NEW YORK, NY; May 26, 2018—In the end, it’s all about boxes, isn’t it?
Amazon was, is, and will remain The Topic for licensors, manufacturers, retailers, consultants, agents, and anyone else involved in the business of licensing. And what is Amazon about if not boxes?
The headline out of Licensing Expo in Las Vegas this month had to do with Merch Collab, the online retail behemoth’s new program offering design and manufacturing/sourcing expertise for fast-to-market licensed merchandise to be sold on its eponymous website.
But as much as has been written about Amazon’s impact on retailing, that impact can’t be overestimated. Whether Epic Rights’s Dell Furano holding forth on the shift of music and celebrity t-shirt and jersey sales from venues to physical retail to online or Cartoon Network’s Pete Yoder enthusing about the technology behind Amazon Go, the company’s prototype supermarket (and likely all-merchandise) store of the future, to cite but two conversations during Expo, any conversation about retail inevitably turned to Amazon.
A part of that discussion that tends to be underrepresented, however, concerns Amazon’s various experiments with physical retail. Just as many “digital-only” magazines discovered the need to develop physical magazines because that’s what advertisers demanded, so, too, Amazon clearly recognizes that physical retail isn’t going to disappear.
My friend Marty Porter, executive director of the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA), and author of the Record Plant Diaries, calls this phenomenon “physigital,” and predicts that physical media will cater to the luxury segment of the market while digital will be for the masses. Amazon understands and lives that concept instinctively.
That’s one type of box. In my idiosyncratic take on what was fun and interesting at Licensing Expo, though, there’s another:
Cross Bratz with Shopkins, mix in the unboxing craze, add steroids, and you have Boxy Girls, which debuted exclusively at Walmart via Jay@Play the week of this year’s Licensing Expo. The child gets the doll in a box that has additional little boxes with clothes, accessories, makeup and other items. There are add-on boxes with multiple surprise boxes, boxes with two limited edition dolls plus little boxes, and so on. This is completely of-the-moment. Jay@Play is represented by Cynthia Hall Domine’s licensing agency, Synchronicity.
Cartoon Network (CN) has worked with subscription box licensees Loot Crate and Box Blvd., notes CN’s Pete Yoder, who sees boxes as viable long term rather than a fad, particularly as the ratio of consumables is increased in the mix.
In a larger context, boxes (and unboxing) are part of the trend toward licensing experiences rather than products. CN has been upping the number of live and touring shows it does, says Yoder, especially in Latin America and EMEA. CN launches its first cruise ship in 2019 — cruises have become a staple for Disney — and the network has its CN-themed Six Flags amusement park in China. In the U.S., Adult Swim’s Rickmobile started touring the country last summer; now there’s an Adult Swim music and comedy festival scheduled for Los Angeles this October and featuring Run the Jewels, among other acts.
BuzzFeed had one of the more curious booths — certainly for those of us who aren’t regular BuzzFeed addicts (that includes me). Visitors toured its big red box of a booth, with only the name out front by entering a series of doors that led to rooms that had displays and might also be housing BuzzFeed execs for meetings in action.
There wasn’t much to fill you in on exactly what the rooms represented (I went through three times at different points in the show, uniformly hearing people mystified and curious) until you read the thick newspaper-like handout that explained the rooms were themed to popular BuzzFeed channels — in particular the foodie Tasty brand room, which had a display of kitchen utensils and a chef preparing pancakes and other goodies. Turns out the line of Tasty-branded utensils are also a Walmart exclusive.
Shout out to BuzzFeed for the best swag of the show: When you got to the end of your self-guided tour there were bags on pegs and shelves from which to select whatever items you wanted — multi-colored measuring cups and whisks, cosmetics cases (or maybe they were pencil cases?), glass water bottles, miniature yo-yos…Eric Karp is heading up the licensing effort.
And moving beyond boxes. Way beyond boxes:
The dinosaur roaming the show entrance near the Universal booth and scaring the bejesus out of unsuspecting passersby was presumably promoting the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom movie opening June 22. I say presumably because no one was indicating what he was about, despite a handler upfront in dinosaur-wrastling get-up and a handler in the back keeping people away from the giant tail. The guy inside this costume wielded it phenomenally well.
