All successful licensed brands in the marketplace benefit from catch phrases so closely associated with their content and characters that they elicit immediate recognition and a powerful emotional connection with fans. Although this association can sometimes happen serendipitously, more often than not, these phrases are carefully crafted to become a part of the brand’s DNA. Through formulaic integration into an animated series or multiple releases of a film franchise, they are embraced by fans and become iconic.
The battle between brand-centric vs. trendy editorial
When thinking in terms of a property’s licensing program, iconic editorial pulled directly from content is the low-hanging fruit. It gets tricky as you try to flesh out a broader list of phraseology for licensee partners to leverage as they develop their consumer products – and even trickier to do it for non-character oriented brands with very little editorial, if any, associated with them. As you begin to move away from phrases deriving from actual dialogue or lexicon of the property itself and into editorial “about” the property, the challenge always comes down to this: should the approach be brand-centric or should it be trendy in an effort to maintain relevance with the brand’s target audience?
Writing editorial that derives from attributes inherent to the brand ensures that the messaging will be timeless and ownable. For entertainment properties, you can never go wrong when referencing aspects of its characters’ personas, how they relate to each other or how they interact with elements from their world. This approach will always uniquely refer back to the brand.
Yet we often see licensed products in the marketplace that have integrated up-to-the-minute pop-cultural trends into their editorial in an attempt to appear as relevant and timely as possible to a mass audience. This can only work if a). your products are quicker to market than sushi, and b). your brand doesn’t have the strength to break through at retail on its own merit. Otherwise, brands that choose to lean too heavily on trends for their licensing program’s editorial may be doing themselves a huge disservice. Here are some of the dangers in doing so.
Things that are happening in the media now are hot for a very short period of time in the grand scheme of things. While they’re hot, they’re pervasive, so it may seem as though they’ll be relevant to a large group of people for a long time. However, given the product timelines of most licensees, there’s a very good chance that what’s hot now will be passé long before products hit store shelves.
Capitalizing on a pop-cultural trend just because it’s all the rage may also give a licensed brand’s messaging a ”me too” read, rather than one that’s distinctive. If the phraseology is based on a hot trend without somehow tying back to the brand’s core attributes, consumers’ collective mindshare may categorize the brand with all others leveraging the same trend instead of perceiving it as one that remains true to its own unique personality.
“Keep Calm and Carry On.” We all remember this phrase and its stacked configuration beneath the Tudor Crown symbol. How could we not? It’s been parodied a million times and is likely the most ”memed” phrase in the history of memes. What started out as a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 to raise morale during the Second World War began popping up on consumer products and in various media in 2011. Twists on the phrase were fun, tapping into politics and innumerable other pop-cultural references. During its peak in popularity, we’ve seen interpretations of the phrase tied to a variety of licensed brands – Star Wars (Keep Calm and Use the Force), the Minions (Keep Calm and Eat a Banana), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Keep Calm and Party On), just to highlight a few. Some were created by fans, while others were actually developed by brand owners in an effort to cash in on its popularity. The phrase may still be around, but it’s undeniably past its prime. And, at this point, I’d be willing to bet that it’s perceived as tiresome rather than cute and funny.
Keep the long-term perception of the brand in mind
I may be a purist, but I don’t believe this opportunistic approach to editorial is advisable for any established licensed brand. Will it sell a handful of products? Sure. But how will it affect the long-term perception of the brand? What does it say about the brand’s values? And how is it better than writing dedicated editorial that’s brand-centrically clever?
Think about it: when we become fans of a licensed brand, we “wear” it proudly – quite literally on apparel and accessories. But we also allow it to permeate our lifestyles through countless other consumer products and every form of media made available to us. When we write editorial for our clients’ licensed brands, we imagine how it might resonate with their most loyal fans. We consider what they enjoy most about the brand and what makes them embrace it in such an unwavering manner. We want to be sure that what we’ve written has the ability to transcend trends, rather than rely on them. And we want it to have the potential to become enduringly associated with the brand.
What are your thoughts on the best approach to editorial phraseology for licensed brands? Do you feel it’s best to remain brand-centric and timeless or do you think it’s appropriate to leverage current pop-cultural trends? If you’re in the camp of the latter, can you cite a few successful examples?