There’s been a paradigm shift in the licensing world mirroring the fundamental transformation of consumers. It isn’t sufficient for licensors and their partners to co-brand consumer products in numerous categories and hope to collect significant revenue. All while hoping to keep their properties relevant and evergreen. If marketers are focused on selling branded products and consumers are focused on collecting experiences rather than material possessions, there is a major disconnect. And that goes beyond the shortened life cycles of licensed consumer products. So how can we bridge the divide with new licensing program strategies?
Immersive content brings the brand to life
Nothing brings brands to life more compellingly than strong content that evolves and keeps them fresh, current and interesting. With all of the social media platforms at their disposal, the smallest properties, the tiniest upstarts can gain audiences that literally explode into popularity almost overnight thanks to WOM (word of mouth). There are a number of properties that have achieved this by maximizing digital media from Shopkins to Angry Birds and PokemonGo.
By capitalizing on the popularity of its YouTube shorts, Shopkins became the hottest collectible toy line a couple of years ago. But merchandising wasn’t the end-all, be-all for the brand. In collaboration with Koba Entertainment, the property is staging live shows across the U.S. dubbed ”Shopkins Live! Shop It Up!” A colorful explosion of kids’ favorite characters coupled with a creative storyline, original urban style music and dance routines add up to a highly interactive experience. VIP tickets include photo ops backstage with characters after the show and bags of swag among other goodies.
Smart evergreen brands, likewise, understand the value of creating compelling experiences for their fans. Hello Kitty initiated pop-up cafes and café food trucks to take their beloved property directly to the fans in a memorable manner. National Geographic, in collaboration with 21st Century Fox, created Encounter in NYC’s Times Square, an immersive experience in which kids and adults find themselves at the bottom of the South Pacific. The exhibit will periodically be changed so that other worlds can be explored in the future.
What’s important is that merchandising tied to these kinds of immersive experiences becomes more irresistible to fans. There’s a sense of immediate desire because of the level of emotional connection that has been achieved at a live event. Disney has always understood this, hence the addition of hot new properties to its theme parks, with rides and live characters who interact directly with their fans. There’s another important point, too. Merchandise tied to these kinds of immersive experiences continues to sell whereas most licensed consumer products in retail stores have a limited shelf life.
Going counterculture can be powerful
There’s something about our culture that loves the underdog; the rugged individual who swims against the tide. Brands like these, designed to appeal to a limited audience, have had transcendent power when adopted by the mainstream. They’ve become cultural icons, beloved by one generation after the other. From bad boys James Dean and Mick Jagger to Harley Davidson, Jack Daniels and today’s Minions, countercultural properties can catch fire and if they remain authentic and true to their roots, their mystique grows, enshrining them in our consciousness forever. Today’s living legends find ways in which to interact with their fans in a memorable manner. Harley Davidson, for example, packs its annual calendar with branded tours, rides and rallies around the globe. Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, an unpredictable 3-D ride at Universal Studios Florida, brings fans of the property into the zany world of the odd little yellow men with a passion for bananas.
Evolutionary updates for retro brands
Notable retro brands have been making a comeback by appealing to a new generation of fans. Teddy Ruxpin, Thunderbirds and Furby are great examples of properties which were beloved by many adults as children and are now being introduced to today’s kids. Importantly, new storylines have emerged and characters have evolved. Yet, they have stayed true to who they are with their backstories being shared once more. The manner in which these brands are being presented has been updated, however. So please take note: this is about more than nostalgia. The new iteration of Teddy Ruxpin is Blue-tooth ready, featuring a free app to help kids to read more proficiently. They can also view digital books and read along with their friend, Teddy. These are core attributes of this property. The world’s first animatronic character has the same look and feel as he did when he first came on the scene, but dare I say it: he’s new and improved. Tracy Island, iconic home of the Thunderbirds family has been preserved yet it is now replete with 21st century technological advances. This is reflected in updated storylines and licensed consumer products. The latest iterations of Furbys not only interact with and befriend each other; the continuously updating app delivers constant surprises to delight brand fans. And keep them engaged.
Collaboration between brands and resources is key
You’re likely thinking that this is great for properties that have the resources to experiment with immersive, live entertainment for their fans. Who can scale these events. Who can create pop-up cafes, retail shops and food trucks. And who can develop interactive toys and consumer products.
But brand owners with modest resources can collaborate with design consultants who have expertise in event creation, who can leverage social media platforms in a highly effective manner and who can develop licensing program design that connects with a property’s fans. Vision and boldness are more important than financial resources. Small brands that ”could” have proven that more than once.
All of these ideas take properties from having a passive presence in the marketplace to active engagement with their fans. They do it by humanizing their brands, and as we all know, human-to-human connections form long-lasting relationships.