Karen Raugust posts occasional observations about licensing trends on LinkedIn; this page features archives of all her posts to date. These are initially exclusive to LinkedIn and do not duplicate RaugustReports or the Licensing Topic of the Month in Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter.
LinkedIn members who want to see Karen’s thoughts as soon as they are published can follow her or connect with her on the LinkedIn platform.
For One and All: Embracing Inclusivity in Licensed Products
March 20, 2019: Licensors and their licensees are increasingly working to make consumers of all stripes feel welcome to their brands, whether by focusing on underserved populations or casting as wide a net as possible. Some current trends in diversity and inclusiveness in licensed consumer products include:
- Size-inclusivity. Plus-size apparel lines have been an area of focus for fashion companies in the past few years. More recently the trend has been for “extended-size” ranges that encompass plus-sized and petite shoppers alike—both populations long ignored—and everyone in between. One example: Kohl’s exclusive licensed lines, including Popsugar, Simply Vera Vera Wang, LC Lauren Conrad, and Jennifer Lopez, all have gone size-inclusive.
- Fifty-plus females. Jane Fonda (with Evine) and Brooke Shields (with QVC) are the two latest examples of collaborative product lines aimed at mature female shoppers, typically tied to celebrities that are now in that age group themselves. The idea is to create fashionable apparel that can appeal to all ages, but is modest enough for 50-plus consumers to feel comfortable wearing it.
- Gender-neutrality and fluidity. Apparel companies are creating gender-neutral collections for kids and adults alike—Celine Dion’s children’s collection with Nununu being one recent example—while retailers are removing signage in toy, home furnishings, and apparel departments that identify products as being for girls or boys. Beauty collaborations involving drag artists (RuPaul with Mally Beauty), male makeup artists (Allanized with Laura Gellar), and transgender celebrities (Caitlin Jenner with M•A•C) are meant to appeal to consumers no matter their gender-identification.
- Affordability. A growing number of product lines and collaborations are priced to ensure that consumers at lower income tiers are not excluded, with this goal often being a key part of the marketing message. Examples range from Heidi Klum apparel at Lidl to Ellen DeGeneres’ EV1 brand at Walmart. Products are designed to be both fashion-forward and affordable enough that consumers of any economic tier would want to make a purchase.
- Ethnic diversity. Mattel’s Barbie Fashionista line is diverse in ethnicity (with a wide variety of skin tones and hair types) as well as body size and shape. Disney’s Princesses are slowly diversifying as movies featuring Tiana, Moana, and a growing number of non-white leads are integrated into the line. Rihanna and her Fenty Beauty brand is one of a number of celebrity-driven cosmetics labels that include choices for any skin color.
Check out RaugustReports for more information about these trends and other happenings in licensed consumer products.
Consumer Products Licensing: Five Categories to Watch
February 11, 2019: What are some of the hot categories in consumer products licensing in early 2019? Here are five trends to keep an eye on:
- A call for CBD. Cannabidiol has been a hot health trend, creating opportunities for the licensing community. In one of the first examples, Level Brands licensed Isodiol for a line of CBD-based health and beauty products under the Kathy Ireland Health & Wellness brand; the Bob Marley estate, Greg Norman, and Willie Nelson have entered the arena as well. So has Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, with pet-friendly CBD-infused aromatherapy products.
- Bountiful beauty. The beauty category—especially cosmetics collections for small consumer niches, including higher-end assortments—remains a hotbed of interest for properties ranging from influencers (e.g., Patrick Starrr x MAC and Chrissy Teigen x Becca) to characters such as Barbie, Hello Kitty, and the Disney Princesses. The latter examples are all geared toward adults.
- So many sneakers. The fascination with limited-edition sneaker collaborations shows no signs of abating, from One Piece and Skechers, to Black Panther and New Balance, to Comme des Garçons and Nike Air. Celebrities and other licensors, retailers, and fans alike seem to have an insatiable desire for new partnerships and unique collections.
- Enhanced reality. Strides have been made in the adoption of virtual reality, which immerses the user in a three-dimensional digital world; augmented reality, which overlays digital elements onto real-life scenarios; and mixed reality, which combines real and virtual elements in a sort of AR-VR hybrid. While not all applications will succeed, licensors and licensees have been experimenting. Areas of interest range from creating virtual-reality gaming experiences to incorporating ever-more-sophisticated AR elements into educational toys.
- Burgeoning blockchain. Blockchain has many applications for licensing, some of them profound (e.g., to assist in anti-counterfeiting efforts). In the short-term, however, much of the highest-profile activity is in the cryptocurrency space, especially with sports and celebrity licensors, and in virtual goods tied to properties of all types.
Read our free twice-weekly publication, RaugustReports, for ongoing coverage of these and other licensed product category trends.
Licensing Year in Review: Politics, Regulations, and Social Movements
January 18, 2019: Many of the trends having the greatest impact on the consumer products licensing business in 2018 were the same broad issues—politics, regulations, social movements, and the like—with which all businesses around the world were struggling last year:
- The licensing sector was not immune to the ramifications of the #MeToo movement in 2018, with celebrity licensors Mario Batali, Russell Simmons, and Brett Ratner all seeing their product lines end as a result of their alleged transgressions. In addition, the movement helped further the wave of girl-empowerment properties that had already been getting exponentially stronger over the past several years.
- The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was top of mind for any licensor, licensee, or retailer around the world that relies on social media, e-mail, e-commerce platforms, and the like to promote or sell their products or services to consumers in the E.U.
- Real and threatened trade wars involving the U.S., notably with China but also with regions such as the E.U., are expected by many observers to raise consumer prices, reduce product availability, and decrease access to manufacturing resources, both in the U.S. and the other countries immersed in the conflicts. The longer the disagreements go on, the more significant the ramifications are likely to be.
- Politics and culture wars in the U.S. and around the world mean almost any corporate or entrepreneurial initiative can turn political in an instant. In addition, consumers are starting to expect companies to take a stand on everything from the environment and immigration to gay marriage and gun control. More and more corporations, from Dick’s to Gucci, are doing so, based in part on the belief that staying neutral is becoming more risky than choosing a side, even as half of the company’s customer base is likely to be offended.
- Brexit negotiations added a level of uncertainty for members of the licensing community in the U.K. and E.U.—and beyond, to some degree—as they wait to see what eventually shakes out between the two regions and how the final result will affect their ability to source and sell licensed products, hire employees, and more.
- At the end of the 2018, “yellow vest” protests against the French government, which occurred during the peak holiday season in Paris and other areas, affected retailers, particularly the luxury shops and department stores along and near the Champs Elysée, many of which had to shutter on key holiday weekends. Printemps Hausmann department store in Central Paris reported a 25%-plus drop in sales in December due to the protests.
Licensing Year in Review: Retail Trends
January 18, 2019: Many of the most profound challenges affecting the licensing business in 2018 were driven by changes in the retail landscape:
- The bankruptcy of Toys ‘R’ Us led to the closing of all of its U.S. stores and those in many other territories. (The latest closure is in the Nordics and Finland, where Top-Toy, operator of TRU and BR toy stores in the region, announced it would liquidate in late December.) In the U.S., retailers from Walmart, Target, and Amazon to Party City, Kroger, and JCPenney took up the fight for the 15%-20% share of industry sales TRU held, according to analysts. The new normal, at least for now, is a more fragmented and top-brand-centric landscape.
