Corporate and Entertainment Brands Show Off New Ways to Team Up

Fila and Transformers, Crayola and iMarkers Combine Pizzaz With a Trusted Name

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It's been another successful Licensing Expo here in Las Vegas. Before I return to New York, I offer my final take on the most important trends emerging from this year's show.

Corporate brands joining forces with entertainment properties?

Amid the buzz created at these shows by the entertainment studios, with their coming blockbuster releases and entertainment franchises, corporate brands often complain that the Licensing Show doesn't cater to them or their needs. Last year, I wrote about Electrolux's pointed show advertising slogans, "Tired of fluffy animals?" "Don't need another superhero?" and "We have real corporate brands."

But a rather unlikely dynamic has emerged during the past three days: cross-property collaboration between corporate and entertainment brands. The concept is called "brand blocking," and I never thought that I would live to see the day.

How does it work? One property, usually a corporate brand property, acts as the "master," anchor or block property for a product-line extension, licensed or otherwise. Then one or more entertainment properties support the anchor property, functioning as the content or "pizazz" for the extension.

One particularly good brand block is a collaboration between Fila and "Transformers." They have created a line of bags (backpacks, messenger bags, etc.) for the Korean market. The bags are branded Fila and feature Transformer-style elements. I can imagine Hasbro, the owner of the Transformer franchise, adding other franchises into the mix, such as G.I. Joe, Battleship or Nerf. They could create an even larger line of Fila bags or swap properties in and out of the collection to coincide with major releases or to drive special attention to a particular property. Fila could add other entertainment properties to the line from other content providers.

Another brand block emerging from this week's show involves Crayola (a Beanstalk client). Crayola works with a manufacturer to produce the iMarker digital stylus, a Crayola-branded peripheral that makes it easier for children to draw, paint and color on multitouch displays like the iPad. Crayola will be rolling out a number of branded iMarker collaborations with entertainment franchises over the coming months, the first being with Barbie. Each iMarker will be clearly Crayola-branded, but the possibilities are endless in terms of the breadth and range of content properties that can be added to the line to enhance, differentiate and refresh the product. The benefits are so obvious that it is amazing that it has taken this long for properties, retailers and manufacturers to come up with this model.

The master or blocking brand provides continuing credibility for the product line. Fila is known to manufacture quality and stylish products. Crayola enjoys unbeatable equities with parents and families in the crafts category. Multiple-content brands provide flair, uniqueness and timeliness in support of the master block brand (something that is often missing from corporate licenses). In the case of an entertainment property like Transformers, the new product could be timed with a major release. Barbie adds additional appeal to young girls.

Participating brands together leverage the power of the others' audiences to reach even more consumers (and spread the potential risk). The product manufacturer (the licensee) benefits because it provides a consistency to the look and feel of the product and packaging (vs. creating entirely new products for each content provider) and enables the product to always appear fresh with new content when needed. The retailer benefits because it isn't forced to choose between competing products that essentially do the same thing and also allows it to have a cohesive merchandising strategy.

In nearly every meeting I took with corporate brands and entertainment franchises, this was the model they were looking to implement. I have no doubt that we will see many more brand blocking collaborations in the near future.

Big data comes to licensing?

This year, more than ever, I noticed a large number of back-office technology providers exhibiting at the show -- vendors offering technologies for everything from contract compliance to royalty administration to global auditing services. All were touting the many ways that technology can support, assemble and optimize data collection (all useful to any licensor managing a program).

While this trend is perhaps less "sexy" than others I have been sharing this week, it may have the biggest impact on licensing. In my 30-plus years in the business, licensing professionals have had difficulty systematically collecting and using the mountains of data available about their licensed products. Millions of dollars in royalty fees are forfeited each year by brand licensors because of inaccurate reporting of their licensing programs' activity. I have no doubt that these difficulties have hampered the growth of our field, which is widely perceived as a kind of cottage industry, without the analytics associated with most corporate enterprise initiatives. But thanks to the rapid growth of technology, all of this data is becoming a tool whose usefulness for licensors, licensees and retailers will only continue to grow.

And those are my observations from this year's Licensing International Expo. See you next year in Las Vegas.

Michael Stone is the president and chief executive officer of Beanstalk, an Omnicom Group-owned global brand licensing consultancy. You can follow Beanstalk @BeanstalkGroup.
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