australian retail outlets and budget wholesaler Campbells Cash and Carry. It's not a glamorous entry to the Australian market, but nonetheless is a feat for the small Finnish beverage maker that wouldn't be possible without the brand.
"We contacted Rovio and they were more than happy to have a Finnish brewery, which is an independent – not part of a big giant like Carlsberg or Heineken," said Ilmola, who claims to have struck upon the idea after seeing Angry Birds badged on a plane.
"I have been working in Disney when I was 20 years old in Anaheim, California, so the thought rapidly came to mind: 'Why not? Why shouldn't we make a drink which is not political, which is not US-based, which is just a good-tasting drink?'"
Olvi's licence to produce and distribute the Angry Birds soft drinks, along with soft toys, books, theme parks and now a feature film, is becoming an increasingly vital part of the game maker's future.
Despite huge success in mobile gaming since the first Angry Birds in 2009, Rovio's chief marketing officer Peter "Mighty Eagle" Vesterbacka insists the now 600-employee company, which has doubled in the past year, is an "entertainment and lifestyle" firm.
"We are not a games company. We're making physical products, we're building parks, we're doing physical retail," Vesterbacka told ITPro.
The trail Rovio has blazed in the past few years has set it apart from other big names in gaming like Zynga, the now troubled maker of Facebook hit FarmVille. Instead of "in-app" purchases that Zynga favoured, Rovio has tracked a path to sales outside the app.
In 2011, licensing and merchandising made up 30 per cent of Rovio's $100 million in annual sales, but in a few years Rovio, which some value at $9 billion, expects merchandising to rise to 50 per cent.
Rovio had produced 51 games before arriving at the conclusion it was not a games company, however Vesterbacka said the transition to brand cultivator was always part of the plan and came in spite of calls for it to stick to its supposed roots.
"We are told, 'You're a games company, you shouldn't make toys', but we just went ahead and did it anyway, and it's very successful," said Vesterbacka.
While the game's success has helped spawn Rovio's merchandise business and forge a path to China, where it will replicate theme parks already built in Finland and the UK, questions remain whether Angry Birds can sustain the momentum of the past few years. Does it really have the merchandising longevity of a brand like Hello Kitty or Star Wars?
Seeking an answer to this, Rovio has consulted the companies behind these two brands, and has had the opportunity to work with Lucas Films for its latest instalment, Angry Birds Star Wars, which a month after release remains top of Apple's Australian App Store paid apps charts.
"We know that we don't know everything, then we'll talk to the best companies out there. We're working with Lucas studios, obviously on [Angry Birds] Star Wars. They're amazing at licensing and they have been doing Star Wars since '77 – obviously they're doing something right.
"We're working with Sanrio in Japan, the maker of Hello Kitty, which has been very successful around one cat character since 1974. There's something those guys are doing right. Let's figure it out, let's learn from them," said Vesterbacka.
While Rovio has popular characters, it has thus far lacked the powerful and digestible narrative that made Hello Kitty and Star Wars not just powerful but sustainable merchandising machines.
Tuesday's announcement that Rovio would release a self-financed feature film by 2016 with the support of John Cohen, producer of Despicable Me, and David Maisel, executive producer of Iron Man, will no doubt help fill that void.
Whether it achieves Hello Kitty status remains to be seen, but one advantage Rovio has over movies that attempt to create a merchandising stream is that it already has second base covered.
"We don't need a movie to build a brand. We have already done that with our other activities, so it's not like a Hollywood studio where you have to make a movie to make a brand to sell some toys. We're already there, we're selling a lot of merchandise, and we are doing that successfully. But of course we can do better," said Vesterbacka.