Special Report: How Licensing can Enhance the Consumer Connection with Corporate Brands

Licensing is big business for big businesses.

Jane Neal, Content Editor

June 6, 2024

10 Min Read
Stanley Black & Decker Junior Carpenter dress up set
Stanley Black & Decker Junior Carpenter dress up setStanley Black & Decker

Corporate brands might not carry the trendy cachet of other licensing categories like toys, sports or entertainment, but corporate IP remains extremely popular with consumers. For some, it’s about repping their love and devotion to a car brand like Chevy, BMW or Porsche. Others may have an affinity for a food brand like SPAM, Kellogg’s or Kraft Heinz. For others still, it may be a simple matter of nostalgia or earned brand loyalty. Whatever their reasons, consumers are drawn to corporate brands. And love often translates to licensing.

Licensing International’s 2023 Global Licensing Industry Study, reporting on Global Sales Revenue from Licensed Merchandise and Services by Product Category, found the corporate brand category had another very strong year with above-average market growth of 13.9% as the category’s evergreen brands continued to help licensees fill the void left by the shortage of new entertainment properties. The study showed agent rosters swelled with many newly signed corporate clients in 2022. The corporate segment has now grown its share of the licensing market significantly to the point where it holds over 25% of the market for the first time. This represents a five-share point gain in this segment since 2017. Many of the strongest new licensed product categories were very natural fits for corporate brand licenses, including sporting goods, services, food and beverage, gifts and lawn and garden.

Related:Licensing Expo Issue – May 2024

What Insiders Say

Ahead of Licensing Expo, License Global reached out to several Top Brand Licensing Agents to get their perspective on the importance of corporate brands in the licensing space.

As a marketing strategy, brand licensing reinforces a brand’s presence in its target market and creates additional opportunities for expansion into newer markets. Whether or not a brand is a well-known name in its industry, the use of licensed merchandise is an effective way to increase its visibility and reach a wider audience.

“Brand extension through licensing is an extremely powerful marketing tool for corporate brands,” says Debra Restler, senior vice president, business development and marketing, Beanstalk. “It is about delivering a message and telling a story through product. It’s actually the most authentic form of content marketing because it motivates consumers to invite a brand into their lives and fosters brand loyalty and engagement.”

Restler says there are several benefits of licensing for corporate brands.

“Licensing builds brand awareness and reinforces brand values; it strengthens relationships with existing consumers as well as educates new consumers; it’s a way to extend to new channels of distribution and of course, licensing generates new revenue streams,” says Restler. “Beanstalk was among the first to understand the power of brand extension as a marketing tool for corporate brands with our work for the Coca-Cola Company and Harley-Davidson, both of which were among Beanstalk’s earliest clients.”

Related:Special Report: Movie and Streaming Brand Licensing Trends

Restler has seen some big success stories and standout licensing programs from corporate brands. Two examples she mentions are Stanley Black & Decker and P&G’s Febreze.

“The Stanley Black & Decker licensing program is one of the most comprehensive and successful in the construction/DIY and home improvement industry, with over 150 licensees worldwide,” says Restler. “Through licensing, Febreze has innovated in multiple categories, including garbage bags, pet products, carpet care, laundry additives, automotive accessories, cabin and wallpaper – reinforcing Febreze as the expert in malodor removal and provides freshness while introducing the brand to new aisles, retailers and consumers.”

Actor Julia Fox in Velveeta Gold hair dye

Digital Connections

Restler says another reason corporate brands thrive in the consumer space has to do with technology and the times.

“In today’s digital age, consumers have access to an unprecedented amount of information and are being targeted with a multitude of advertising messages,” says Restler. “Trusted brands can communicate their story and their equities in an instant – and when you extend that brand to a related product or experience, it offers consumers a fast and simple way to make their purchase decisions.”

Ross Misher, chief executive officer, Brand Central, says corporate brands utilize licensing for many reasons – both for product innovation and as a tool to increase brand awareness and create cultural conversations.

“Corporate brands sometimes will use licensed products as a way to extend the brand into adjacent product categories through a ‘test and learn’ approach, minimizing risk to the brand,” says Misher. “Because corporate licensed products are generally close adjacencies to the core product, consumers often don’t realize that licensed products are actually made by third-party licensees.”

In terms of marketing, licensing is a valuable tool in the strategic toolbox. Licensing collabs with corporate brands can enhance both collaboration partners who likely bring different consumers and equities to the partnership. Licensing supports and enhances the brand, reinforces brand love with the brand’s consumers and drives brand relevance by attracting new consumer groups. For some consumers, it all comes down to their knowledge of and loyalty to a specific brand.

“Corporate brands are meaningful in the licensing space because they have strong equities that consumers trust,” says Misher. “For example, when someone tastes Country Time Lemonade cotton candy, they know what flavor profile that product will deliver. The strength of the brand and the loyalty of the consumers’ association with that brand are what make expanding into adjacent product categories with a branded product so successful versus an unbranded product. Because corporate brands have such strong brand equities, licensees can leverage their assets to drive product awareness and sales.”

Bruno Maglione, president of licensing at IMG, says corporate brands play a big and increasing role in licensing for two reasons.