- Consumers’ ability to purchase a licensed product straight from social media has strengthened in 2018 as the big players add social shopping functions. Facebook is testing a live video feature for merchants, Instagram is mulling the launch of a new shopping app, and YouTube introduced its Merch Shelf program with Teespring to allow fans to one-click to merchandise based on a video. As of 2018, 48% of U.S. consumers say they have purchased a product or service through social media, according to SUMO Heavy.
- The melding of bricks-and-mortar and e-commerce shopping continued in 2018, as retailers tried to be available where and when consumers wanted them to be. Amazon and other etailers opened physical stores, subscription meal kit marketers and grocery stores partnered to make the former’s products available on physical shelves, and Fanatics launched in-store boutiques in JCPenney stores. Meanwhile, companies such as Target and Walmart bolstered their e-commerce plays and better integrated online with offline operations.
- Store brands, the strength of which waxes and wanes cyclically vis à vis branded goods, were on the upswing in 2018. Target launched eight new private labels, including Universal Thread for denim and Made by Design for home goods, while Kroger rolled out its Dip apparel collection in Fred Meyer and Marketplace locations, to name just two examples. While some store brands are produced in conjunction with a license, overall they represent another challenge to licensed products trying to secure shelf space at retail.
Read RaugustReports’ take on 15 of the top trends affecting the licensing business in the past 12 months in its recently published Year in Review: 2018.
Celebrity Licensing: Big Names, Small Niches
October 2, 2018: The landscape of celebrity licensing and collaboration continues to diversify, as personalities with all sorts of interests and areas of expertise create products to appeal to their loyal fan bases.
To illustrate, here are some of the many celebrity sectors that have recently emerged on the licensing scene or have intensified their licensing activity of late:
- K-beauty bloggers. Alicia Yoon, Hye-Min Park, and others who focus on reviewing Korean cosmetics online are extending their names or brands into makeup, fragrance, and fashion.
- Sports analysts, announcers, and commentators. Members of this group have been testing diverse categories such as subscription boxes (Matthew Berry), smoked meats (Kirk Herbstreit), and menswear (Michael Strahan).
- Bloggers specializing in plus-size fashion. Gabi Gregg, Nicollette Mason, and Tanesha Awasthi, to name a few, are moving into signature lingerie, swimwear, and a variety of other fashion categories.
- Toy testers and unboxers. Ryan of Ryan ToysReview and Tiana of Toys AndMe are leading the way into the toy category with branded product lines.
- Female historical figures, including those making history today. Examples ranging from Marie Curie to Eugenie Clark have recently been popular subjects for kids’ biographies and biography collections, often highlighting STEM themes.
- The forerunners of today’s fitness experts. Charles Atlas, Richard Simmons, and Jack LaLanne are all the focus of licensing efforts into wellness-related products.
- Architects, past and present. Noted names including Luca Andrisani, Zaha Hadid, and Jean Nouvel are lending their design expertise and sketches to home furnishings, purses, and other goods.
- Electronic dance music DJs. The likes of Deadmau5, Steve Aoki, and Skrillex are entering into collaborations for casual but fashionable apparel that can be worn to a rave.
- Chinese fashion bloggers. Mr. Bags, Gogoboi, and Becky Li are among those who have attained recognition worldwide and have started creating their own capsule collections with global luxury designers.
- TV presenters. Recent entrants include Fearne Cotton and Lara Spencer, who add their names to a list that already encompasses Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Wendy Williams, and Ryan Seacrest. Their licensing activities vary depending on their interests.
The pool of celebrities that is viable for licensing and collaborations—from cosplayers to tennis players and from dancers to dermatologists—will no doubt continue to grow as noted personalities of all types respond to their followers’ desire for products associated with their names and expertise. These days, there is no need for mainstream recognition for a licensing program to be viable, at least on a limited basis.
Licensing Expo 2018, Part 2: Products to Promote Positivity
July 9, 2018: In our last post, we took a look at some of the trends, observed at Licensing Expo 2018 in Las Vegas, related to the digital distribution of licensed products and content. Another group of licensing developments noted at this year’s Expo could be seen, collectively, as a reaction to political divisiveness and other current events:
- Branding, messaging, promotions, and design elements celebrated differences. Examples ranged from Peeps t-shirts reading “Inside We’re all the Same” to Sesame Street’s 50th anniversary campaign, “This is My Street,” which focuses on the idea of bringing disparate people together. Efforts such as these were brand-consistent while promoting acceptance.
- Diversity seemed to be reflected in more of the properties on display than ever before at the Expo. For instance, Centa IP’s Motown Magic and Nickelodeon’s Nella the Princess Knight were among the children’s properties featuring black characters in leading roles, supported by a multicultural cast.
- Hispanic culture was top of mind. Properties such as One Entertainment’s range of television (Televisa) and sports (Mexican football and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) as well as the Christmas-themed book-and-doll property Lupita were among an ever-growing pool of licenses positioned as appealing to Hispanic consumers.
- Female empowerment themes ranged from girl-centric superhero properties such as Mysticons to educational and aspirational design and publishing brands such as Women in Science, among many others. The focus this year seemed to be more on real-life inspiration than on fictional superpowers.
- Caring and kindness were the subject of a handful of licensed properties this year. A few included Enchantimals (from Mattel) and Mofy (at CraneKahn), the latter based on a Japanese picture book.
Visit www.raugustcommunications.com/licensing-expo/ for RaugustReports’ full coverage of trends from Licensing Expo this year.
Licensing Expo 2018: All Eyes on E-distribution
June 27, 2018: The 2018 edition of Licensing Expo in Las Vegas last month underlined how important digital distribution of content and products has become in the world of licensing and merchandising:
- Amazon’s announcement that it would launch Merch Collab, a platform for licensors to sell printed-on-demand products incorporating user-generated content from prescreened designers, was the talk of the show. In conjunction with other Amazon initiatives such as Amazon Stores and Merch by Amazon, the venture gives licensors speed to market so they can capitalize on in-and-out trends, product development and consumer research insights that can translate to bricks-and-mortal retail, fresh and likely otherwise-unthought-of designs, and the ability to customize.
- “As seen on Netflix” has become a ubiquitous phrase at the show, with numerous properties touting their distribution on Netflix as well as Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other online platforms. The question, as yet not definitively answered, is whether streaming distribution can help drive sales of licensed merchandise.
- Considering the high interest in e-sports within the licensing community over the past couple of years, and the prominence of video game companies at the show, licensing programs tied to e-sports still have a relatively low profile. But Beanstalk’s Tinderbox division is representing ESL, a leading e-sports event producer, and Activision Blizzard exhibited a wall of city-based team apparel that is part of its licensing program for the Overwatch League. More examples should arise going forward.
- Influencers are gaining ever more traction, with examples including comedians Shane Dawson, repped by UTA, young unboxing star Ryan of Ryan ToysReview, licensed by content distributor Pocket.watch, and many more. While still relatively niche, influencers’ profile is growing in terms of the number of properties available, and in the reach of their licensing programs as well.
