Sure, there are still some loose ends and opportunistic deals, especially for fourth quarter, that can make a difference this year for some retailers, licensors and licensees, but the real strategic focus—particularly this month as the annual Licensing International Expo is top of mind—should be on the emerging trends that will shape the future of brand licensing. Here are 11 for '11:
- Superhero phenomenon. The superhero properties will continue to flourish and drive growth in entertainment, licensing and retail for the years to come: the release of Warner Bros.' and DC Entertainment's Green Lantern in June 2011, along with several other Justice League characters; the release of Marvel's Thor, Captain America and The Avengers in 2011-12; and Sony's Spider-Man slated for 2012 will all garner worldwide attention. There could be as many as a dozen superhero theatrical releases (plus TV series) over the next five years that will drive box office sales and dominate retail shelves.
- Brand management. The recent formation of Saban Brands as a global brand management company, and the continued expansion of other such companies as Iconix and Hilco, will continue to grow as a viable business model. These IP owners will also have a major influence with the world's largest retailers, providing new growth opportunities, as well as a new life for various dormant brands. Consider the licensing opportunities for Power Rangers with Saban's direction (see "Saban Brands Feels the Power "), Peanuts with Iconix management and Polaroid under Hilco.
- 3-D. The success of Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and How to Train Your Dragon have reinforced the huge popularity of 3-D entertainment. In addition, sporting events, such as this month's World Cup games, are being broadcast by ESPN in 3-D; the release of 3-D HDTVs from suppliers such as Samsung, Sony, Philips and Panasonic; and strong retail support exemplify the potential of the new format.
- Live entertainment. With this month's debut of the new Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios in Florida and the development of Rainbow's MagicLand in Rome, theme park attractions continue to be strong brand extensions. In addition, live stage/arena shows, Broadway-style shows, museum exhibits and the like also offer excellent opportunities in licensing.
- Kids' TV. It's an unpredictable scenario of expansion, new properties, fragmentation and potential acquisitions that will alter kids' programming over the next few seasons. The Hub, the new kids' network from Discovery and Hasbro, which is gearing up for a fall debut, will impact kids' programming, as will the challenges facing small to mid-size companies.
- M&As. Following Disney-Marvel, Iconix-Peanuts and Saban-Power Rangers, the floodgates are open and mega deals will continue. This will result in some consolidation, but it also means greater opportunities in licensing as most acquisition properties will be revamped and expanded globally.
- Social media. Every retailer and licensor needs to develop a definitive campaign to reach consumers via the Internet, blogs, mobile apps and social media sites.
- Brand shops. Whether it's a regular retail store, a pop-up store or store-within-a-store, the focus on an exclusive brand promotion in a traditional retail environment is a proven strategy that will continue to be exploited. The new Disney store format, debuting this summer, will further influence the future of brand exclusive retail stores.
- Retail exclusives. While it's always been important, it's now become a prerequisite to most deals.
- Category watch. Food: whether beverages, snacks, or prep accessories, the growth and success of Food Network's exclusive brand licensing program at Kohl's has other retailers and licensors looking for similar deals. Music: everyone from Michael Jackson to teen sensation Justin Bieber is hot. Fun fashion and lifestyle apparel: especially for an unlikely corporate brand or entertainment property; the automotive sector: as it continues to rebound and develop new electric models; and gaming all offer many niche opportunities.
- Consumer trust. The recession has resulted in many lessons learned, but one of the most important is trust. Consumers must have trust in a brand based on quality, value and performance, and retailers and licensors need to effectively communicate these factors.
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