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Friends reunited: Why the hit show continues to charm

Source chats to Warner Bros. Consumer Products and key licensees on the show’s resurgence.

If you’re a licensee looking for the next big adult brand to sign, a 25 year old TV property, with no new programming since 2004, would not likely be top of your list.

But on the face of it, that’s exactly what the Friends property is, and the TV powerhouse has been enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity over the past 12-18 months.

Careful positioning, clever marketing and good old-fashioned values and style have helped Friends reach new fans and retain original ones – the perfect environment for a successful licensing programme.

During its ten years of broadcast, 236 episodes of Friends aired over ten seasons, reaching a viewing audience crescendo of 52.5 million for the finale 15 years ago. The figures more than prove the loyalty of the original viewers.

And now, the US sitcom is available to watch on several channels and networks from home entertainment platforms, right through to the likes of Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and The Comedy Channel. The original popularity is being replicated, and Ofcom’s Media Nations Report in August 2018 showed it to be the most popular series on paid-for streaming services.

Rachel Wakley, general manager, Warner Bros. Consumer Products UK and Eire, explains: “The distribution of content across multiple platforms has extended the reach of Friends.  This provides us with an exciting opportunity to create new and relevant licensed products across all key categories that will engage a whole new generation of fans.”

Mark Tomlin, director of licensing at Somerbond, which offers Friends loungewear, agrees the brand appeals to all ages: “There are no boundaries to our customers these day. From teens to grandparents, our product is age fluid as is the fan base.”

Friends’ sets and storylines offer a strong base for licensed categories. The lifestyle and fashion focus lends itself to home décor, apparel, shoes and accessories; the young, on-trend cast providing inspiration for beauty and perfume; and the infamous Central Perk translating perfectly to food and beverage.

Iconic phrases are used across many of Pyramid's products.
Iconic phrases are used across many of Pyramid's products.

Pyramid International has been a Friends licensee for a number of years and recently expanded its collection with new homewares. The company believes the series has such an iconic coffee house and drinkware opportunity that was a great starting point for a licensed range of stationery and drinkware.
It has grown its offering into a strong range of gifts and everyday products including door mats with iconic phrases… and has just launched a new eco mug with Friends branding.

Gifting products and calendars have always been popular for Friends, but Rachel says the extended categories are now seeing increased popularity. She enthuses: “Friends Monopoly and Friends Trivial Pursuit were big favourites in Q4 last year (2018), and the gifting range continues to perform everywhere from fast fashion retailers through to department stores and supermarkets.”

Rachel continues: “Our newly developed home and apparel ranges have also had great success; by bringing new and innovate artwork, and coupling it with current trends, we have managed to keep the offering relevant.”

Trends aside, Friends is based on lifelong values – friendship, relatability and humour – elements which span generations and cultures. Mark explains how the values of the show resonate with audiences: “It’s a very well-made evergreen show. Quality always stands the test of time. Light, bright, inoffensive humour which allows us to escape the gloomy new headlines.”

Hallmark's range of birthday and open cards launched this month.
Hallmark's range of birthday and open cards launched this month.

Holly Ismail, senior product manager at Hallmark, which offers a range of Friends greetings cards, adds: “The characters are just iconic. For original Friends fans they have become like people we know and their lines have become part of our language and way that we can share a joke with our own friends. Friends is funny, relatable, relevant.”

And there’s more planned for the coming year, as Rachel explains: “2019 is the 25th anniversary of Friends, so you will see a number of new creative options to help support this. We will also continue to work with our broadcast partners to ensure that the content is celebrated across each of their platforms year-long.”

Friendfest

Despite the show ending in 2004, Warner has ensured there is still newness within the franchise, developing a range of fresh touch points focusing on experiential. A strong example of this is Friendfest – an event providing fans with a unique opportunity to be transported to New York and live the Friends experience.

Friendfest toured for the last two summers and is back this year with four dates. The expanded offering this year will give fans the opportunity to drink coffee at Central Perk, sit on Monica’s couch, play football at Joey and Chandler’s, and much more.

Somerbond supplied pyjamas for the initial Friends range at Primark, which were well received on social media and in-store.
Somerbond supplied pyjamas for the initial Friends range at Primark, which were well received on social media and in-store.

Shop til you drop

Warner Bros. Consumer Products has also been working with Primark to offer a range of Friends products including accessories, homeware and clothing priced from £1.50 to £20. Rachel says: “Primark has seen huge success in the UK with its recently launched Friends campaign and this success is being replicated across all their stores globally.”

Hallmark has seen this activity increasing demand in other retailers too, as Holly clarifies: “We’ve had a really good response from retailers so far – particularly with the hype around Friends in retail at the moment.”

And Pyramid is seeing established customers reordering as a result of the increased demand. It has been running the range for a number of years before WB extended the licensing programme, and has had a strong uptake across lots of channels; fashion, indies, grocery and of course, the Friendfest experience. HMV has been a strong supporter with the range year round.

This feature originally appeared in the summer 2019 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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