Visit www.raugustcommunications.com/licensing-expo/ for RaugustReports’ full coverage of trends from this year’s show.
Trends from Toy Fair 2018
March 21, 2018: A recent visit to the 2018 edition of New York Toy Fair highlighted a number of observations, which fall into five broad categories:
- Social media drives toy trends. Many of the licensing and toy industry trends at Toy Fair this year drew their inspiration from phenomena that originated or spread via social media or other digital platforms. From slime, selfies, and sloths to unicorns and unboxing videos, viral trends are influencing product development.
- Boxes and kits rule. STEM, the Maker Movement, the popularity of subscription services, and other trends continue to drive growth in hands-on kits. All-inclusive kits, centered on coding, robotics, circuitry, and other physics and engineering projects, have been dominant for the past few years, of course, and they are still abundant. Other areas of note in the kit and box space this year included chemistry sets (e.g., to make slime or bath bombs), experiences in a box, and retail offerings from subscription box companies.
- Collectibles continue to dominate. This trend is as strong as ever, with sales rising and more players entering. Some of the developments within the category this year include ever more miniaturization; stylized looks, especially in licensed vinyl and other figures; squishy products; and a poop theme (which also extends to other toy categories). An element of surprise, through blind boxes or other components, is essential.
- Licensing lags, with some exceptions. Licensed products based on high-profile TV and film properties were concentrated primarily in their master licensees’ booths—generally with narrow ranges of products, unless well established and proven—as well as in the assortments of a few licensees that rely on broad portfolios of hot licenses. Exceptions: preschool and literary properties, maker-related corporate brands, co-branded products, 1990s properties relaunched or refashioned for millennials and their children, and social influencers. Most of these remain niche opportunities, but all were spotted often across the show floor.
- More, and less, tech. Not surprisingly, technology-driven or enhanced toys continue to proliferate. Smaller, safer, and cheaper versions of adult tech dotted the showrooms, and augmented reality, drones, coding, and robotics were everywhere. But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and a strong parallel trend consisted of products to lure kids away from screens, through hands-on or outdoor activities, “experiences,” and interpersonal connection and other forms of social-emotional learning (e.g. fostering kindness).
For a detailed look at these trends, visit RaugustReports’ coverage of Toy Fair here.
Observations from Licensing Expo 2017
June 13, 2017: The recent Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas underlined a number of trends, most of which have been ongoing for some time:
- Online-only on the rise. Online properties, from social media celebrities, to streamed TV shows, to branded programs tied to online platforms and services, are proliferating, although some licensees are still skeptical about their viability for merchandise.
- Preschool still proliferating. New properties continue to enter the preschool licensing space, despite the crowded landscape. Even with the intense competition, the potential for sales of licensed products based on properties geared to the youngest consumers is viewed as relatively strong compared to those for other demographic groups. Such properties also tend to cross borders easily.
- Girl power going strong. Girl power continues to be a key theme in the entertainment space, both with ongoing and new properties. In some cases, licensors are touting female characters among a group of equals, sometimes a smart or strong girl has a sole starring role, sometimes key girl characters are being added to formerly boy-centric shows in later seasons, and sometimes female sidekicks are being spun off into separate entertainment or merchandise programs.
- Collectibles continue to be top of mind. Collectibles remain top of mind in the licensing business, both as a product category and as a source of outbound licensing programs. There does not seem to be a consensus about whether any of the newer collectibles-based brands will be able to emulate Shopkins in terms of licensing success.
- Interactive gaming is a way of life. Interactive gaming properties, from console games to mobile apps to vintage games and brands, were abundant across the show floor as usual. Retro licensing programs based on early versions of games from the 1980s were especially prominent this year.
- Asian properties are high profile. The space devoted to Asian character/entertainment licensors is still expanding, in part through efforts by show organizer UBM and in part due to financing by governments interested in giving their homegrown IP an international stage, among other reasons. Relatively few of these properties have made significant incursions into the U.S. market, although more are securing U.S. licensing agents and broadcast partners.
To read more on the key trends from this year’s Licensing Expo, with a particular focus on social media, streaming, and other topics pertaining to digital marketing and distribution, visit http://www.raugustcommunications.com/licensing-expo-2017/.
Eye on Sports Licensing
April 23, 2017: The sports and collegiate licensing markets have been undergoing fundamental changes over the past several years. Some of the developments that licensors and licensees in this sector are watching closely include:
- The influence of Fanatics. This key e-commerce partner of the major leagues, many colleges, and other sports organizations recently purchased VF Corp.’s sports business, which includes licensee Majestic Athletic. This step builds on the company’s increasing dominance of sports licensing. Fanatics has been expanding into bricks-and-mortar retail, mostly at stadiums, as well as boosting its manufacturing capabilities and serving as the master licensee for organizations such as Major League Baseball (with Under Armour), the NHL, and the NFL Players Association.
- Big deals. A growing number of university licensing programs are following in the footsteps of the major leagues in forging master licensing agreements with the likes of Nike and especially Under Armour. The agreements typically include both on-field rights and “authentics” licensing programs (and sometimes other apparel categories) and are worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Recent institutions to forge such deals range from University of Michigan and UC-Berkeley to South Carolina and Alabama-Birmingham.
- Retail struggles. While specialty retail has been fighting to stay alive across industry segments, sporting goods stores—a key distribution point for licensed sports and collegiate apparel and other goods—have been a focal point for trouble. National and regional chains to file for bankruptcy, sell to competitors, and/or go out of business in recent months include Sports Authority, MC Sports, Golfsmith, Eastern Outfitters, Sport Chalet, and Total Hockey.
- Going upscale. With the core apparel and accessories categories being consolidated with the big athletic companies, especially for the sports leagues but also for a growing number of colleges, one entry point for new licensees is on the higher end of the scale, where the market is not as crowded and the master licensees lack expertise. Examples range from Johnnie-O with MLB and colleges, to Tommy Bahama with the NFL and MLB, to Shabella with colleges through the Collegiate Licensing Company and Learfield Licensing.
- Fashionable athletes. Individual pro athletes are increasingly collaborating on high-end apparel and accessories collections mirroring the fashion-forward looks they’re known for when not on the field, ice, or court. Saks Fifth Avenue partnered with NBA player Anthony Davis on an athleisure line for its private label Saks Fifth Avenue Collection, its first collaboration with an athlete, while Russell Westbrook has partnered with a number of fashion brands for collections sold at the likes of Nordstrom and Barneys.
- The “beautiful game.” Soccer is finally starting to gain traction at retail in the U.S., thanks in part to the expansion of Major League Soccer, the growing local popularity of second-tier leagues and teams, and the increasing exposure for global soccer. That means more retail placement for both U.S. and global teams. Some of the international clubs and governing bodies with new U.S. agents, for example, include Arsenal with Fermata Partners as well as Chivas Guadalajara, AS Roma, and DFB Wirtschaftdienste with One Entertainment.
