NEW YORK, NY; February 26, 2020—Characters (and logos) trending up: Harry Potter and Frozen II are still everywhere. Don’t underestimate the staying power of NASA for kids, especially with the namesake organization increasingly active once again. And EVERYONE wants Pink Fong’s Baby Shark license for something. (So maybe there’s another season in Baby Shark, but will that really have long-term staying power? Remains to be seen.)
Smart product: Crayola’s Dry Erase Wall Paint — a clear coating that’s painted on and turns any wall into a dry erase board. (Pictured: Crayola’s Warren Schorr and Licensing International’s Sharon Weisman.)
STEM/STEAM is more integrated throughout the show as virtually all traditional toy companies get involved.
Tiny “collectibles” (the offspring of Shopkins and Polly Pocket) are trending toward smaller groups — six or eight rather than dozens and then more dozens.
Tangle Pets, Ztringz, and other stress relievers are vying to take back the shelf space that went to fidget spinners and shaped rubber bands a couple of seasons ago.
Scratch-off comes to toys: A few weeks ago I wrote about scratch-off greeting cards; now 4DPuzz introduces NYC, London, Paris and world map scratch-off jigsaw puzzles that reveal skylines and other landmarks. The company is primarily known for its beautifully elaborate 3D Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and other licensed puzzles. (The scratch-offs are not on their website as I write.)
Like Harry and Frozen, kid “influencers” (I can’t say it without the quotation marks) are everywhere: 8-year-old Ryan Kaji/Ryan’s World Youtube channel, with almost 24 million subscribers; 10-year-old gymnast/martial arts video star Payton Delu Myler, with 23 million Instagram followers; and Blippi, a preschool Youtube edu-tainment property created by adult Stevin John with toys coming from Jazwares.
Conversation/get-to-know-you card games are taking on renewed life even as board games continue to resonate for Gen Z’ers, Millennials and others. (Pictured: Yours truly with a Settlers of Catan sheep. Not live. The sheep, that is.)
Sometimes what’s missing is just as telling: Far fewer upstarts showing robot and other electronic building sets than the last two years.
If ever there were a Toy Fair that spoke licensing — it was almost as though if you didn’t have a license (or weren’t trying to license your own property), you were just background noise. I’m not suggesting that’s good. I’m just reporting the impression walking the aisles for a day. And yet…
Quote of the show: “Licensing is great, but it doesn’t work across the board.” Ryan Fens, M&M Sales Enterprises, manufacturer of swings and other outdoor products with licenses for Sesame Street, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, John Deere. Hoping to get the Baby Shark license and add a sound box to play the song while the child swings. (Says I, that sound box would be special to make the parents crazy!)
On the surface, embedding 750 sq. foot Disney Stores in 25 Target stores starting next month, with another 40 planned a year from now, is a win-win: It’s a great differentiator for Target, gives Disney properties further exposure, and guarantees additional distribution for some licensees’ and Disney Store-exclusive merchandise.
• To what extent will Target’s Disney shops siphon business from mall-based Disney Stores? The Target outlets will have 450 SKUs — 100 of which are exclusive to and available in Disney Stores. Does that mean the other 350 will be available elsewhere anyway? (Stand-alone Disney Stores have long claimed 90% or so of their selections are exclusive, though similar items are often available elsewhere.)
• Will Target customers in areas where there aren’t embedded Disney Stores feel unloved? Is there room to roll out the concept to Target’s 1800+ stores in North America?
• Is there a saturation point for Mickey/Star Wars/Marvel/Princesses/etc.? Is the consumer complaining that those properties aren’t ubiquitous enough?
• The release says Target will manage these store-in-stores. To what extent will the mass retailer be forced to showcase whatever Disney wants to promote — regardless of how well it does? If a movie is a clunker, can Target yank that merchandise out of its Disney Stores the way it does when such a property is displayed in the regular assortment? (Who needs who here? Technically, the answer is no doubt “Yes.” But the reality is it’s a business of relationships, and will Target want to risk displeasing Disney?)
• What impact will this deal have on Disney licensees’ relationships with other retailers — Walmart in particular? Will Walmart stop selling/reduce the amount of licensed Disney merchandise it stocks in stores where there’s a Target-Disney nearby? Or is Disney so critical at this point that it doesn’t matter (that could well be the case).
