Optimizing Partnerships for Licensed Entertainment Properties

There are all kinds of heroes, animated characters and unique brands personified by human traits. Many have their origin in comic books, television, movies, toy brands and fantasy-rich virtual worlds. Although evergreen entertainment properties have proven staying power, hot new properties are emerging thanks to online gaming and even YouTube videos.

Brand owners see nothing but dollar signs when contemplating licensing their properties, co-branding in as many consumer product categories as they can, but is that a wise strategy? Not necessarily. Many brand owners have a sound strategy, opting for a good fit between consumer product brands and their properties but even that can be fine-tuned to greater advantage.

The Marvel approach to selecting licensee partners

Marvel recently shared its licensing strategy for its superhero properties and it is revealing. Marvel is focused on choosing consumer brands and products that underscore the characteristics of their properties – and their nuances – to attain the ultimate compatibility.

In a recent License magazine article, Paul Gitter, senior vice president, Marvel Licensing, Disney Consumer Products is quoted as saying: “It’s really important to us that the right partner is put with the right character. For example, Hulk, who is really identified with strength, has been teamed with WordLock, which creates really strong, high-quality bike locks; while Captain America is a natural fit for Under Armour because he stands more for activity. If we are being truly authentic to our healthy living durable strength concept then we have to have the right character with the right brand.”

Honing in on the nuances angle, Brian Siegel, director of franchise development, Marvel Licensing, DCP stated: “We look at the Marvel business in two franchises – Spider-Man and The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Thor.) They each represent different aspects of strength. It’s not all just brute muscle, there’s also mental agility and personal strength, as well.”

Additionally, Marvel is interested in raising the visibility and desirability of its characters by licensing them in categories that are hot performers at retail. For example, a 2013 partnership between Marvel and Under Armour tested the retail response of Iron Man Alter Ego Performance Wear, a successful program that Marvel now uses as a blueprint for its licensing strategy, carefully vetting licensing partners in many consumer product categories.

Why aligning licensed brands with the right products makes a huge impact at retail

When a well-developed licensing program style guide is in place, coupled with a solid strategy for soliciting the right kinds of licensees, licensors can fully leverage the power of their properties. An understanding of the complexities of each property enables the design team to capitalize on the fully-nuanced property’s visual and verbal assets within the style guide.

Attention can then be focused on optimizing co-branding opportunities. Nothing increases desirability for fans of a licensed brand more than unique, limited edition, lifestyle-driven products. Mountain Dew is a great example with recent licensing forays that bring artists and athletes together with designers and consumer product brands for its GLX – Green Label Exclusives program.

The high energy beverage is a fave of athletes and their lifestyles, including Xtremers, so why not get the input of cult favorite athletes and influencers? Why not get their ideas and artists’ interpretations of the Dew for skateboards, snowboards, scooters? For edgy apparel that athletes and city kids wear while participating in favorite high octane sports? It takes the unique culture centered on these activities to develop the visual language necessary to really speak to its audience.

Far from formulaic, this is licensing program design for a unique brand. The visual impact is immediate for Mountain Dew fans – it really brings on a rush. Take-away: design experts can’t be thinking only in terms of leveraging cool new fonts, color and edgy design. They should think about collaboration with artists and influencers who are immersed in pop culture and “get” specific categories – so that they can expertly leverage the licensed property to the max.

GLX collaborations have paired Mountain Dew with music artist Mac Miller and Diamond Supply Company; pro skateboarders Keelan Dadd and Dirty Ghetto Kids, Boo Johnson and Supra, Theotis Beasley and HEX – all to create unique licensed consumer products that appeal to a narrow but rabid fan base. Each roll-out is marketed by cool video content that taps into the hipness of these pop cult icons and the consumer products that they helped to design. This approach ensures success.

The importance of package design for co-branded licensed consumer products

Unlike licensed apparel and skateboards, most consumer product categories necessitate packaging – important real estate to market the licensed property and its key nuances in a dominant manner.

Matching licensed properties in an effective manner to consumer brands and individual products is terrific. Leveraging the most significant visual and verbal assets of each property on products and packaging is just as important. To immediately draw in brand fans and make an instantaneous, emotional connection is priceless.

Hasbro’s Playskool and Sesame Street toys for infants and toddlers are wonderfully co-branded and packaged; their Smartphone packaging entices and engages kids in an interactive manner. Verbal communication is limited but effective, telling kids and parents that the pretend phone features fun lights, sound effects and over 100 silly phrases. It’s equipped with numbers and letters like a real phone and it rings and lights up when Elmo, Abby Cadabby, Ernie or Cookie Monster call! If the child doesn’t answer, the character leaves a voicemail. Kids can call each character by pressing one of the buttons. Fun app-style touch buttons access letters, numbers, weather and music!  Elmo peaks out at the bottom of the package which ensures a response from kids, who are invited to “Try Me!”

The Playskool brand engages children with play while educating them. Sesame Street connects to children in a personal, emotive way; kids see these characters as personal friends who likewise engage and teach them about numbers, letters, friendship and socialization while having fun. Bringing the two brands together by leveraging their shared attributes with product and packaging illustrates how effective licensing programs can be.

It’s time for licensors to fine tune strategies, licensing program design and licensing partners to turn out cool, engaging consumer products and packaging that will make fans of the property light the social media sphere ablaze and clamor for more. Why settle for less?

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