- College co-branding. Colleges are expanding their co-branded activities to include a variety of different partners. These initiatives can include alumni celebrities, as with University of California’s alliance with Marshawn Lynch’s BeastMode brand and Appalachian State’s with country singer Eric Church. They can focus on nearby major league teams, as in the pairing of the Texas Tech Red Raiders with MLB’s Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, through a deal with Champion. And they can center on lifestyle brands, as with the co-branded merchandise a range of colleges have put together with Life is Good.
- Traveling overseas. The major leagues have been looking for growth through overseas expansion for decades, with varying success, and that quest continues. Three illustrations of the continuing attractiveness of international markets: NLFPA’s retention of Brandgenuity as its licensing agent in Europe, the NBA opening stores in the Middle East with Al Mana Fashion Group, and the NFL and its agent The Brand Liaison’s signing of TD Brand Global for men’s and womens’ apparel and accessories in Greater China.
- Throwbacks. Vintage programs featuring past players, logos, and teams have become evergreens, trending up and down over time. The National Basketball Retired Players Association, which includes former NBA, ABA, Harlem Globetrotters, and WNBA players, extended its licensing partnership with the NBA, while IMG launched the Football Greats Alliance, overseeing the marketing and licensing program for retired pro football players. Licensees report strong results from such programs of late.
- Continued collegiate agency changes. The collegiate landscape has seen great change over the past few years, with consolidation among agents and collegiate marketing companies and the launch of new firms. Most recently, Exemplar Associates came on the scene, with Columbia University its first client, and the Atairos Group acquired Learfield Communications, the parent of Learfield Sports and its Learfield Licensing division.
For more insights on recent sports-licensing trends, visit RaugustReports’ coverage here.
Licensing Year in Review: 2016
December 19, 2016: What were the key developments in the consumer products licensing business in 2016? RaugustReports identified 16 distinct trends, which fall into five buckets:
- Evolving shopping habits. Subscription- and membership-based alternatives took hold as viable opportunities for licensed merchandise sales, while pop-up shops tied to particular properties appeared globally throughout the year. Social and mobile shopping allowed consumers to “buy it now.”
- Hot properties. Pokémon Go was the pop culture craze of the summer, driving merchandise sales for retailers with products in stock. Emojis were a ubiquitous design trend, with several IPs entering the fray. And new areas of fame, ranging from transgender celebrities to e-sports stars, tested the merchandising waters, mostly with collaborations and limited editions.
- Up-and-coming categories. The fast-growing marijuana and vaping industries led to an increasing number of licensing deals. Color cosmetics and men’s grooming were standouts within the licensed beauty sector. Collectible toys, from mini figures based on movies and video games to sports-licensed collectible-toy hybrids, continued to command shelf space and drive sales. On the experiential side, hotels and hospitality were an area of interest for fashion designers and other properties.
- Addressing societal issues. Retailers and manufacturers took steps to bridge the divide between products traditionally associated with boys and those associated with girls. The licensing community also promoted girls’ confidence and supported their aspirations through properties and products celebrating them for being smart and heroic. Meanwhile, the business continued to wrestle with the issues and opportunities associated with products connected to the “Internet of Things.”
- Marketing slants. Mass marketers and IP owners took concrete steps to honor diversity, both in color and ethnicity and in size and shape. Licensors sought distinctive moments, such as an album release or a shared history, to freshen their programs with distinctive merchandise. And licensors continued to embrace personalization, user-generated content, 3D printing, and other means to put their fans first when it comes to product development and marketing.
Read all the trends in “Top 16 Licensing Trends of 2016.”
It is worth noting that these developments fit into the overriding, long-term trends that characterize the licensing business these days, outlined in 15 Licensing Super Trends for 2015 and Beyond, published by Raugust Communications last year.
A happy 2017 to all.
Trend-Watching in the Entertainment-Licensing Space
November 30, 2016: From Pokémon Go and Paw Patrol to Star Wars and Shopkins, 2016 has been a strong year for licensed products tied to entertainment and character properties. Here are a few of the trends licensors and licensees involved in this sector have been watching in recent months:
- Preschool placement. The preschool segment, though crowded, has been performing well over the past several years. A recent change has been the reduction of the near-monopoly Disney and a few other key players have commanded of late when it comes to preschool shelf space. The big players still have a presence, of course, but there is room for other top properties, such as Spin Master’s Paw Patrol and eOne’s Peppa Pig.
- Millennial marketing. Like most marketers, the licensing community wants to appeal to consumers in the 19-35 age range. Many entertainment licensors and licensees are uniquely positioned to do so with favorite characters from millennials’ childhood. Sesame Workshop, Nickelodeon, and Scholastic are among the IP owners actively adding millennial-directed imagery and promotions to their portfolios.
- Crowdfunding the classics. Licensors are relaunching nostalgic properties, from Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the U.S. to Morph in the U.K., after gauging interest through crowdfunding campaigns. Kickstarter and other platforms have become an effective test before committing to a relaunch; it is a strong signal of future success when consumers are willing to help pay the bill to see their favorite characters again.
- Asset sharing. Licensees often create new artwork or storylines within their licensed product ranges (with their licensors’ blessings), sometimes departing significantly from the original. IP owners from Universal to Disney are increasingly fostering the sharing of these new assets among other of the property’s licensees, where appropriate, as a way to freshen the product assortment as a whole.
- Considering the universe. Properties of all types are following in the footsteps of the comic book industry (and its spin-off films) by creating universes that house multiple mostly separate properties. These worlds offer the potential for characters to occasionally visit each other’s storylines and environments. The phenomenon is centered among TV and toy properties, with crossover events occurring in a variety of media, including comics, videogames, and films.
- Character collaborations. Licensors continue to pair their characters with trendy or luxury labels—Hello Kitty with Silver Spoon Attire is a recent example—to generate awareness and reach new customers and distribution channels. And the trend is increasingly global in scope, touching designers in China, Russia, India, and beyond.
- Contemporary causes. Nonprofit tie-ins with licensed products and promotions are evolving to encompass issues in the news, from empowerment for Hispanic girls, to reducing food waste, to voting. While licensors and licensees tend to stay away from controversy for the most part, they are supporting timely issues from which they may have shied away in the past.
- Eye on emerging markets. U.S.-based licensors and licensees continue to expand their global reach, especially into less-developed territories. They are not just working with local licensees, agents, and retailers but also creating new IP for local markets and serving as licensees or agents for local properties, both in the emerging territory and abroad. China has been a particular area of interest.
Visit RaugustReports to keep up with licensing trends across property types and product categories as they arise.
Five Things to Know About Emoji-Related Consumer-Products Licensing
September 13, 2016: Emoji-themed designs are prominent this season on apparel, accessories, gifts, stationery, and home décor across all retail channels, especially in stores appealing to tween and teen girls. This is not surprising, of course, given the popularity of emoji graphics in communications. More than 6 billion emojis were sent each day worldwide in 2015, according to Swyft Media, and their usage has continued to increase, by double digits a month, this year as well.
It follows that an expanding pool of emoji-based licensing programs are coming on the scene, from IP holders offering brands and designs based on well-known emoji faces and other popular communications graphics, to emojis connected to celebrities and corporate brands, to films and TV shows starring emoji-inspired characters.