Lenovo’s Jedi Challenges, available since late last year but offering demos at the show to attract other properties is the first augmented reality game I’ve seen that defined the genre for me: Put on the goggles, extend your lightsaber and you’re jousting lightsaber to lightsaber with a Jedi. Or in local mode, with another player. Asked whether the Star Wars relationship with Disney bodes well for Marvel and other Disney franchises down the road, a spokesperson suggested that “it’s easy to imagine” such a scenario but for now they are “concentrating on Star Wars.” That said, more software is needed to justify the expense of the $199 headset, but the play value is pretty incredible.
Walking malls in recent months conducting licensing tours, I’ve been struck by the variations on the classic photo booth — booths that upload to Instagram, selfie booths (contradiction in terms, no?), booths that feature licensed properties. At the show, Sony Pictures had an interesting iteration with a screen featuring characters from its upcoming Hotel Transylvania 3, opening July 18. Facing it, when you moved, the character mirrored your moves. Your image appeared in the corner near the movie character. More traditional: When Grumpy Cat wasn’t available in person for a photo, you could step in an old-fashioned photo booth and pose next to a preprogrammed Grumpy Cat.
On the promotional side — and what is Licensing Expo if not a promotional event? — kudos to WWE and, especially Sesame Street (see photo up top for your humbled blogger and friends), for the photo ops in the show’s registration area. Great way to talk into a show.
The booth garnering the most speculation was perhaps that of Jonathan and Drew Scott, known for their HGTV Property Brothers home-fixer-upper TV show. The booth referenced Property Brothers but the license being offered was Scott Brothers.
I assume Property Brothers is owned by the network and that the Scotts want to control their own licensing. (That’s akin, so to speak, to the situation many chefs featured on, say, Food Network, find themselves in: Network owns the show and controls licensing rights, but savvy chefs have retained the rights to their individual names.) The Scotts’ booth — a large, multi-tiered, beautifully outfitted affair — was packed when the brothers were on hand, and not very populated the rest of the time, save for a few staffers.
Licensing Expo is not just about entertainment, though it can feel that way. There are heritage brands, literary properties and artists along with fashion labels, sports properties, and others. Among the heritage brands new to the show this year were two fourth generation members of the family that founded Capezio, the classic dance apparel and footwear brand. While the brand was once licensed to a wider audience, it has in recent years been more limited to the dance community. Reimagining the brand through licensing is the plan.
The Licensing University program sponsored by LIMA orients hundreds of newcomers to understanding the benefits of licensing, the structure of the business, the trendlines and more.
I had the honor once again of leading the opening “Basics of Licensing” panel with “godfather of licensing” Gary Caplan, of Gary Caplan Inc., and Hallmark’s Katy Briggs. Thanks to you both, and to LIMA’s Marty Brochstein for inviting all three of us to participate.
Finally, at the airport leaving Las Vegas, there was a great pop-up booth dedicated to local hockey team the Vegas Golden Knights, who made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Sporting goods stores in Fashion Show mall were also festooned with Knights merch, but the pop-up was a great unintentional last impression of the show!
Looking for a licensing assessment to assist with strategy and new business development? I’ll help you identify the white space for your licensing program through competitive analysis. Visit www.iramayer.com for details.
BROOKLYN, NY: February 23, 2018—An idiosyncratic distillation of New York Toy Fair this week.
Is Rubik’s the Toy World’s Betty Boop? Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop first appeared as a cartoon character in 1930. She has since been successfully licensed for thousands of products. Even young people who don’t recognize the name know the image. And as you travel, you’ll find Betty in store windows around the globe as a come-on, even when the stores barely carry any Betty merchandise.
I was reminded of Betty at Toy Fair seeing the number of booths with a Rubik’s Cube at the sign-in desk. It only really sunk in my second day, so I can’t tell you if they were all licensees, or distributors, or putting it out there to amuse visitors while they wait for their appointments, or legitimate knock-offs (patents have expired, though trademarks are still in effect for the word Rubik and Rubik’s).
