Brand Licensing Europe 2015: YouTube Stars and European Americana

Traditional Brands Like Pepsi and VW Make Debut at Licensing Expo

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Credit: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

The European licensing market has been growing. The region is now responsible for 25% of the world's licensed merchandise sold at retail, according to the first-ever global licensing study from International Licensing Merchandisers' Association. As a result, the trends spotted at industry trade show Brand Licensing Europe, also called BLE, are strong indicators of what's going on in the international licensing market.

This year's show, which took place last week in London, did not disappoint. The floor was packed with more than 300 exhibitors showing close to 2,500 brands and characters. Like Licensing Expo, its U.S. sister show held in June, YouTube personalities took both literal and figurative center stages.

Cassey Ho, the fitness guru behind "Blogilates," delivered the keynote on the first day of the show. This marked the very first time BLE featured a social-media star in its seminar lineup, and she shared the stage with YouTube's global head of top creators, Benjamin Grubbs. This continued a trend in which online personalities take a starring role in trade show keynotes. In June, video blogger Bethany Mota served as a speaker at the Las Vegas Licensing Expo.

In addition, Dan Amos from Tinderbox, a division of Beanstalk dedicated to working with digital properties, hosted a panel featuring YouTube gamer Vikkstar123, whose channel has more than 2.5 million subscribers. Together, they discussed the rising power of online communities and what it takes to create a successful YouTube brand.

Another online-based property, IFLScience, was a first-time exhibitor at this year's BLE. A blog devoted to making science news accessible might not be your first thought in terms of licensed products, but its irreverent approach has been a hit, and its appearance at the show highlights the site's growing popularity. With 21 million Facebook followers, IFLScience's formidable community has allowed it to build an impressive e-commerce business and at BLE, the site also shared plans for its children's brand, "Science is Awesome." Its participation at the show illustrates how brands born from social media grow increasingly important in the licensing industry.

Alongside these shiny new online-based properties, there were also plenty of traditional brands making a first-time BLE appearance. A vast number of consumers are familiar with brands in the PepsiCo portfolio; the company's flagship drink enjoys 98% global awareness in consumer polls. Yet, this year's BLE was its very first as an exhibitor, with the core Pepsi and 7Up beverages as focuses at the show. The company may have just been dipping its toe in the water this year, as its booth was noticeably understated and in a relatively remote location on the upper floor. Perhaps the brand will decide to go bigger next year.

Speaking of going big, Volkswagen also made its Brand Licensing Europe debut this year, with a large exhibit in the show's dedicated Brands and Lifestyle zone. The booth was busy and BLE's show dailies were full of announcements from the brand. Discussed at the show were a deal for bicycles with Japanese manufacturer Otomo Corp., as well as several apparel and home agreements targeted to the UK market. You'd never have guessed that the company has recently come under public scrutiny, and the visitors we spoke with did not feel that the emissions scandal will have a negative effect on the licensing program.

Then again, little of VW's approach at the show had to do with its recent activities, its booth largely playing up the brand's heritage aspect with 50s-style diner d├ęcor, and a retro-style camper van as the centerpiece. The German automaker's American-flavored approach did not feel out of place at a European show, as use of nostalgic Americana was a consistent trend overall. Several new exhibitors such as Route 66 and American Freshman had substantial booths at the show, and there were also many heritage character brands on display including Betty Boop -- who turns 100 this year.

Three years ago, the BLE show organizers decided to separate brands from entertainment, creating a distinct Brands and Lifestyle area on the upper floor. This year, this upstairs area was busier than ever, having grown substantially since the decision to make the split. Visitors increasingly seem to understand the separation, and the Brands section is much more focused than it has been in past years. The organizers' strategy seems to have paid off.

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