Let’s not forget Disney overbuilt its Disney Stores, sold them, then bought back the scaled down version. The Warner Bros. stores went through a similar experience, albeit without the range of properties Disney has amassed: Initial exclusivity at a very limited number of flagship Warner Bros. stores brought great results, so they overbuilt, overexposed the merchandise, and lost the cache. Warner, however, never got back into its own retail operation.
Walt Disney the man was a consummate marketer. He rotated his animated films out of circulation for seven year periods, waiting for a fresh audience before re-releasing them. That continued through the early years of home video, when Disney put its videos “in the vault” and then re-released with fanfare. (Now they remake them and/or add new titles to the “franchises.”) Even individual characters were promoted and would then take a back seat for a number of years. Mickey never disappeared, but he wasn’t always the focus of Disney marketing efforts. Some years it’s Minnie. Or Donald. Or even Goofy!
Today, the theory seems to be everything out there all the time: As many new movies as they can crank out for each “franchise” to bring home the box office and merchandising magic of quarterly growth for The Street.
Is there no rest for the consumer?
NEW YORK, NY; FEBRUARY 18, 2019—If it’s all about the elevator pitch, these three new products from three first-time exhibitors explain themselves instantly. As do licensed applications. All exemplify classic play value, each with a neat twist. Check them out in person before you leave Toy Fair, or online.
#1. The Door Fort, from Cortex Toys (booth #4245). Inventor Jesse Darr loved building forts as a kid — and now that he has his own child, remembers how his parents would be left with putting everything away once he went to bed. The Door Fort is his answer. Hangs on the door. Open the door, fold it out to three dimensions, Velcro to the door post. Voila!
One major license is already in the works. Easy to picture Darr’s generic Princess Castle as, say a Disney Princess castle, no? How about Thomas? Pretty much name your property. Contact: John Cowan, MD, CEO/Founder, Cortex.
#2. Cubcoats (booth #5974). It takes 13 seconds to demonstrate how a plush character pillow transforms into a machine-washable fleece hoodie — and back again (OK, back takes 16 seconds).
In addition to original designs, they have Mickey, Minnie, Minion, Marvel, and Troll versions, and they’ve just signed Nickelodeon. The product was exclusive to Nordstrom for fourth-quarter last year, but is now available for wider retail. This is beautifully executed. Contact: Brydie O’Neill, VP Product Development; Angela Michael, Business Development/Sales.
#3. VertiPlay Marble Run by Oribel (booth #4135). Yes, it’s another marble run, but with a literal twist: Base boards are wall-mounted and tracks posted on the base pieces. It’s even decorative, and the tracks can be moved into different designs. This is so new it’s not on the website yet, but Singapore-based Oribel has offered other vertically-mounted toys for toddlers for several years. This is clearly for older kids in a bedroom or playroom. Contact: Smriti Modi, Growth Hacker (great title!).
NEW YORK, NY: December 19, 2016—I’ve been formally asking marketers about the challenges and opportunities for the year ahead at least since 1988 (before that if you want to limit it to music, home video, and video games). And I’ve been fashioning the responses into an annual (more or less) Fearless Forecast ever since.
Truth is the answers haven’t varied much over the years. For the licensing community in particular, the overriding challenge: Securing the right retailers for new and old licensing programs. The opportunity: Hitching onto the Next Big Thing (challenge: before it’s too late).
The word clouds here sum up this year’s survey responses as well as the longer-term themes, and even give voice to some of the more existential concerns (e.g. “Is licensing still the right nomenclature to describe the business?”)
Not wanting to prejudice responses, I deliberately did not ask about the implications of the U.S. election and growing nationalist sentiment in many parts of the world. Interestingly, no one brought those factors up unaided.
In conversations, however, when asked, it is clear there is concern about potentially stricter trade laws and how they might affect deal-making. Will IP owners and manufacturers hold off on some decisions — especially as they relate to B and C properties — until the dust settles and we have some direction? (Not a new phenomenon, even when there aren’t trade questions on the table.) Will there be greater focus on “made here,” in terms of origination of IP as well as manufacturing, wherever “here” may be?
