Media Arts Group, the Morgan Hills, Calif., company that produces the artist's work, is set to put the painter's brand name on a variety of home and garden products. Mr. Kinkade, known as the "painter of light" for the way his paintings of idealized scenes of country cottages and cityscapes seem to jump off the canvas under a spotlight, will move from artist to style maven by putting his name on home and garden decor, outdoor furniture, housewares, tabletop items, collectibles and more.
Media Arts Group is soliciting licensees, much as lifestyle diva Martha Stewart did. But don't call this venture a Martha Stewart wannabe, even though Media Arts Group did hire its new creative head away from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
"It's very different because Tom is an artist and Martha is more of a teacher," said Corinne Brohme, who left Martha Stewart Living nine months ago to become Media Arts Group VP-creative services. "This is about Tom's inspiration, and the feeling that his art work elicits, being transformed into a brand positioning. With Martha, it was `I'm going to teach you how to cook, how to paint, etc.' So this is kind of unique."
But will consumers and licensees buy into the brand extension? Teleflora chairman Tom Butler thinks so. Mr. Butler's online florist company used Kinkade-branded products in a Mother's Day promotion that boosted sales "more than 5% from years past ... far beyond what we anticipated," Mr. Butler said.
New York resident Gina DiGregorio purchased a Kinkade painting last year and was intrigued by the idea of a line of home products from the artist.
"I don't know how much separation from the pack there's going to be when it comes to something like linens," she said with a laugh, "but, yeah, I would check it out just because of who he is."
Ms. Brohme said the first item to be branded with the Kinkade name is a line of house paints. The paints will be separated into high-end, mid-level and mass-level pricing. The high-end paints will have about 40 colors, the mid-level about 250 and the mass-level about 130. The colors are derived from Mr. Kinkade's palette used in his paintings.
The paints will be introduced with a fall 2004 launch of consumer print ads in various lifestyle magazines. The work will be done in-house, but the advertising will only feature Mr. Kinkade's name, not his artwork.
"In the past, the licensing business has been more image-driven," said Media Arts CEO Anthony Thomopolous. "When we now look at going into the lifestyle brand, we'll be less reliant on images. Hopefully the path we're taking is clearly protective of Tom's paintings and at the same time the brand extension is carefully managed."
The idea of launching Thomas Kinkade branded lifestyle products represents a 180-degree turn for Media Arts Group. Despite the huge success of the artist-his paintings hang in more than 10 million homes, his art has exceeded $200 million in retail and his licensed products have produced more than $500 million in sales-the company has, in the past, tried to get beyond the image of being the proverbial one-trick pony.
"Over the last several years, they've made several forays to reach beyond Thomas Kinkade," said Dave Lavigne, an analyst with Edgewater Research in Denver. "The fact of the matter is, every time they did this it ended up costing them a bunch of money and the Kinkade thing rescued them. So it's pretty hard to argue with this new strategy of leveraging the Thomas Kinkade brand."
Mr. Lavigne said using licensees for the lifestyle products is similar to way Media Arts Group currently licenses Thomas Kinkade products that do feature his art work, such as postcards, calendars and journals.
"It's not a different approach as much as it is them taking advantage of what has become fairly obvious, that this man's name sells," Mr. Lavigne said.