Many executives in the licensing business and beyond have been wondering about the status of emoji-related designs and brands when it comes to legal protection. What should marketers of products and services be aware of before they license an existing emoji-based property or create their own? Here are five things to think about, based on conversations with attorneys specializing in licensing:
- Copyright and trademark laws do not mention emojis specifically and there have not yet been any court decisions to establish precedent. This means that the rules for marketing products featuring emojis are not yet clear.
- A number of factors may weigh against trademark protection in many situations, including the abundance of confusingly similar emoji-related products in the marketplace, their potentially descriptive or generic nature, and their function of conveying thoughts and emotions. Possible barriers to copyright protection include emojis’ utility as a component of communication and the fact that they could be considered familiar symbols or designs.
- As a very general rule of thumb, the closer an emoji is to those appearing on a standard emoji keyboard, the thinner the legal protection is apt to be. Some marketers have created emoji-based characters with their own personalities; branded emojis protected by underlying copyright, trademark, or personality rights; or emoji-inspired designs that are clearly different from everything else on the market. These types of properties may have more legal protection. The end use of the licensed product matters as well; products and services associated with communications potentially have narrower protection than completely unrelated products, such as lip gloss or milk.
- There are emoji sets available through Creative Commons or other open-source licenses. These can be used legally and often at no cost, as long as the grant of rights is not violated. It should be noted that there are typically restrictions to such licenses, however, with merchandise or other commercial uses often excluded from the grant.
- Marketers that choose to secure a license for an emoji-related property would benefit by doing plenty of due diligence to confirm the rights the licensor says it has and by making sure their contract protects them as much as possible from any infringement claims. Meanwhile, marketers that decide to create their own designs without a license would reduce their risk, at least to a degree, by thoroughly analyzing the market in an effort to avoid infringing on another IP owner.
To read more about the issues surrounding emoji-related consumer-products licensing, the benefits and risks, and details to consider before entering the market, read “Emojis, Licensing, and the Law” at www.raugustcommunications.com/emoji-legal/.
Reflections on Licensing Expo 2016
July 14, 2016: Four observations from last month’s Licensing International Expo in Las Vegas:
A tale of two licensing businesses. The floor space devoted to the big entertainment studios, networks, and video game marketers (well over half the total space) was consistently busy, while the rest of the exhibition floor, featuring corporate agencies, artists, art agencies, and fashion/lifestyle brands, was relatively quiet, according to attendees. This was the first time in recent memory that there was such a notable difference in foot traffic between the two areas.
In part this reflects the nature of the show itself, but it is also emblematic of the strength over the past few years of entertainment/character licensing. Current areas of interest within this sector include properties for preschoolers, characters with girl power, and collectible toy brands.
It’s all about the experience. Experiential licensing and marketing remain a central focus of many licensing efforts, as illustrated by a number of deals announced during or before the show. Discovery Adventures launched its first adventure park in China and has a partnership with Princess Cruises. Hasbro announced a deal with the Araca Group for a Broadway musical based on Monopoly. A+E is prepping for its first Alien Con in October, tied to its 10-year-old series Ancient Aliens. Pop artist Sean Danconia partnered with designer Henry Chebaane for SupaPop Space, a joint venture to create experiential concepts, hospitality spaces, and retail products.
These ventures and a raft of others like them are part of a broader trend for licensors in the entertainment/character space. Property owners view themselves as “360-degree entertainment companies”—a buzzword of this year’s show—rather than as broadcasters or entertainment studios. Experiences, along with multiplatform content, are a component of that strategy.
A global viewpoint. The square footage devoted to licensors from countries outside the U.S. continues to expand, with China, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, and Korea all raising their profiles and new players such as Malaysia sponsoring pavilions for the first time. Some of this is due to the efforts of the show organizer, UBM, which has been working to increase the presence of international companies.
It also illustrates the reality of the licensing business, however. Licensors of properties that are big in their home countries continue to look beyond their own borders, and a handful of those properties, such as Masha and the Bear (Russia), Gallinha Pintadinha/Lottie Dottie Chicken (Brazil), and Super Wings (Korea) have had some success. That said, establishing a licensing program in the U.S. remains difficult for most.
Digital evolution. Licensors were highlighting all forms of digital entertainment across the show floor. Examples ranged from console-game properties such as Call of Duty and Mass Effect, to mobile-gaming brands such as Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Fruit Ninja, to virtual world/massively multiplayer properties such as Animal Jam and StarStable. The Pokemon Company was there as well, pre-Pokemon GO. While casual games and virtual worlds have reported varied results, they are certainly still part of the mix when it come to licensing opportunities.
Meanwhile, celebrities who made their names through social media vehicles (blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, and more) were also on display, of course, as were properties with roots in digitally streamed entertainment. Examples ranged from Jazwares’ Tube Heroes to Crunchyroll. In general, though, the licensing community’s perception of social media has moved quickly beyond seeing it largely as a source for licensed properties to viewing it simply as another part of a multiplatform approach to marketing and distribution.
10 Hot Product Categories for Licensing in 2016
June 2, 2016: As we approach the midpoint of the year, trademark owners looking for new licensing opportunities for their properties may want to consider some of the following sectors. All have either emerged as viable product categories for licensing in the first half of 2016 or have seen a strong increase in licensing deals during that period:
- Men’s grooming and toiletries. Properties ranging from Ryan Seacrest to Mentos to Elvis Presley have been paired with licensees selling skincare, soaps, and styling products for men.
- Eco-friendly cleaning products. Celebrities such as Kathy Ireland and literary properties such as The World of Eric Carle are among those targeting sustainable and natural household cleaning formulations.
- Ethnic fashion. From Disney and Sanrio to Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta, brand owners are eying ethnic apparel niches such as hijabs, kimonos, saris, and abayas that appeal to ethnic communities in their home regions and abroad.
- Batteries and power packs. In addition to power- and electronics-related brands such as Westinghouse, Energizer, and Polaroid, properties including Mossy Oak, Limited Too, the U.S. Army, and Burton Snowboards are expanding their licensing programs to include these products.
- Subscription meal-delivery services. The NFL Players Association, chef Jamie Oliver, and Weight Watchers are some of the properties that have lent their names to meal-delivery services focused on relevant recipes and demographics.
- Toys, apps, and curricula to teach coding. Mattel’s Hot Wheels, Simon & Schuster’s Nancy Drew, and Cartoon Network’s We Bare Bears are among the toy and character properties that have helped teach coding to young children through various forms of content and products.
- Refrigerators. Properties such as Anheuser Busch’s Budweiser and Bud Light brands and fashion label Dolce & Gabbana have been extending their names into refrigerators, in both compact and full kitchen sizes.
- Flavored alcoholic beverages. From Pinnacle’s Cinnabon vodka to New Belgium’s Salted Caramel Brownie Brown Ale in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s, spirits and beer makers are looking for brands to help differentiate them within this growing segment.
- Fine jewelry. Former Jackson 5 member Jermaine Jackson, late architect Zaha Hadid, and the Victoria & Albert Museum are among the properties that have entered the high-end jewelry market in recent months.
- Musical instruments. Always a staple for musicians’ product lines, the frequency of character-based deals, ranging from The Simpsons to Scooby Doo, is accelerating.
