In two years, Moshi Monsters, a social network developed by Hoxton-based Mind Candy, has reached 50 million registered users worldwide, with an estimated 20 per cent of those active users. Compared to some less popular networks, which have been subject to endless digital scrutiny, MM has, to this point, remained relatively low profile. Perhaps its target audience (5- to 12-year-olds) and its combination of pet monsters, monitored social networking, stories, and educational puzzles don’t much appeal to the average social media evangelist, other than as some kind of training for Facebook.
The Facebook-primer element is certainly one of the ways in which Mind Candy CEO Michael Acton Smith thinks of Moshi Monsters, but with a stated aim to create the “largest kids’ entertainment property of the digital age” his vision goes much further. As such, MM has very much become a transmedia experience: in addition to the online social network, there are, for example, Moshi Monster magazines and Moshi Monster stuffed toys.
But what there isn’t, following a UK court hearing this week, is a Moshi Monster hit record.
Moshi Monster’s Underground Disco area is inhabited by a range of Moshi pseudo-stars: Banana Montana, The Groanas Brothers, Dustbin Beaver. But Mind Candy’s attempt to create a break-through single for one of them, a Crazy Frog for 2011, has proved a step too far for one international superstar.
Lady Gaga has taken exception to MM’s plans to release a single called Moshi Dance (which may or may not bear some resemblance to Gaga’s 2008 smash Bad Romance) by a Moshi Disco character called Lady Googoo. Mind Candy intended to back the release with multimedia advertising campaign, including a mailshot to every one of its 50 million users, in an effort to get Moshi Dance to number one. Gaga sued for trade mark infringement, and on Monday obtained an order from Mr. Justice Vos (of phone-hacking scandal fame), preventing the Mind Candy release pending trial.
To be clear, Googoo’s still getting down in the Moshi Disco, and only the release has been prohibited while the legal battle continues. (While the video still ranks highly in my search results, it has been disabled on YouTube.) But the trademark action here will raise serious questions at Mind Candy. “Only Moshi Members can get past the bouncer at the Underground Disco”, says the site, which means the contentious Moshi Disco is a revenue generator. Also moneymaking is “Gift Island”, where the likes of Yenea and Horrods might now attract the attention of trademark conscious retailers.
There’s still plenty to suggest that Moshi Monsters can achieve Smith’s ambitions, and that l’affaire Googoo represents only a minor setback. But if Vos’s ruling protects us from a new Crazy Frog, the world has reason to be grateful to the guardians of brand Gaga.