Bricks, Briks, and Pix. If you start your annual tour of Toy Fair as I do downstairs at the Javits Center in Manhattan, where the newer, smaller, scrappier companies tend to be, and head north from the southernmost aisle, one of the first booths you would have seen this year is Rubik’s Briks, from Strictly Briks, which are compatible with other brick sets such as LEGO’s.
Speaking of compatibility with the Danish company’s toy blocks, that’s been a theme for years now, with plenty of toy companies riding LEGO’s coattails into construction set glory. The above video of a replica of Coney Island’s Cyclone roller coaster illustrates a personal favorite among the relative newcomers to what I term construction brick interoperability — whatever the brand, they’ve all got to work together. As for the Cyclone, I live in Brooklyn, NY after all, just a few miles from the real thing. The set is manufactured by CDX (CoasterDynamix) and has been out since mid-2017.
Non-tech Toys With Tech-ish Names. Another variant on interoperability with LEGO is Pix Brix, which offers “pixel art” by way of mini-bricks (also compatible). That plays into yet another theme: companies with traditional (read that non-electronic/non-digital) toys trying to imbue those toys with a hint of interactivity by borrowing tech-ish descriptors — for example, “pixel” art, or their tag line, “What will you pixelate?” Similarly, Charles Zadeh’s booth featured art kits urging kids to “Explore your inner selfie” while puzzle-maker 4D Cityscape Time Puzzle, which makes upscale 3D puzzle (not sure what the 4th dimension is here), incorporating 4D into its name. That company has about eight Game of Thrones titles, just signed Harry Potter and has 6-8 Potter puzzles forthcoming. Nothing tech about these.
From Tech-ish to Tech — And Every Gradation In Between. My bad for not being aware of the term “mixed reality” until the show, certainly not in the context of toys. But there it was on signage touting MergeVR’s Merge 6DoF Blaster, one of at least half a dozen devices at different booths integrating a smartphone as its screen.
Thank you Wikipedia for the formal definition: “Mixed reality (MR), sometimes referred to as hybrid reality, is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.” Move in a real space and you move similarly in the parallel universe of the imaginary space on the screen.
Variations On Classic Themes. Slime is back. A generational fad if ever there was one (comes back about every 17 years). When Cra-Z-Art saw sales of its glue soaring as children used it with other ingredients to make slime, the company licensed the Nickelodeon name and produced a now best-selling slime-making kit. Meanwhile, Keycraft Global’s variant comes in Goobands (remember SillyBandz?), and Steven Spangler has DIY slime science kits. That’s just three of many slimey products. . . .Twee (funny name for a company, but hey) offers gorgeous sidewalk chalk that comes in the shapes/images of sushi, glittery donuts, and more. . . .Bobble Head banks from Tin Box Company featuring DC, Star Wars and other licenses. . . .My Arcade’s miniature arcade replica games licensed from Bandai Namco and Data East.
Hot Brands. Rick & Morty. Game of Thrones. Minecraft. I keep hearing that Paw Patrol is falling off, but it’s still omni-present. Ditto for Star Wars, but more on that in an upcoming post. Coming on strong: Bendy and the Ink Machine. I didn’t know, either, folks; year-old horror videogame from TheMeatly Games. Runs on multiple platforms. Watch it (the brand), but don’t wait too long to sign on.
Off-the-Beaten Path Licensed Brands. Bachman Trains with Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus (now certainly a nostalgia brand; how long can it be maintained? Will Feld revive the brand in a new context?) and Norman Rockwell. . . .American Chess picking up Bobby Fischer. . . .Kitchen/home graphic designer and children’s book illustrator Mary Engelbreit will have her own Looney Labs card games later this year.
Collectables. Imperial Toys’ collectable food trucks, coming out fall. Imperial is known for bubbles — and they have a new variant on the flavored bubbles they first introduced a year ago, to be known as Lick-A-Bubble going forward (1.6 million views of the ad on Youtube since mid-January). But food trucks are definitely trending, and for a company as non-trend-rooted as Imperial to come up with nice designs, with side hoods that go up to reveal the kitchens plus movable roofs, this is a nice surprise. The preliminary packaging says 5+ but I see this as a 20-something office fad. Toys aren’t just for kids, you know.
