Finding Consumers Where They Work or Play

This past September, J.C. Penney paired with Warner Bros. Discovery Global Consumer Products to release women’s and men’s sweaters, dresses, shirts and tops, jackets, tote bags, and other apparel and accessories tied to the TV series Abbott Elementary. The collection was designed specifically for teachers, emphasizing comfort and affordability as well as a casual-but-professional style. Its development was informed by school dress codes and feedback from a survey of teachers. The launch of the first assortment was accompanied by an investment in the nonprofit The Walking Classroom along with a 10% discount for teachers who could show an I.D. The marketing campaign included teacher-influencers showing off the collection on social media.

This deal is an example of how licensors and licensees develop consumer products to address sub-populations of customers defined not by demographic characteristics or adherence to a particular property or property type but by vocation or interest. Other groups seeing merchandise similarly tailored to their needs have included:

  • Music festival attendees. Licensors and their licensees started producing capsule collections designed for attendees of music festivals like Bonnaroo and the Electronic Daisy Festival in the mid- to late 2010s. Examples have ranged from The Smiley Company’s series of drops with Brekka to Moschino’s collection tied to the Candy Crush mobile game. In addition to being fashion-forward—with an eclectic style that mixes rock and roll and bohemian aesthetics—the summer pieces are designed to be worn outdoors in potentially inclement conditions like high heat and rain and are accompanied by sturdy storage options like festival-appropriate backpacks. The festivals themselves have gotten into the act as well, as with Coachella’s collections with H&M and Pandora.
  • Cosplayers. Since the early to mid-2010s, licensed collections have been tailored to cosplayers or included items specifically called out for their relevance to this group. These include realistic props, sewing patterns, and apparel with features addressing cosplayers’ unique needs (e.g. “wand pockets”), among other categories. Most are tied to the sci-fi, fantasy, anime, or video game properties that cosplayers tend to prefer—Fantastic Beasts, Legend of Zelda, and Game of Thrones, for example—but can extend to other types of properties as well. Celebrity cosplayers such as Yaya Han have launched signature lines of merchandise (e.g. cosplay fabrics and DIY kits) for this market.
  • E-sports. Licensors and licensees have been gearing products toward e-sports players and fans for close to a decade now, focusing on products that heighten performance when playing at home or in professional video game competitions. Key categories include breathable, comfortable apparel; electronics accessories and headphones; energy drinks and snacks; and gaming chairs. Many are tied to e-sports-related properties including players (Tyler “Ninja” Blevins), teams (Cloud9), and video game titles (League of Legends).

Most of these trends started out as being niche in nature, aimed at an avid but not necessarily mainstream audience. But ultimately, early specialized collections tend to expand to reach a wider consumer base than initially envisioned and gain year-round or perennial seasonal appeal.

Festival gear, for example, attracts not just festival goers but those who want to emulate the lifestyle or just like the look, and many mainstream summer collections include items called out as festival-appropriate. Cosplay merchandise is now included in all kinds of mainstream collections as well as in dedicated capsules, and has helped transform the formerly almost entirely Halloween-focused costume industry into a year-round business. The segment consisting of e-sports fans and players has grown into a more-than-niche market that has attracted mainstream partners like Puma, Nike, and Fanatics as well as specialists such as We Are Nations.

J.C. Penney’s Abbott Elementary collection for teachers seems to be one of the first high-profile examples shaped for this sizable but still specialized market segment. It would not be surprising to see similar efforts down the road directed toward this group, involving other relevant properties.

Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter comes out tomorrow, November 21, 2023. The Licensing Topic of the Month examines sales forecasts and other data suggesting how licensed consumer products might perform during this year’s holiday season, while the Datapoint research spotlight focuses on the board game sector. If you do not yet receive this free publication, please subscribe here.

RaugustReports will not be published this coming Thursday, November 23, 2023, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. We will be back to our twice-weekly schedule on Monday, November 27.

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