The jury is still out on what the move will mean for the Expo. One of the great things about having it in New York is that for many individuals not yet directly involved with the licensing industry -- brand managers, marketing agency executives, mainstream media, etc. -- the Expo was often just a short cab-ride away. Those with passing curiosity could attend and it was their participation that made the show all the better. With the move, the Licensing Expo will have to become a "destination show" for many attendees. I anticipate it will.
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As I reflect on this year's Expo, one trend that seems to stick out is brands using licensing to connect with a cause and create product extensions that actually shift consumer behavior. The cutting-edge of licensing is no longer just about brand awareness; it is using licensing to encourage or elicit specific behaviors from consumers, like living a healthier or more sustainable lifestyle.
This forward-looking form of licensing is what I like to call brand activism -- essentially the licensing version of corporate social responsibility. It is truly new territory for licensing and an incredibly useful tactic for any cause-related (or want-to-be-cause-related) brand.
For example, World Wildlife Fund, a Beanstalk client, is exploring licensing to expand beyond the perception it simply stands for preservation and conservation by creating a line of eco-friendly, sustainable products. Not only will the availability of products position the organization as an advocate for sustainable living, they will also encourage consumers to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviors through the use of products.
Another example, announced during the Expo, is the partnership between Safeway and Warner Bros. Consumer Products. The two organizations will create a "better-for-you" line of food products for children to be sold exclusively at Safeway. The first product-line of its kind, called Eating Right Kids, will feature Looney Tunes characters and, according to Warner Bros., is a direct response to the increasing problem of childhood obesity. The company is even pulling all its other Looney Tunes food products from the shelves to avoid future consumer confusion. This is a smart strategy: using the power and appeal of licensing to encourage kids to eat healthier. Of course, the product has to taste good or it won't work, but I'm willing to bet Safeway will get it right.
The American Kennel Club, a non-profit organization that promotes the safety and well-being of dogs, developed a licensing program to further its efforts to educate consumers on the importance of responsible dog ownership. The organization has branded products to promote the health of dogs, including dental wipes, daily food servings and warm clothing. But I find the AKC Junior series to be most compelling. Created specifically to target children and teens, the line includes several agility products to help young pet owners train their dogs. The products not only reinforce AKC's mission, they help achieve it.
Next year, I suspect we'll see an influx of entertainment studios attending the Expo because of its proximity to L.A. and an ongoing interest in the environmental trend from licensors, licensees and retailers alike. We'll also see even more corporate brands exploring licensing, as its ability to deliver marketing results and brand differentiation is proven again and again. See you at next year's show!
Michael S. Stone is the president and chief executive officer of The Beanstalk Group (www.beanstalk.com), an Omnicom Group-owned brand licensing agency and consultancy.