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What happens in Vegas… goes to market

Licensing International’s Sharon Weisman gives her top ten run down of trends from the show floor.

First and foremost, you can read the Licensing International recap of what went down on the show floor of Licensing Expo 2019 by clicking here.

Then we can sift probe to connect the industry dots based on what we saw at the show.

Here is the top ten Kaleidoscope Vision in case you missed the show this year or took the ‘back-to-back meetings without coming up for air’ route.

1.Who’s in the mood for Asian?

Asian-inspired brands, design and aesthetic everywhere? Hai! From TokiDoki, Toca Boca (Spin Master), Tasty Peach (DBG), Kitty Cones (Striker Entertainment) and more, through to IPs occupying prime real-estate, such as KaKao Friends, TUBA (Wild Flower Group) and LINE Friends.

Mini-Everything? YAAAS. Not only for collectables (gaming IPs have been indulging on this strategy, ‘Slicensing’ categories in order to appeal to different demos and monetise to the max), but also miniature brands by all the toy companies (ZURU, Moose Toys, Hasbro/ WCT, etc.). They are cute, collectable, surprising, glow in the dark… you name it. Appealing mostly to 80’s kids who are now parents (loop-hole for CP brands that are restricted to market directly to children?).

What happens to a licensing agency that buys doors? Ask Global Icons. This ‘agency on steroids’ now offers a strong value proposition for all brands, including major expansion in Asia #FredSegal.

Superdry might be a UK company, but its products combine vintage Americana styling with Japanese-inspired graphics. Licensees were ‘SuperExcited’ to partner with the brand via IMG.

The tie up between LINE Friends and BTS was a big hit on the show floor.
The tie up between LINE Friends and BTS was a big hit on the show floor.

BTS – do I really need to explain? Big Hit Entertainment struck gold and a home run for LINE Friends representing the BT21 characters, designed by the boy band members.

Anime is not niche anymore. Toho, Toei Animation, Crunchy Roll and others are ‘going big or going home’ (and since they aren’t at home…).

Cannabis – Central Asia is believed to be the ancestral homeland of the cannabis plant (I kid you not). Health and wellness gravitating away from Western Meds and towards plants/herbs makes cannabis (emphasis on the CBD due to legal constraints) desirable at retail, and these brands are spreading like peanut butter and jelly. The best event to identify cannabis IP and services ripe for entering the licensing atmosphere would be Aaron Levant’s Hall of Flowers in September.

2. A Store in a Store

The show floor is now reflecting the retail landscape. It used to be relatively easy to merchandise: same as when you would know to go to aisle six for ketchup, you’d have to go down aisle J to see an agent.

With the M&As in motion, attendees can find HBO tables at the WB booth and Paramount corners in the Nickelodeon booth… Same as the WW stores in Kohl’s and Sephora at JC Penny’s.

The bigger licensees and agents are opening their wallets in hopes of buying smaller companies to grow their offering. Concept One bought FUL from Sequential and Danielle Nicole from FAB, Bioworld is on a shopping spree and so many more (that if I tell you about, you will find my body in the bottom of the Hudson river).

3. Still Surprising…

Surprise is still the strategy to hook kids who know it all. The show floor was buzzing about the L.O.L. OMG (MGA), the Lucky Fortune Cookies (WowWee), Zuru and Moose Toys’ mini brand surprise packs, rare collectables and glow in the darks, etc.

4. Co… Collab…Collaborations!

It’s the first time in 12 years that I’ve had meetings with companies which came to Licensing Expo solely seeking collabs… but only collabs… not licensing partnerships.

This is a super important point that should make us think about the expanding purpose of the show/industry, the spectrum of relationships we all should offer and what IP combinations truly win at retail (not serving as marketing social gimmicky strategies).

By now, you may be sick of hearing about my ‘Marriage Vs. Friends with Benefits’ analogies… But licensing/marriage isn’t for everyone anymore and brands have to figure out how to restructure their strategic partnerships in order to keep it fresh and relevant.

Shout out to Segal Licensing for picking up the trend early on, understanding that being a licensing agent doesn’t seem to be enough anymore and planting a seed (pun intended) in the form of a multi-dimensional deal involving Kevin Smith’s movie, a Hot Topic pop-up and an arsenal of products (from Funko dolls to t-shirts). Put your ear to the ground at San Diego Comic-Con.

LicensingU took place on the show floor for the first time.
LicensingU took place on the show floor for the first time.

5. LicensingU was a smashing hit, taking place on the show floor for the first time. No more getting lost in the bowels of the Mandalay Bay (unless you’re going downstairs to visit Disneyland of course).

The 2019 International Licensing Awards had something for everyone.
The 2019 International Licensing Awards had something for everyone.

6. Awards night had something for everyone – new, familiar, fun, sentiments, diversity and excellence. Stay tuned for exciting format changes…

Harry Potter was once again proven by Warner Bros. Consumer Products to truly be a consumer products global sensation that night. Dare I say an evergreen? What’s an evergreen anyway?

7. In my mind, an evergreen is a brand that generations grow up with – it’s been there their entire life and now they can hand it over to their kids. Millennials grew up with Potter and now are parents (I know, scary), reading (watching and buying) to their kids.

Do evergreens have an expiration date? One thing is for sure, every manufacturer which was new to licensing I met at the show this year, made it very clear that the retailers they work with are interested in evergreens only.

8. Trends

Yes, I identified ‘trends’ as a trend. It dawned on me when the ravishing Tamara Dixon from PowerStation Studios said something over lunch on the last day of the show that really made me think: “We tend to try to force products and brands to fit into a trend”.

And indeed, we have fallen into a very dangerous trap. Instead of brands/IPs setting trends and trailblazing, we are trying to wedge consumer products into ‘cool’ trends.

We force our brands/characters into boxes labelled Girl Power, LGBT, Self Care, Asian chic, Geekness, etc. and the adaptation sometimes seems forced and unauthentic. Moreover, the market is saturated with prequels and sequels. Storytelling should be fresh and bold. If done well, it will stick.

Activision Blizzard's Overwatch has major traction at retail.
Activision Blizzard's Overwatch has major traction at retail.

9. eSports

If you can build your eSports IP as a traditional sports model, it may have a loyal following. One thing is for sure, go where the captive engaged audience is >>> Hint: They ain’t wondering around Macy’s @11am.

Per the Licensing International recap, Overwatch has major traction at retail, while other gaming brands are like fireflies – if you can catch them while they are glowing, good for you… if not, another one will come by soon enough, so stay attentive and DTC for goodness sake.

10. Viacom’s Jackpot

The true winner of this round is Viacom. It is doing everything right. Strategically, year after year, its spice and timing are impeccable.

Even if you haven’t attended the show, the Nick Noise hit your eardrum this year. The headlines and amazing deals, such as Pantone Patrick Star Pink and SpongeBob Yellow, the Baby Shark it welcomed into its world, the Blue’s Clues reboot, Pam Kaufman still looking like a goddess while wearing Ninja Turtle slippers in the License Global magazine cover story…

Okay, can it be Brand Licensing Europe already?

Sharon Weisman is vp global business development at Licensing International. She can be contacted on sweisman@licensing.org. She’s also very entertaining on social media, @sharon.weisman.

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