On that note: There has long been a market for upscale collectables for adults, but credit Funko for expanding the category and giving it legs.
New, Neat & With Licensing Potential. Stroller Costumes to entice kids to get in. “Inspired by my son, who refused to get in the stroller. I designed one that looked like a truck. Problem solved,” says inventor/dad-preneur Moses Atkins. Definite potential for licensing. He found interest among licensors, retailers, and manufacturers.
Sago’s Pillow Playsets, which are beautifully detailed with sewn pockets, curtains, and other features. Retailing at $49.95, for upscale toy/gift boutiques and, again, potential for licensed versions. Toronto-based Sago, by the way, launched five years ago offering wordless apps for kids that have now been downloaded 27 million times and subsequently became an activity toy company.
Roooz Planet is a book with an exceptional array of characters its author/illustrator Rooz Mousaur sees delivering environmental messages.
Glove-A-Bubbles makes an oversized glove that has a pouch for bubble mix and different size holes above the fingers. Empty the bubbles into a dish, dip the upper part of the glove in, and wave your hand to generate multiple sized bubbles. The original art isn’t that interesting, but the concept could definitely work for licensed characters.
Other Views. Writer/consultant/photographer Karen Raugust kicks off her Toy Fair coverage with a look at the role social media influencers such as toy testers, mommy bloggers, comedians, singers and pranksters are playing in the toy industry. LIMA’s Inside Licensing goes behind the press releases, including commentary on poop toys and games, and collectables. The Wall Street Journal explores the toy industry’s efforts to match fast fashion’s speed to market.
Looking for an independent analysis of your existing or potential licensing program? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BROOKLYN, NY; February 11, 2018—One of the best inadvertent case studies of a licensing program I can recall ostensibly centers on the imminent Broadway opening of Jimmy Buffett’s musical “Escape to Margaritaville.” But the guts of the piece are about “the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub:” how Buffett the millionaire maintains the “authenticity” of his heavily licensed laid back lifestyle brand.
“This is America, and poor-quality licensed products are our birthright,” writes Taffy Brodesser-Akner in the Sunday New York Times.
“But Mr. Buffett won’t give you that. . . . He protects your experience of the lifestyle he sells in a way that someone living that lifestyle should be incapable of. . . .This is no longer a business. This is a cause.”
When did that metamorphosis occur for the ’70s singer/songwriter/leader of the Parrotheads? “Probably it was around the first time he put the Margaritaville name on a salt shaker-shaped pool raft labeled ‘Lost Shaker of Salt.’ Or went all-in on a brand partnership to sell a $499.99 Tahiti™ Frozen Concoction Maker®. Or when he signed off on the emblazonment of ‘I’m the Woman to Blame’ across a Tervis tumbler.”
There’s much more, from why he took over his own licensing (“because he could do it better than the people who were ripping him off with concert T-shirts that spelled his name as Buffet.”), and myriad ways “he could make sure that even when he left town [after a concert his fans] could still have the island getaway they so longed for.”
A must read.
Attending Toy Fair? Karen Raugust and I will be addressing the question, “Are You Ready For Licensing?” Sunday February 18, 3:30-4:30 p.m. as part of the Toy Association’s Licensing Content Connection seminars (free to registrants). Hope to see you there, or contact me at email@example.com to meet at another time.
ACROSS THE UNITED STATES; July 17, 2017—Rarely do you literally drive head-on into the challenges and opportunities of licensing as my wife Riva and I did this summer.
The property: National Geographic, founded in 1888.
Tracing the route: Start with an elaborate, beautifully orchestrated presentation at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, an early stop on what turned into a 9-week cross-country road trip visiting primarily national parks and forests.
Add 45-minutes the next morning with a bleary-eyed but no less enthusiastic and articulate Rosa Zeegers, who I first met during her 12+ years in licensing and business development at Mattel, and who is now EVP Consumer Products & Experiences at National Geographic Partners, the for-profit spinoff of the National Geographic Society that was formed two years ago by 21st Century Fox (which owns 73% of NG Partners) and the Society. A percentage of all profits from the operation benefits the Society.