It will be interesting to see what additional categories emerge between now and the end of the year.
Fostering Health and Wellness Through Licensing
April 25, 2016: Intellectual property owners of all types are increasingly lending their names, through licensing or other forms of brand extension, to a wide and varied range of product categories connected to health and wellness:
- Fitness equipment. Universities and magazines such as Women’s Health are among the properties that have inspired branded barbells and yoga mats.
- Healthy foods and supplements. Flo-Rida and Martha Stewart have created signature nutritional supplement lines, Everlast has extended into coconut water, and Mickey Mouse, SpongeBob, and other characters appear on packages of fresh fruit and vegetables around the globe.
- Functional bedding. Brands such as Arm & Hammer, Terminex, and SELF have promoted healthy sleep by forging deals for antimicrobial and other forms of specialty bedding.
- Wearable fitness trackers. Athletic brands (e.g., Skechers) and fashion designers (Tory Burch) were pioneers in licensed fitness wearables, followed by other property owners and content providers.
- Gyms. Publications including Men’s Health and sports properties such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) are among the brands to extend into gym facilities.
- Athleisure and yoga apparel. Beyoncé, Carrie Underwood, and Kate Hudson are some of the many celebrities and other properties that have partnered to create apparel that women can wear while working out, as well as running errands or other casual occasions.
- Meal-delivery programs. Chef Jamie Oliver and fitness trainer Denise Austin have contributed their names and expertise to subscription meal-delivery offerings focusing on healthy meals.
- Cannabis. While most of the examples in this sector’s growing pool of deals have been more about recreation than health, Melissa Etheridge has created a line of cannabis-infused foods and beverages meant to ease the pain of cancer and cancer treatments.
This list—which features both new and established initiatives—represents just a small sampling of the many health- and wellness-related deals that have come to light in recent months and years. But it illustrates how a consumer trend such as health and wellness can have a profound effect across the entire spectrum of property types and product categories involved in licensing.
Licensing: Spotlight on the Specific
March 24, 2016: Property owners are increasingly launching merchandise efforts—typically limited in scope—tied to specific, short-term happenings with their ongoing brand activity. While certainly not a new technique, examples are proliferating:
- Musicians’ albums and tours. Last month Kanye West opened a pop-up shop in New York themed to The Life of Pablo, selling t-shirts, hoodies, and the like to support the album, as he did in cities that were stops on his Yeezus tour in 2013 and 2014. Other album-specific ventures in the last couple of years include Taylor Swift and Walgreens partnering for merchandise tied to Red, Train pairing with Ghirardelli for chocolate bars associated with Save Me San Francisco, and Coldplay joining with Bongo Comics for a series of six comic books based on Mylo Xyloto.
- Individual episodes of TV series. eOne Entertainment launched a line of Halloween merchandise tied to an episode of Peppa Pig themed around the holiday, while Cartoon Network launched a board game, comic book, and other products associated with an episode of Adventure Time called “Card Wars.”
- Story arcs within a literary franchise. Marvel and Disney introduced a licensing program connected to a Marvel publishing arc called Secret Wars, which is a reimagining of the Marvel Universe. Licensees included Mad Engine, Bioworld, and Funko.
- Characters in commercials. Mountain Dew launched a line of licensed plush toys, bobbleheads, and key chains featuring PuppyMonkeyBaby, star of its 2016 Super Bowl commercial, following in the footsteps of other licensable ad characters and phrases over the years, from the Bud-Weis-Er frogs and Cheetos’ Chester Cheetah to Wendy’s Where’s the Beef? and Coca-Cola’s Polar Bears.
- Sports events and hot markets. Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, the NHL’s Winter Classic, the NFL Draft, and other events have all formed the basis of limited licensing efforts, as have various hot-market opportunities such as catch phrases and record-setting performances.
These types of narrowly focused initiatives within a broader program give the most avid fans something new to buy, result in fresh designs or innovative category opportunities, and offer publicity and promotional benefits. While most often they are not primarily about making money, they can be lucrative. West said on Twitter that his Life of Pablo pop-up generated $1 million in apparel sales over two days.
Top Trends from Toy Fair 2016
February 16, 2016: The New York International Toy Fair in New York this week clearly illustrates some of the trends that are currently dominating both the toy industry and the licensing business:
- Collectibility. Always a key theme, the role of collectibility—for both adults and younger consumers—is particularly strong this year. Leading toy brands such as Shopkins and Disney Tsum Tsum are driven by collectibility; almost every licensed master toy line, from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teletubbies, has a collectible component to drive engagement. Blind bags, boxes, and tubes keep kids coming back for more as they take a chance in the hopes the package will contain a rare or desirable figure. The collectibility feature typically extends to the digital world via a connected app that creates more opportunities for collecting and play.
- S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. These were key buzzwords of the show this year, with both specialty vendors and the big mainstream toy makers creating products that support the principles of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—and sometimes the arts. Examples range from Klutz’s craft kit teaching girls how to grow their own crystal jewelry to Thames & Kosmos’ new Barbie-themed S.T.E.A.M. line to various coding/sequencing toys for young children.
- Drones and more drones. Drones, micro-drones, nano-drones, and various other radio-controlled flying machines are prominent across the show floor. Licensed versions include Sakar’s Nerf line and World Tech Toys’ Marvel products. In many cases, the products feature digital video cameras.
- 3D printing and “3D printing.” Piecemaker showed its in-store 3D printing kiosks, with choices including personalized and licensed Nickelodeon and Ford products, and Mattel revamped its Thingmaker brand as a 3D printer for families (billed as supporting S.T.E.M.) with licenses including Nickelodeon. Meanwhile, Tech4Kids extended its 3D Magic printer line, adding a 3D pen, and Redwood Ventures launched its IGo3D pen with the Yo Kai Watch license. Tech4Kids and Redwood were two of many companies emulating 3D printing using gel and LED light.
- Girl power. Marketers are creating empowering products tailored specifically to girls, such as action toys, with licensed examples ranging from DC Super Hero Girls at Mattel to Miraculous at Bandai. They are also rethinking products that have historically been viewed as boys’ toys, especially S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. kits but also others such as active sports items or products that teach business and entrepreneurship.
- Co-branding. Stronger than ever is the strategy of marrying two key proprietary brands (Nerf and Super Soaker at Hasbro or MegaBloks and American Girl at Mattel) or matching key brands with outside brands (Hasbro’s Star Wars Operation board game or Mattel’s Ninja Turtles MegaBloks). The list goes on and on.
- Connectivity. It is pretty much a given that toys across many industry categories will be connected to an app or website. More and more often, the added value is as much or more about creating and sharing content as it is about augmented reality or accessing additional content. Wicked Cool’s Xtreme Cycle Moto Cam allows users to upload and share video taken by a camera in the cyclist’s helmet, while SpinMaster’s AirHogs drone has a camera that streams a live feed directly to multiple devices through a WiFi hotspot.
Tech Trends for the Licensing Business
January 17, 2016: Technology is top of mind this month, with lots of news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. What will be the ramifications on the licensing business of the key trends highlighted at this year’s event? Here are some of the issues licensing executives are thinking about:
- Wearables are attracting designers and fitness brands, among others, as manufacturers strive to create products that are more practical and fashionable. But concerns exist about which platforms, brands, and technologies will be sustainable in this very competitive sector. That makes decision-making difficult in terms of when to get in and which partner to choose.
