Best of '09

The Best of 2009 recognizes many of the standout brand licensing programs, deals and newsmakers of the past year. These initiatives not only impacted the retailing and licensing business in 2009, but some announcements will have far-reaching effects

April 6, 2018

21 Min Read

The Best of 2009 recognizes many of the standout brand licensing programs, deals and newsmakers of the past year. These initiatives not only impacted the retailing and licensing business in 2009, but some announcements will have far-reaching effects over the next few years. Compiled by<i> License! Global</i> magazine, this is by no means an all-inclusive list, but merely a representation of the major events that made headlines in a highly volatile and competitive year.

Best Global Mass Retailer: ASDA

ASDA, Great Britain's second largest supermarket chain and the subsidiary of the world's largest retailer, Walmart, continued to fight for consumers along clearly drawn battle lines—price and value—with the current tagline, "Saving You Money Every Day." In addition to ASDA's own-label fashion brand George, which is estimated by Mintel to be the U.K.'s fourth biggest clothing retailer, 2009 saw some of ASDA's most impressive brand licensing campaigns yet amid tough trading conditions and fierce competition. It started the year with a High School Musical event in February which carried a strong value message to customers (a £5 HSM bag, for example), coincided with the DVD launch and worked across many categories, including home items and toys, as well as a clothing line at George. The event dominated front of store, but also a number of launch points inside. A competition earned a lucky winner the money-can't-buy prize of their own high school prom for 100 friends. i1_716.jpg

For the Easter holiday, ASDA embarked on a partnership with LazyTown, creating a buzz around ASDA's Great Stuff brand, which was supported by the show's star, Sportacus. The partnership sent sales of fruit products rocketing up by an estimated 28 percent last April and the initiative was continued through the summer (including suggestions for picnics and outdoor games) and back to school in September. Both are examples of how ASDA marketed and supported a brand to create cross-category events to drive sales. Expect similar licensing initiatives in 2010, as well.

Best Specialty Retailer: Toys"R"Us

While some retailers focused on the fundamentals of retailing and others focused simply on ways to survive, Toys"R"Us established the company as one of the most aggressive retailers of 2009 with several acquisitions and various marketing and promotional partnerships. The result was not only a strong performance for the holiday season, but TRU also established a strategic position for future growth and possibly a much-publicized IPO. i2_380.jpg

For December, TRU's domestic division reported a comparable-store sales increase of 4.6 percent, while international reported a comparable-store sales increase of 1.1 percent. According to chairman and chief executive officer Jerry Storch, "We are energized by these results. Taken in combination with the continuing good performance of our toy and baby integration strategy, we look forward to the future and the many opportunities that lie ahead as we continue to position the company for long-term growth." Last February, TRU acquired, which also included and In March, TRU acquired, which redirects shoppers and posts exclusive toy deals. In May, TRU acquired FAO Schwarz, including its two flagship stores in New York and Las Vegas, and In August, TRU acquired the KB Toys brand and all its trademarks and IP rights.

Best Managed Girls' Property: Hello Kitty

The mega global brand from Sanrio, which celebrated its 35th anniversary, continues to expand and gain popularity with innovative products and merchandising. Two extensive events held in Los Angles and London celebrated the milestone and showcased contemporary Hello Kitty designers, artwork and products. Extensive product deals also reinforced the property's creativity and popularity worldwide. i3_246.jpg

As part of its efforts to drive traffic and sales, Old Navy, the value division of the Gap, made a big splash in licensed merchandise last year with mega deals that included Marvel, NFL, NCAA and most recently Popular Mechanics. An exclusive line of Marvel-inspired tees, hoodies and outerwear featuring Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and X-Men, were featured during the back-to-school season. Says Paul Gitter, president of consumer products for Marvel Entertainment in North America, "This partnership reinforces our overall strategy to build exclusive relationships and merchandising programs that open up new channels of distribution for Marvel, enabling us to further maximize the exposure for our brands."

Old Navy also carried NCAA products from Tailgate Clothing and NFL products from Junk Food, which were priced at 50 percent less than similar lines at traditional retailers. Old Navy also partnered with Popular Mechanics for a line of T-shirts for infants, toddlers and kids featuring art from the magazine brand's covers.