But our paths didn’t stop crossing in Las Vegas, and it was those additional crossings that drove home, so to speak, so much of what was presented at the summit and that Zeegers and I discussed.
The talk of Yosemite National Park, where we happened to be on June 3rd, was how rock climber Alex Honnold scaled the 3,000-foot El Capitan without ropes in a record three hours and 56 minutes that morning. Who documented the event? National Geographic.
Heading north to Redwood National and State Parks, who had documented the height of the tallest Sequoia sempervirens — better known as a California redwood about 10 years ago? National Geographic.
Who publishes the detailed trail map to Olympic National Park (among many others) that our rock-climbing son-in-law lent us? National Geographic.
Throughout our trip, which covered about 10 parks and forests in the U.S. and more in Canada, references to National Geographic cropped up repeatedly. And therein both the challenges and opportunities.
Name and logo recognition? Check.
Your grandparents’ magazine? Check.
Dusty stack of old National Geographics in the basement or attic? Check.
You get the idea.
At its Vegas presentation, which served as a summit for existing licensees but also included select potential licensees the company was hoping to impress and bring into the fold, the emphasis was on National Geographic’s efforts to attract millennials. Touting its status as a No. 1 social media brand (the No. 1 title seeming a bit fabricated, based on “the number of social actions” such as likes, shares, comments, and retweets over a three-month period in 2015, as measured by Shareablee), spotlights the divide between the substantially older group that follows the classic print magazine and books, and the younger audience for the TV and online offerings. Theme-based issues of the magazine such as those on gender, or on Mars, have skewed younger than the traditional audience, and more of these are on the boards.
But bridging that gap is the challenge that hangs over all future opportunities — opportunites that are varied, numerous, and not limited to licensing.
For example, Zeegers says the company is “moving up [the] vertical integration” ladder, having recently purchased Global Adrenaline, a tour operator it had worked with on a licensing basis in the past “so we earn more than a royalty.” National Geographic has 16 partners in the travel segment, as well as lodges. That travel group represents an effort that was started 17 years ago and which has shown 20% annual growth over that period. Up next for travel: Adding river cruises.
The company plans on “building a kids franchise” with various potential spinoffs. “Millennial parents want kids to play with toys that add substance, that pull them away from the tablet and educate — but are still fun,” says Zeegers.
Focus will also fall on National Geographic Live, e-commerce, books, and, of course, licensing, among other areas under Zeegers’s purview. Outdoor fashion and footwear, she suggests, are organic brand extensions which Zeegers sees as an opportunity “for a retailer to grow together with us.”
The timeline for new licensing agreements? Two years, with a two year option, and assuming a year for negotiating and product development. “What’s five years in 129?” Zeegers asks with a smile.
The franchise she is looking to drive in new directions, to younger audiences, is living history. After 12,124 miles I can vouch first hand.
P.S. The photos accompanying this story are Riva’s and mine, not National Geographic’s; the video link is theirs!
Looking to understand the marketplace as you extend your brand or product line through consumer products licensing? Contact me for competitive research at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NEW YORK, NY; MAY 20, 2017—It’s not the carefully worded polished press releases or the beautifully choreographed licensee summits that generate the “news” of Licensing Expo. It’s in how the companies behind those releases and events complement, contrast and compete with each other that the trendlines can be discerned.
Here’s what to look for behind the booths and between the aisles at this year’s Expo in Las Vegas May 22 (when Licensing University and the summits commence) and May 23-25 (the formal show):
- Digital Properties. Add BuzzFeed, AirBnB and others to the digital celebrities we’ve seen in prior years.
- Speed to Market. The digital environment has made “I want it yesterday” reality.
- International box office. Studios forecast the geographic breakdown of licensed merchandise sales globally based on box office trends. Well, folks, box office outside the U.S. is now often two-thirds of the total. Where would you place your bets?
- Made local. Not just Brooklyn or USA — but local pride is a point of differentiation for all manner of properties and goods.
- Retail consolidation. Store closings isn’t where the story is. It’s the transformation of mall spaces into entertainment environments, the on-going quest for seamless integration of online and offline shopping, and the need to turn the shopping experience (again, online or off) and the products themselves into “experiences.”
