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WikiLeaks Looks to License Its Brand for Clothes and Coffee Mugs

Report From Day Two of the Annual Licensing Expo

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There's a surprising but very intriguing exhibitor at the Licensing Expo this year: WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has run an online gift shop for years, but the group apparently also wants to spread its message by licensing its name through a series of products, mostly in apparel, which among other fanciful designs will carry the face of founder Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for two years under fear of arrest by the British.

The group has plans for other categories as well, like coffee cups that say "We Leak Secrets," although it remains to be seen whether it's good marketing for a beverage container to bring up the subject of leaking. (An alternate suggestion might be "This Cup Doesn't Leak.")

So, should a cause that considers itself devoted to social justice, whether you are in its camp or not, be commercializing its name with consumer products? Can a group that polarizing move merchandise?

While it seems to be in the very early stages of planning, I'm curious to see whether WikiLeaks merchandising will take off. Perhaps next year we'll see an Edward Snowden booth at the Expo (sans Mr. Snowden, of course).

Elsewhere at the Expo, brand acquisition has become a recurring theme. The theory: buy brands with potential to work across lifestyle categories and reintroduce them to a variety of new and existing audiences through a wider array of products. Many exhibitors this year are looking to refresh old brands, and, more importantly, build a growth system around lesser-known brands with potential.

Saban, which is widely known for owning the Power Rangers, is enjoying noticeably more attention this year by showing off its ability to go cross-category in lifestyle through its brands Paul Frank and Macbeth. These may not be household names today, but Saban is looking to incubate them as brands that could be very popular down the road.

Paul Frank was an acquisition in 2010 that Saban has since helped expand into apparel, stationery, books, eyewear and home d├ęcor, among other categories. But even more interesting is Saban's very recent acquisition of Macbeth footwear -- announced at the show -- which it is licensing across fashion categories. This is a big departure for Saban and signals more lifestyle and fashion acquisitions to come, I suspect.

Saban is joining a cadre of companies, which have a bigger presence than ever at the Expo, that are adopting a similar strategy by acquiring lifestyle brands and converting them to licensing models. Among them is Cherokee, which bought Tony Hawk's fashion line for $19 million in January. Cherokee is quickly building out its stable of fashion brands, which include Carole Little, Liz Lange, Sideout and its namesake.

Authentic Brands has also acquired a number of intellectual properties, many of which are celebrities, such as Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Tap Out. Walking past Authentic's booth I couldn't help but notice what can only be described as a reimagined Marilyn Monroe. In an effort to leave behind the holographic performance routine, which has been a popular tactic, and one we're hopefully moving past, Authentic is reimagining the world of Marilyn Monroe through a new cartoon TV series, "Mini Marilyn." The show will draw on Marilyn's history and include characters like "Mr. President" and "Maf" (short for "Mafia," the dog given to her by Frank Sinatra), which will be supported by a line of consumer products and apparel.

More to come tomorrow on the Final Day of the Licensing Expo.

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