Licensing for the Greater Good

Since we last covered non-profit groups’ growing presence in the licensing business, in August 2022, the emphasis on integrating charitable components into licensing initiatives of all stripes has continued. Licensors and licensees are taking a number of approaches to working with charities as one means of demonstrating to consumers that they are making a positive difference in the world:

  • Creating products tied to a charity—the traditional non-profit licensing model—to generate royalties for the organization. Dukal sold a limited line of camo-themed adhesive bandages tied to Operation Hat Trick, with royalties helping to fund military veteran support groups in the U.S. Meanwhile, U.K.-based Battersea Dogs and Cats Home paired with Welbeck Publishing Group for two books, the Dog Puzzle Book and the Cat Puzzle Book, part of a broad licensing program to further its mission.
  • Developing special products tied to a commercial property, with the intent to donate royalties to a non-profit. This is one of the most common current approaches for licensors looking to work with a charitable organization. Car brand MINI USA paired with ICECREAM, a sub-brand of the Billionaire Boys Club streetwear label, to create a capsule collection with 100% of proceeds at retail going to Polar Bears International. In the U.K., The Teenage Cancer Trust created an edition of 500 signed collectibles with The Who, whose lead singer Roger Daltrey is a longtime supporter, to raise funds for the group. And Primark paired with the music act Girls Aloud for a capsule apparel collection, with proceeds going to Cancer Research U.K. and The Christie Charitable Fund; one of the band members died of breast cancer in September 2021.
  • Selling products to fund the licensor’s own charitable work. Products based on a licensed property funnel proceeds back to a charity associated with the property owner; this is a common technique in the world of celebrity licensing but is also found in other sectors. The Amy Winehouse Foundation licensed Illamasqua for a second limited-edition collection of makeup, one of several deals to raise funds for the foundation established by the late singer’s estate.
  • Donating products through a buy-one-give-one model. Novel Entertainment waived its royalty fee when it paired with Madlug for a backpack featuring Horrid Henry. For every backpack sold through this U.K.-based initiative, a pack-away travel bag was sent to a child who is in or has experienced foster care; these kids often move from place to place with their belongings in a trash bag. The organization’s mission is to make sure kids in foster care can live with dignity.
  • Donating products outright. Dorel Home donated items from its Queer Eye furniture line to The Ali Forney Center, which operates housing centers in New York and other U.S. cities for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Dorel also pledged a donation of up to $10,000 from sales of the licensed line at retail during 2022 Pride Month. Separately, as part of Paddington Bear’s longtime partnership with Unicef, character-identified postcards, advent calendars, and parcels were sent out to children in need around the world, giving them essential items such as blankets, school supplies, and vaccines, as well as spreading Christmas cheer and enabling them to learn about kids and animals in other countries.
  • Auctioning unique licensed products for charitable purposes. Sony Pictures Consumer Products auctioned a limited-edition Ghostbusters Plasma Series action figure of director Ivan Reitman, made by its licensee Hasbro, with proceeds going to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The late director co-created the franchise and was well known for his support of charitable causes.
  • Developing content and resources to support people in need. Sesame Workshop is a frequent player in this space. It recently paired with Quest Diagnostics to create storybooks and other content featuring its Sesame Street characters to address health inequities among young children, with a focus on marginalized, rural, and low-income communities. In a separate initiative, The Workshop created resources for displaced and refugee families in Afghanistan and Ukraine to help them cope with trauma, settle into their new environment, and communicate their needs.
  • Making a donation not specifically tied to a particular collaboration or product line. To mark its 75th year of working with Toys for Tots, Disney gave the organization a grant that enabled 75,000 toys to be delivered to children in need during the 2022 holiday season.

Note that about half of the initiatives mentioned here have taken place in the U.K., where charitable licensing has historically been a stronger play at retail than in the U.S. In the latter market, non-profit licensing has always been a factor in the business but has been somewhat challenging. The sector has seen its profile grow in the past three to five years; still, the focus tends to be on other approaches aside from traditional licensing of a non-profit’s IP for retail products.

As in all facets of licensing, it is important to remember that authenticity is critical when tying in with a non-profit group. Consumers will be put off if there is not a logical connection between a licensor or licensee and the charitable organization, and/or if they perceive that the initiative is more of a promotional play than about making meaningful change.

Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter comes out tomorrow, Tuesday, January 17, 2023. The Licensing Topic of the Month highlights some emerging areas for collaboration that meet the untapped needs of female consumers, while the Datapoint research spotlight examines the evolution of celebrity branding strategies. If you do not yet receive this free publication, subscribe here.

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