Although there are anniversary celebrations for licensed brands every year, there seems to be an exorbitant number of brands hitting major milestones of late. And many seem to be happening next year – enough to prompt Licensing International to refer to 2023 as the “Year of the Anniversary” in a June 17th article.
According to the article, both Warner Bros. and Disney will be celebrating their 100th, with extensive licensing programs and highly-anticipated events to support them. The article also mentions Kellogg’s Fruit Loops’ Toucan Sam character (60th), Ferrero Candy’s SweeTarts (60th) and Nerds (40th) and Universal Brand Development’s Jurassic Park (30th), Scarface (40th) and Big Lebowski (35th) while it celebrates ET’s 40th anniversary this year. After a little digging, I learned that LEGO is 90 years old this year, Harley Davidson will be 120 years old next year, the video game Frogger is 40 years old this year, while Tetris will turn 40th in 2024.
Licensees who are already in agreements with these brands will need to decide if an anniversary licensing program is a good fit for their products, and worth the investment. Retailers will also need to know that the anniversary licensing program has enough support from the brand owner and enough licensee partners on board to consider it.
With all of this in mind, and given the short shelf life of licensed products tied to a milestone anniversary, how do brands ensure that their licensing program will be a hit with consumers? Here are four critical strategies to consider when developing its design elements:
Be celebratory with design
Design elements for a licensed brand’s anniversary licensing program need to convey the commemorative moment in the brand’s history that they represent – an epic event that marks the milestone that the brand has achieved. And they should have a festive, celebratory visual appeal that glorifies the brand. If a unique logo has been developed for the brand’s anniversary licensing program, it should be the central focus or signature of each design element. Centered, symmetrical and visually balanced compositions tend to work best.
Span the brand’s entire history
A milestone anniversary is an opportunity to celebrate the long, storied history of a strong brand. It’s a chance to dig deep into asset archives to uncover the visual cues that span the life of the brand and will resonate best with consumers. This is a time to carefully merge brand assets from different distinctive points in the brand’s history into single, commemorative design elements. If it’s a character-based brand and that character has evolved over time, feature the different iterations of the character in a single design to pay homage to its evolution.
It’s also an opportunity to leverage a nostalgic or vintage aesthetic to appeal to the brand’s oldest and most loyal enthusiasts. Keep in mind: the message is less about what the brand is today and more about its longevity and ability to stand the test of time.
Highlight the brand’s most iconic assets and attributes
Although one might argue that every licensing program should leverage the brand’s most iconic assets and attributes, it’s even more critical to do so when designing for an anniversary licensing program. In fact, the most recognizable elements associated with the brand should become the common visual threads that tie everything together. Recognizable shapes used as holding devices for character artwork. Icons used to define the corners of a composition. Familiar font families conveying the anniversary messaging. Incorporate the brand’s color palette, textures and patterns to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
Be smart about scale and packaging
Keep in mind that anniversary licensing programs are transient by nature. They’re only truly relevant for a single year and will become irrelevant once that small window of time has passed. Don’t over-invest in too many design elements. For most licensed brands celebrating an anniversary, a smaller scale program will suffice. Be smart about packaging executions as well. Consider printing the anniversary logo in a corner snipe or on a sticker rather than creating a dedicated anniversary packaging program that looks completely different than the licensed brand’s core packaging program. Otherwise, products that don’t sell during the anniversary year will be less likely to sell through after the hype dies down.
Last year was Sonic The Hedgehog’s 30th anniversary. Sega chose to work with our team to develop the licensing program’s style guide. Check out the graphic compositions and patterns we developed against the “past, present, future” theme, leveraging Sonic’s 30th Anniversary logo and the tag line, “Unstoppable for Generations.