- 3D printing offers opportunities for customization, as well as branded printers, filaments, and blueprints. As with any user-generated content, licensors and licensees are looking for ways to allow for fan creativity while protecting their trademarks, especially when it comes to consumer-targeted 3D scanning technologies.
- Virtual reality technology from Oculus and Cardboard, among others, create demand in the short term for content from entertainment and gaming licensors. Ultimately there may be content-licensing opportunities for other types of properties, not to mention chances for brand-extension licensing along the lines of today’s licensed gaming accessories (joysticks, headsets, and the like).
- Robots are currently mostly a novelty, viewed as toys or gadgets, with opportunities limited mainly to entertainment and educational (STEM) properties. But if new introductions down the road offer a useful purpose to consumers, occasions for a broader range of licensing deals (for both brands and content) may follow.
- Licensing possibilities connected to drones are mostly related to their use as toys and photography accessories at this point. In the future, depending on FCC regulations, openings may arise for other types of properties, from delivery services to transportation brands.
- The Internet of Things means products from toys to refrigerators to cars to apparel will need to be connected and “smart.” It will also lead to the need for licensed content, especially from properties associated with information (weather, calorie counts, reference, and so on). Ultimately properties that have ties to particular connected products (wellness, automotive, home theater, smart home, etc.) may make sense for branding. Some may even be able to identify themselves as IoT hubs that have meaning across categories.
One thing is certain. All of these sectors will continue to evolve, becoming more sophisticated and interconnected. As a result new licensing opportunities will emerge—and disappear—on a continuous basis for the foreseeable future.
Licensing: Year in Review
December 12, 2015: The year 2015 was an eventful one when it comes to trends in consumer products licensing:
- Distribution models evolved, with home delivery and social commerce being two techniques that saw dramatic increases when it comes to ventures involving licensed properties.
- New technologies from 3D printing to streaming entertainment to wearable devices all gained traction.
- Consumer desires drove several shifts in licensing, from the impact of the Maker movement to the acceleration of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, to a focus on inclusiveness.
- New business strategies initiated by licensors and licensees ranged from reducing risk through group-licensing deals, to extracting design elements, to embracing formerly taboo categories.
State of the Art: Six Licensed-Product Design Themes
November 10, 2015: Intellectual property owners are increasingly tailoring their visual assets to fit current design trends and increase their attractiveness to licensees in apparel, home décor, paper goods, and other lifestyle categories.
Some current licensed-product design themes include:
- Type. Licensors of properties such as The Beano and Pringles are offering their distinctive lettering for use as a solo feature on consumer products.
- Emojis. Characters associated with feelings or self-expression, from Care Bears to Purple Ronnie, are being featured in emoji-style renditions to be used promotionally or on merchandise.
- All-over prints. Owners the map brand A-Z, the TV series Adventure Time, and the University of Alabama are among those highlighting their relevance for all-over printed products, from loungewear to handbags to suits.
- Handmade art. Artists and art studios such as Holly Ross and Collier Campbell are emphasizing the fact that they create by hand—with brush and paint rather than through digital rendering—as a differentiator.
- Adult coloring. Licensors such as Redan are starting to consider licensing their intricate, ready-to-color designs for posters, note cards, and other products, capitalizing on the current popularity of adult coloring books.
- Color. Overseers of brands such as Martha Stewart, Crayola, and the Minions are spotlighting their distinctive color or a specific color palette as a licensable asset.
Five Character-Licensing Trends from London
October 19, 2015: A recent trip to the Brand Licensing Europe trade show, along with visits to a range of London department and specialty stores, highlighted five character-licensing trends:
- The not-surprising dominance of Disney-branded characters at U.K. retail. Toy shop The Entertainer is devoting two entire wall sections to Frozen, for example, while one of Marks & Spencer’s department store locations features a wall section of girls’ clothing tied to Disney classic characters. Frozen is currently ubiquitous, but Disney Princess, Doc McStuffins, Big Hero 6, Miles from Tomorrowland, and other Disney properties have a noticeable presence in one or more chains.
- The continued strength of local sensation Peppa Pig, licensed by eOne. Among individual properties—including those under the Disney banner—Peppa clearly rules, from girls’ apparel at department store BHS to massive toy displays at Hamley’s and Harrod’s, to a wall of books and plush at bookstore chain Waterstone’s.
- Front-window displays of Star Wars across many retailers in anticipation of the new film. The Carnaby Street shop of high-end watch licensee Nixon was just one example. Meanwhile, existing (pre-movie) Star Wars merchandise, licensed by Disney and its Lucasfilm division, was noted across categories and retail outlets.
- The importance of homegrown characters. In addition to Peppa, British properties with a solid retail presence, either exclusively or across retail nameplates, included Beatrix Potter, Bing, Clangers, the Gruffalo, In the Night Garden, Mr. Men, Paddington Bear, Postman Pat, Tatty Teddy/Me to You, Thomas & Friends, and Twirly Woos, among others.
- A notable profile for a handful of other global properties, some conspicuous at one chain or in one category and others distributed widely. Key examples included Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DC Comics’ superheroes, Marvel (Disney, again), Jurassic World, and especially Minions, with Adventure Time, the UK-first Sesame Street spin-off Furchester Hotel, Moomins, My Little Pony, Peanuts, and The World of Eric Carle also noted. LEGO, including all of its various licensed co-brands, was very prominent across all toy chains and departments.
Not for Everyone: Five Adult-Friendly Licensing Trends
September 22, 2015: It wasn’t that long ago that licensors, with very few exceptions, stayed away from any product category that was considered too controversially adult-targeted. But things have changed, with more and more property owners considering categories that would have been taboo—to various degrees—just a few years back:
- Pot. The estates of musicians Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix have licensed their brands for use on marijuana, while the names of Cheech and Chong and their film Nice Dreams have appeared on hemp-infused relaxation ice cream.
- Erotica. Licenses such as 50 Shades of Grey are bringing sex toys and related products into the mainstream.
- Vaping. Hustler magazine and the Taylor Gang fashion label headed by rapper Wiz Khalifa are among the licensors entering the e-cigarette category.
- Vodka. A diverse roster of properties, ranging from Breaking Bad to Cinnabon, have lent their names to vodka, the most recent sector of the alcoholic beverage industry to attract the interest of licensors.
- Tattoos. IP owners, including Rihanna, Beyoncé, and the NFL, have inspired sophisticated and realistic-looking, often jewelry-inspired, temporary tattoos for adults.
Most of these categories are not considered controversial at all these days, if handled appropriately, even when sold at mass retail and/or involving properties that appeal to children as well as adults.
Licensed Apparel: Four Fabric Trends to Watch
September 1, 2015: Licensors and licensees working in the crowded apparel sector are keeping an eye on a number of fashion-tech trends:
- Scented fabrics. Examples have ranged from Barbie beachwear by Wildfox, featuring fragrances reminiscent of sand and surf, to a chocolate-scented wrap from BCBGMaxAzria tied to the Magnum ice cream brand.