“The first is that licensing is at one level all about leveraging the awareness and trust of brands,” says Maglione. “And corporate brands, as defined here (major corporate trademarks outside of the sport, fashion and entertainment industries … brands like Pepsi, Goodyear, Haribo or Jeep), are among the biggest, most globally recognized and most admired or trusted of any kind of brand. So, it makes perfect sense that aspects such as high trust and high recognition can deliver value in products outside of their respective core businesses. The second reason is that these corporate brands are finding that strategic, targeted licensing can contribute to their core marketing mission and objectives without costing them marketing dollars. And that itself is, I think, driven by various developments in consumer behavior and the commercial landscape. For example, it’s been observed that consumers want to know more about their brands and what they stand for. Licensing partnerships can serve to communicate brand values or reinforce perceptions and trust concerning those core brand attributes that consumers associate with the brand. At a more basic level, creative licensed brand collaborations can serve to simply promote top-of-mind awareness and appeal much like conventional advertising or promotions. And in a cultural landscape that is ever-more demanding on our eyeballs and attention; just that can be a highly desirable goal. It can be achieved through executions that are humorous, unexpected, aesthetically pleasing, but which are always consistent in tone and manner with the brand’s identify and ethos.”

IMG has done countless licensing deals with corporate brands, but one that stands out as an example is Jeep. Maglione says everything IMG does with Jeep is consistent with positioning it as a brand closely associated with an aspirational lifestyle of active living, exploration, outdoor pursuits, freedom and independence.

“At the other end of the spectrum, our recent collaboration with PUMA for Cheetos resulted in a cheeky, eye-catching design consistent with the brand’s exuberant attitude and a major activation at one of the year’s most important sporting events – the NBA All-Star Game,” says Maglione.

PUMA for Cheetos

Unlikely Partners

Some corporate licensing deals work because they’re completely unconventional. Velveeta’s creative platform, “La Dolce Velveeta,” has offered unusual licensing deals that have included cheese-scented nail polish with NAILS. Inc. and TruffVels, a chocolate cheese truffle created with chocolate company, Compartés Chocolatier. But just as many collaborations work because they’re natural extensions of the brand.

“Over my 30-year career in licensing, I have witnessed some fantastic and impressive corporate brand extensions,” says Misher. “Some of my favorites include the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, the Jeep Stroller and the Tesla Ride-On for kids. Brand Central recently introduced many exciting corporate brand extensions such as Starburst x Sparkling Ice, Rube Goldberg VR experience and Entenmann’s ice cream sandwiches, just to name a few. The licensing industry is ripe for corporate brand licensing, and Brand Central is at the forefront of innovation.”

Entenmann’s ice cream sandwiches

New corporate brands always appear on the horizon, but many consumers love corporate brands because of the nostalgia factor. Especially since the pandemic, people find comfort in the familiar.

Adina Avery-Grossman, partner, Brandgenuity, agrees corporate brands can be evergreen, solid, trusted and reliable, while others are emerging. And in many cases, they have been around for decades.

“We love working on corporate brands because consumers often have a long-standing relationship with the brand that can go back generations,” says Avery-Grossman. “They know the brand helps them solve a problem or meet a need. The right brand can elevate or credentialize a product in the eyes of retailers and consumers. We have seen this ‘LIFT’ in consumer research.”

Corporate branding is highly effective in the consumer market. Avery-Grossman explains corporate brands tend to have a unique benefit or function.

“For example, Dr. Scholl’s means comfort and relief,” she says. “ARM & HAMMER stands for odor neutralization, and Mike’s Hot Honey always delivers on sweet followed by heat. Licensees can leverage these well-known points of difference by bringing it to their particular product category.”

Mike’s Hot Honey snack collab

One area that Brandgenuity is excited about is branded residences.

“This level of immersive experience brings corporate brand licensing to a whole new level by allowing brand fans the opportunity to truly feel surrounded by the brand at home, 24/7,” says Avery-Grossman.

Stephen Reily, chief executive officer and co-founder, IMC, says corporate brands play a unique role in licensing because their brand already has an established presence in the marketplace, with a core business (and usually a core line of products) that will always be more valuable to them than any licensing deal. They almost never license for the royalties alone, and the kinds of licensing deals that many brands would do simply present more costs than benefits to a big corporate brand.

“IMC has used our focused expertise in corporate brands to develop partnerships and products that serve our clients’ unique and long-term goals,” says Reily. “Our clients’ businesses and brands have been around forever, and we build partnerships and products that will support their core business and last forever, too.”

Reily goes on to say that well-known and respected corporate brands need no explanation; they already have a high degree of consumer trust and loyalty, often built over decades (or even centuries). For that reason, they offer great brand elasticity as well as the opportunity for evergreen success.

“Consumers are primed to embrace new products from beloved brands whose products they are also used to buying again and again,” says Reily. “At IMC, we are curious and passionate about identifying consumer trends that can offer our clients new opportunities for success. When we saw that consumers were seeking scent in all areas of their lives (and in previously unscented products), we brought the Glade and Tidy Cats brands together in what has become a long-standing and successful partnership, turning one aspect of pet care into a pleasant experience throughout the house. We also like learning from the creative ways that corporate licensors and licensees manage long-term partnerships; rather than a giant licensor overpowering a small licensee, this is often a marriage between equals. Our consulting partner, Ken Wyse, did this at PVH, where he established so much smart growth for licensed brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger that the company ended up acquiring them outright. That’s what we call a win-win.”

This article was taken from the May 2024 issue of License Global. Read the full issue here.

About the Author(s)

Jane Neal

Content Editor, License Global

Jane Neal is a Content Editor for License Global. Working remotely in the great state of Wisconsin, Jane specializes in retail and pop-culture trends.

She has worked extensively in the communication field as a managing editor, advertising copywriter, technical writer and journalist. She detoured for several years into academia where she taught journalism, English and humanities at the college level.

A complete Marvel nerd, she enjoys food, films, fishing, friends and family … and alliteration.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry Article
Join 62,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like