Sponsorship, Storytelling, and Self-Expression

Two trends have emerged on the emoji-related licensing front. First, IP owners with sponsored emoji sets are starting to launch outbound licensing programs based on their unique designs. Second, emoji-based properties are extending into children’s publishing as they try to build story and characterization to supplement their inherent value as symbols of self-expression.

Sponsored emojis with outbound licensing efforts include Kim Kardashian’s Kimojis, which have appeared on smartphone cases, buttons, stickers, necklaces, caps, socks, and t-shirts, and Pepsimojis, which are featured periodically in the New York retail outlet Story on collections of limited-edition products including fanny packs, iPhone cases, plates, coasters, and cookies, through a variety of partners.

Disney recently launched a matching game app highlighting a set of 400 Disneymojis that would seem to have licensing potential as well, although nothing is on the market yet. The many other properties that have authorized branded emoji sets range from the comic strip Garfield to Olympic athlete Usain Bolt.

Meanwhile, both the Emoji Company and the Smiley Company signed deals for children’s publishing this past summer. The former paired with Penguin Children’s Books’ Price Stern Sloan imprint for storybooks and a sticker book, while the latter signed with Scholastic for sticker and activity books and journals for tweens and teens in the U.K. and Ireland.

Simon & Schuster also jumped into the world of emojis by pairing with Sony’s The Emojimovie, planning ready-to-read storybooks, board books, a junior novelization, and other interactive and story-based formats. The Emojimovie is one of several emoji-based entertainment properties that have been released or are in development. Others include the TV series The Mojicons, licensed by Ink Global, and Emojiville, a series in development from Saban, with Jakks Pacific and Netflix as partners.

Both the licensing of sponsored emojis and the expansion of emoji graphics into kids’ publishing bring value to the respective IP owners by boosting awareness and generating some incremental income. Perhaps more importantly, however, they also help give the licensors a clearer legal footing. In the case of sponsored emojis, the licensors and their licensees can rely on the protection offered by the underlying trademarks, copyrights, and/or publicity rights. And the children’s books and other entertainment ventures help establish the emojis as not just symbols of emotion but as legally protectable characters.

For more on some of the legal nuances associated with the licensing of emoji-related properties, see “Emojis, Licensing, and the Law,” published in RaugustReports on August 29.

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