- Competing with licensees. Another aspect of the retail story — licensees and licensors are going head-to-head with the retailers they once feared competing against.
- Online/mobile shopping. Corollary to Nos. 5 and 6. Sports — specifically Fanatics — is paving way for other property types. And while Fanatics started as the online seller for most leagues and teams, it’s opening physical locations as well. Outside sports: Keep an eye on what Amazon is up to in bricks and mortar, localizing product selection and rewarding its best customers.
- New wave of anime. More coming on the globalization front.
- Public properties — mass transit following NYPD. This is different than non-profit licensing. It’s working in Australia, the UK, and more.
- Experiences/Services are on the rise. Online “clubs,” touring shows and museum-like exhibitions, hotels. If you can “experience-ilize” it, you’ve got a selling point to test.
- This term has shifted from serious upscale limited editions to mass toys. Are trading cards ready for a comeback?
- Subscription boxes. This is a fad that will play out. It won’t disappear, but there’s a reason book clubs and record clubs went the way of the dinosaur.
If you’re at the show and would like to meet up, contact me at email@example.com. I’m also moderating the Licensing University session, “The Basics of Licensing,” featuring manufacturers consultant Gary Caplan (Gary Caplan Inc.), and licensing agents James Slifer (The Joester-Loria Group) and Joanne Olds (The Buffalo Works, specializing in representing artists). Here’s a preview of the session, which takes place Monday May 22, 9-11:15 a.m.
“People are hungry for the instant gratification of buying the products they see online,” Chu said as part of an International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA) webinar today, “The Ins and Outs of Licensing For The Home.” Also speaking were Ilana Wilensky of Jewel Branding & Licensing, an agency, and Greg Wyman, founder and president of The Wyman Group; Wyman initiated the B. Smith with Style brand and today manages (along with Jewel) the Poetic Wanderlust brand designed by Tracy Porter.
Tips from the session:
- The importance of photography to online sales can’t be underestimated, noted Wyman. “Subtlety doesn’t work online,” added Chu.
- Product photos should feature related items, both to put the spotlighted item in context and to introduce the buyer to accessories that will work with it. “The background [goods] aren’t just props,” said Wyman.
- Funnel all products through a brand page, advised Wilensky, as Wayfair and Bed Bath & Beyond do for the Nikki Chu Home brand. That way the consumer doesn’t have to hunt through pages to find each item.
- Fashion brands do not automatically translate to home, according to Wilensky. Similarly, said Wyman, “a celebrity in some other area does not mean you’ll be absorbed into the home world.” Whatever the origin of the IP, all agreed, the brand “has to have significant reason to be in the home.”
- Unlike fashion, the home market introduces new goods twice a year, noted Chu. This compares to the average 4-5 seasons annually for apparel—not to mention the even greater frequency for fast fashion.
- “If I design a rug,” said Chu, “it takes 4-5 months before I see the first prototype. By the time a product comes in that may be your only shot to get it into the store. [That requires a high degree of] accuracy from the designer for the first go-round because you may not have a second opportunity.”
- Bedding & furniture are the anchors for entering the home market, per Wilensky. “Start with one of those and expand from there. That drives the aesthetic from which you can build the whole collection.”
- “The more licenses you obtain the more difficult it is to maintain a through-line aesthetic across categories,” said Chu. “You want to maintain the integrity of the line but you also have to be able to work with your manufacturers’ design teams so they can get out of the program what they need as well.” Different manufacturers, she added, have different needs that won’t always mesh with the intended look/feel.
- Manufacturers once drove the “aesthetic,” but “today the market demands that the licensor control the look. The licensor needs to initiate ideas,” said Wyman. Today, the involvement of licensor with licensee “is not just for approvals,” adding that the retailer is no longer a third party. “The licensor has to drive the brand with the retailer,” concurred Wilensky.
- Neither manufacturers nor retailers will take designers on unless they have a strong identity – patterns, color combinations, look. “Then you become valuable to manufacturers,” said Chu. “Otherwise they can do it themselves.”
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