- Closing licensing deals takes six months at the very short end of the spectrum, with 12-15 months an unscientific median.
- The move to “fast retail” that is spreading beyond apparel, challenging traditional licensing models.
- See #1 and #2 above, and note the inherent conflict.
- Managing expectations. There are very few seven-figure (let alone eight-figure) advances on licensing programs, and with the exception of a handful of high-profile entertainment and sports properties, precious few that will generate retail revenue of $10 million+ annually, certainly not in Year 1 or 2 shy of some major fad that would likely be short-lived. Yet IP owners new to licensing — and sometimes folks experienced in the field — invariably set those goals, only to be disappointed or to fail.
- Figuring out who to push off the shelf in order to get on the shelf. It’s the most elementary question for any new licensing program. Even in the age of “unlimited shelf space” online, the fact is consumers go for the handful of best-sellers. As in traditional brand marketing, it’s the #1 and #2 in a category that account for by far the greatest percent of sales.
Consider: In a pre-Christmas Target tour, looking at licensed properties, close to 10% of the toy section was given over to Star Wars, and just shy of 5% for Marvel. Paw Patrol, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even Shopkins, one of this year’s hottest girls’ offerings, were about 1% each.
- Speed is of the essence. See #1, #2 and #3 above! The winner is he/she who can “turn it around” while the property is still hot — goes for the IP owner AND the manufacturer — and that can keep refreshing the assortment on a 3-6 week cycle rather than quarterly or semi-annually.
- Be realistic. See #4 above. Always best to exceed expectations.
- Giving retail the differentiators it needs. Not just a single “exclusive” SKU, but a program.
Here’s to 2017’s numbers being better than 2016’s. And to your own participation in marketing and licensing being more fun, more productive, and more rewarding in the New Year!
NEW YORK, NY; May 16, 2016—The joy of Surtex, which focuses on art, about half of which is available for licensing, the other half for sale, is its co-location with ICFF, a show for contemporary and avant garde furniture and design, and the National Stationery Show. The three shows crossover with the licensing world on both the design and manufacturing levels, and feature interesting packaging ideas as well. It takes a great deal of walking, but there is a wealth of creativity to be seen and inspiration to be had.
There is also fluidity across the shows in that some exhibitors would be wholly comfortable in different areas — particularly some of the artists found in ICFF and the Stationery Show who might be best served by the Surtex audience of manufacturers and retailers. That’s what makes a 5+ hour walk here fascinating (and I didn’t make it to the downstairs furniture show which in the past has been heavy on upscale living and bedroom offerings, lighting, and the like).
Most interesting finds this year were the first two exhibitors at the far end of the hall on the third level in an area dedicated to emerging designers.
Mike Joyce is an established graphic designer whose Stereotype graphic design agency features a portfolio strong on album art (Katy Perry, Iggy Pop, others) and advertising (Volvo, Visa, etc.).
His “personal project,” Swissted, started in 2012, combines his “love of Swiss graphic design and punk rock by redesigning old” concert posters into International Typographic Style posters. He takes information such as the band lineup, date, venue, and ticket prices from the originals (which he collects) and creates entirely new designs. He sells museum quality prints on 140 lb. cover stock in multiple sizes from $50 (17”x23.75”) to $150 (36”x50.5”) but is looking to “carry it to the next level” and is open to licensing the work.
Next to Joyce is Airplantman Josh Rosen, who creates vertical garden frames and tabletop “vases” — I hesitate to use the word (he calls them vessels) to house airplants.
The plants are dipped in water for a few hours about once a week. Easy to see the frames or vessels licensed by botanical gardens or other nature-oriented or environmental properties, and certainly sold in those venues. The frames, available 11”x11”, 11”x18”, and 24”x18”, are powder coated aluminum with nylon coated stainless steel cable that holds the plants in place. They retail for up to $135.
Other creative executions:
- Cardboard six-pack beer carrier with attached greeting card from Beer Greetings. It’s the beer equivalent of the ever-popular wine bag with card on the carrying handle. In this case the card is the side of the package. Retails for $4.95, which is the same as a mid-range greeting card these days. The company has been selling the item direct for about a year and a half and started wholesaling the line about six months ago.