- Wearable technology. After a test at last year’s U.S. Open, Ralph Lauren last month introduced its PoloTech smart shirt, which integrates conductive threads of silver that allow fitness-activity tracking.
- Augmented reality. Evy of California’s scannable Tamagotchi Friends clothing allowed girls to incorporate Tamagotchi images into selfies and share them on social media.
- Functional and performance attributes. From moisture-wicking to antimicrobial properties to optimal comfort, this increasingly common practice touches everything from socks featuring Marvel characters to Carrie Underwood’s CALIA athleisure line at Dick’s Sporting Goods.
15 Licensing Super Trends to Guide Your Strategic Thinking
August 11, 2015: Trends in the licensing business come and go, from hot property sectors that burn brightly before cooling off, to emerging product categories that are embraced by licensors but mature quickly, to retail and etail channels that offer bright possibilities until licensors and licensees turn to the next big thing.
So how do you plan a licensing program that will thrive in a changing marketplace and outlast the inevitable ups and downs? One way is to identify the fundamental and long-lasting “super trends” that will provide a blueprint for building and expanding your licensing strategy.
According to RaugustReports Presents: 15 Licensing Super Trends for 2015 and Beyond, the following are critical currents that will shape strategic decision-making in the licensing business in the coming months and years:
- Ever-changing technology. Do you need to be an early adopter or can you wait?
- Need for speed. How do you meet fickle demand now while maintaining a long-term outlook?
- Function first. When does a functional attribute differentiate and when is it just window dressing?
- Fan engagement. How do you let fans participate and create while protecting your trademarks and brand image?
- Storytelling. What is the narrative that will hook customers and keep them coming back?
- Doing good. How can you win jaded consumers’ hearts by effecting a positive impact on society?
- Power of two. Can two parties with complementary goals add value for each other, and for consumers?
- Artistic flair. Can you forge something fresh, new, and desirable by hooking onto an artist’s distinctive style?
- Celebrity. How can you capitalize on celebrities’ rising consumer influence without too much controversy or compromise?
- Changing Business Models. Are there better ways than the traditional licensee-licensor relationship to meet your goals?
- Retail niches. Where are the untapped slices of the retail and etail landscape?
- Testing. How can you make a splash while reining in risk?
- Branding. How can traditional branding techniques enhance your efforts, even in this era of “short-term” and “limited-edition”?
- No more middle. Are you niche or are you mass?
- Evolution, not revolution. How can you add a new twist without straying too far from what you are?
Four Up-and-Coming Categories for Licensing
July 9, 2015: The licensing business in the U.S.—and, increasingly, globally—is a mature, slow-growth market. But there are pockets within the consumer products landscape that are relatively untapped for licensing, and therefore offer opportunities for celebrities, fashion designers, artists, and owners of characters, corporate brands, and other property types.
For example, here are four categories that are starting to attract interest from licensors:
- Brain-training products such as puzzles and games to keep the mind alert and focused.
- Prepared meals (diet and otherwise) for home delivery.
- Smartphones and other handheld devices (as opposed to mobile accessories, which have long been a hotbed for licensing).
- Coloring books, particularly augmented-reality titles for kids and sophisticated versions for adults.
Five Observations from Licensing Expo
June 17, 2015: Some of the key trends noted at last week’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas:
- Streaming, without other entertainment support, has become a viable platform for licensing celebrities and entertainment.
- Properties from all over the world, even less developed territories, have a greater chance than ever to cross into the still-challenging U.S. market.
- Fashion collaborations continue to be an essential component of character licensing programs, especially for classics.
- Licensing is more often being used as a brand-extension tool for corporate trademarks with a very specific focus, such as Eggland’s Best into egg-related foods or Bissell further into the deep-cleaning category.
- Sports properties apart from the major leagues—e.g., individual athletes (or groups of athletes) and global soccer clubs—are increasingly attractive to licensees.
Expanding the Celebrity-Licensing Sphere
June 1, 2015: The celebrity-licensing world—already crowded with actors, musicians, athletes, reality stars, designers, stylists, and more—continues to expand, with licensees and retailers casting a wider net to find personalities from untapped realms.
Some of the new or emerging sectors that have inspired licensing deals, mostly within the last year or so, include florists, editors, burlesque dancers, entrepreneurs, sports analysts, even professional cosplayers.
At the same time, it is becoming difficult to pigeonhole celebrities into one area of expertise in many cases, with so many furthering their fame through a variety of creative and business initiatives. This sort of multi-hyphenate positioning—where fame comes from many avenues—is becoming more common in the worlds of celebrity and licensing, as is the search for uniquely positioned stars such as those listed above.
A Marriage of Product and Content
May 4, 2015: Several ventures launched within the past year are testing the potential of licensing to tie together content and merchandise in the hopes of spurring more sales of both.
Property owners from all areas of the licensing world, including publishers (Johnson Publishing with Ebony and Jet), musicians (Shakira and Garth Brooks), entertainment companies (Mattel and its HIT Entertainment arm), and sports leagues (NBA) are among those participating in such initiatives. Each varies in its specifics, but all allow consumers to purchase licensed products, content, and other items, such as concert tickets, at a single destination.
Together, these ventures signal an increase in experimentation when it comes to integrating licensed merchandise with the content on which it is based.
Licensing: Speed Versus Longevity
April 19, 2015: Technology has, not surprisingly, caused the pace of consumer products licensing to speed up over the past few years.
On the demand side of the equation, the ubiquity of social media, not to mention its viral nature, is helping licensed properties rise and fall faster than in the past. And changing entertainment-distribution models have resulted in a transition from traditional appointment viewing to binge-watching. Both trends have contributed to a shorter lifespan for many licenses.
On the supply side, improvements in manufacturing have compressed the time it takes to develop, manufacture, and ship products. Examples include the mainstreaming of print-on-demand technologies and the increased viability of “made in America” manufacturing strategies. Such developments have helped licensors and licensees get products into consumers’ hands shortly after their thirst for merchandise becomes evident.
The combination of fast-fluctuating demand and fast-paced production creates challenges for licensing executives, however. Notably, it is ever more difficult for members of the licensing community to meet their goal of maintaining a property’s longevity while also ensuring that their sometimes-fickle fans have the products they want, as soon as they want them.
Beyond Fitness Bands
April 3, 2015: Much of the initial interest in the wearable-technology category, when it comes to licensing, has been focused on fitness bands. But smart watches and smart accessories (e.g., smart bands and smart bracelets) have caught up quickly as an area of activity, with most of the licensing deals to date involving fashion licensors and licensees. These design partnerships signal a shift in marketing for the category, with style taking precedence over tech-related bells and whistles.
The focus on fashion licensing makes sense, since the addition of a property or brand with strong design associations helps marketers overcome a common critique: that smart watches are clunky and unattractive, no matter how desirable their functionality. The presence of respected designers may help legitimize the category as a whole.
The Rise of Social Shopping
March 24, 2015: Licensors such as Sophie Simmons and NFL Players Inc. and licensees such as HarperCollins and Roots are starting to experiment with social commerce. This fusing of online shopping and social media presents a new opportunity for merchandise sales.