- Monster Factory has been making licensed Volkswagen children’s play tents for some years (I remember seeing them at Bed Bath & Beyond); now they’ve added a VW van pet carrier, a cooler, picnic blankets, and a pet bowl.
- New coloring books are still pouring forth, despite the fact that the market is reportedly cooling.
Galison, exhibiting in the Chronicle Books booth, has a recently-released Andy Warhol coloring book with the Warhol Velvet Underground album cover banana on the cover (Galison has a range of Warhol items, including soup cans and a coming Time Capsule kit). Paris-based Omy, distributed in the U.S. by Ameico, has pocket maps, postcard books, fanny packs, pencil cases and other items. Hester & Cook has placemats and placecards. Sourcebooks offers calendars, dream books, and such. The list goes on.
- Flash drive manufacturer Mimoco, which specializes in licensed drives, says sales of classic Star Wars models have cooled off, though younger fans are still interested in the newer characters.
If Star Wars, its best seller, indexes at 100, the second best-selling line, Marvel, would index at about 75, a sales rep says. The company has confidence that Star Wars has longevity while it expects the Marvel line to drop off over a five to six year period.
About three and a half hours into walking these shows, I was starting to think there were substantially fewer letterpress companies exhibiting than the last few years, and that Brooklyn had lost its cache. Not at all. Minutes later I made it to a dedicated letterpress area in the stationery show—and within about 10 minutes and two or three aisles had come across I Am Here Brooklyn (jewelry), Boundless Brooklyn (DIY paper sculpture kits of water towers, bridges, etc.), Gold Teeth Brooklyn (greeting cards), Umlaut Brooklyn (cards and wine bags), and the representative from French chocolatier Marie Belle, which has a New York store in Soho, immediately informed me (with no prompting) that they now have a store in Brooklyn, too. Not to mention that many of those letterpress firms are located in Brooklyn even if the company names doesn’t shout it out.
On the packaging front, two exhibitors made great use of cork-stoppered glass vials: Japan’s YHM Jewelry, which also has a Brooklyn store but which mostly sells online, uses glass vials about 6” high that have a little greenery at the bottom and eyehooks in the cork from which are suspended necklaces or earrings. It’s a beautiful presentation (and the much of the jewelry is quite nice and very original). Similarly, the aforementioned I Am Here Brooklyn uses much smaller vials for its hammered metal pendants with an initial on them. Again, makes for a nice display concept.
Unto itself Surtex, which is relatively small, isn’t formally a curated show, but it’s always seemed to attract a high quality of exhibitors. Plenty of seasonal art, children’s, florals; many agents, some of which have a certain consistency of taste across the artists they represent, some of which are totally varied in an effort to have something for every retail need; many new artists each year looking to test the waters. Surtex is as good a barometer of what’s available for licensing for textiles and other goods as you’re going to find. The bonus is that the co-located shows might not be as focused on textile-oriented designs, but are full of licensable ideas — from designs to products to packaging.
The shows opened at the Javits Center here yesterday, and run until 6 p.m. today and until 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Next up: I’ll be at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas June 20 (day before the show opens), 21 and 22. I am available to conduct personal tours of the show based on your needs. Two slots remain. For information about the personal tour, please contact me at email@example.com. I’m also leading a workshop, How to Work With Licensing Agents and Consultants, as part of LIMA’s Licensing University on the 21st. My panelists are an all-star team of Gary Caplan, Gary Caplan Inc.; Carole Postal, CopCorp; and Ilana Wilensky, Jewel Branding. To register for Licensing University, click here.
Will Marvel step up its co-branding? Allow more flexible use of its characters? They already co-brand with Mattel’s Matchbox; will they do the same with Hasbro’s Transformers?
You could argue that Transformers are already their own characters with their own personalities (so to speak). But Hasbro’s Super Hero Mashers line lets kids take Transformers, Marvel, Jurassic World, Star Wars, and other figurines apart to mix and match body parts, outfits, and weapons.
Will other studios allow similar use? Kids always took their toys apart anyway – in this case, is Hasbro just facilitating a play pattern that hasn’t been officially recognized before?