"Popular Mechanics has always been about understanding the modern world and envisioning the future. Our partnership with Old Navy perfectly captures that spirit and allows us to introduce it to a new generation of future inventors, engineers and enthusiasts," says Glen Ellen Brown, vice president of Hearst Brand Development.

Best Brand Licensor: Iconix

Iconix, the No. 3 licensor with almost $6 billion in sales of licensed merchandise worldwide behind Disney Consumer Products and Warner Bros. Consumer Products, according to License! Global's Top 100 Licensors annual report, continued to expand its exclusive brand empire with several new deals and retail partnerships. Iconix acquired a 51 percent controlling interest in Mark Ecko and its brands including Ecko Unltd., Marc Ecko, the Rhino logo and Zoo York, as well as its licensing business. Iconix acquired a 50 percent stake in Hardy Way, owner of the tattoo-inspired lifestyle brand Ed Hardy. Iconix did its first DTR deal with Costco for the Charisma bedding brand, which features 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets, blankets and towels. Iconix was also recognized by Walmart with the retailer's "Big Bet" award at its Annual Apparel Summit for its successful DTR launch of the Op brand and re-launches of the Starter and Danskin Now brands.

Best Managed Boys' Property: Star Wars

Lucasfilm continues to re-energize and grow its $3 billion Star Wars franchise which will celebrate its 33rd anniversary this year. The TV series, "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," continues to expand its licensed merchandise and began its second season on Cartoon Network last fall. In addition, Lucasfilm will celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back in May with a series of events including a new collection of licensed products.

Best Licensed Pop-Up Store: Marmite, London

Marmite, the venerable spread that is both loved and hated by Brits, was featured for the first time in a pop-up shop on London's Regent Street in the shadow of iconic retailers such as Liberty and Hamleys. i4_184.jpg

The initiative, which was positioned as a salute to Marmite, a Unilever brand, featured interactive elements that allowed customers to share their Marmite moments and trivia, as well as sample Marmite on toast with tea.

The Marmite pop-up shop was the brainchild of Rupert Pick, an ex-Unilever marketer, whose company Hot Pickle recently began a program to extend the Marmite brand. Hot Pickle established the shop to create a Marmite brand experience and to provide some momentum for the first licensed products. The store featured some 100 products including tableware, toasters, home textiles, food products, T-shirts, art and books. Licensees include ECP, King & McGaw, Dualit and Monster Factory. Products are now available in department stores such as John Lewis and Debenhams, as well as in specialty retailers including Urban Outfitters.

Best In-store Promotion: Toys"R"Us/MLS

Toys"R"Us featured an exclusive merchandise shop for Major League Soccer last summer as part of a pilot program, which allowed the companies to expand efforts in a nontraditional venue. i5_144.jpg

The shop featured youth replica jerseys, youth hats, infant/toddler onesies, team replica soccer balls, novelty items (pennants and signs) and team plush items. The products featured MLS teams, including Red Bull New York, LA Galaxy, New England Revolution and D.C. United. Red Bull New York striker Juan Pablo Angel made a personal appearance at the MLS concept shop at TRU's Times Square store.

Best Comeback Brand: LEGO

While LEGO never went away, there was a worrying moment in 2004 when the company made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Things couldn't be more different just five years later. Across the company, sales have made a staggering recovery as 2009 was a strong year for LEGO and there seems to be no sign of the juggernaut stopping. In fact the company's greatest challenge, even in the most developed markets, is to manage the retail appetite for anything LEGO. Under chief executive officer Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the company has spent the last five years concentrating on what it does best—making and distributing LEGO. During that time, LEGO has become especially discerning in its licensing partnerships, both in and out. One key product has been the creation of LEGO video games in partnership with Lucasfilm and Warner Bros. for LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman.

Best Comeback Entertainment Property: Star Trek

The release of Paramount Pictures' new adaptation of Star Trek, released last May, reinvigorated the iconic property. CBS Consumer Products took full advantage with an extensive and well-planned line of licensed merchandise. Deals included: Playmates Toys for action figures and accessories; Mattel for Star Trek-themed Barbie collector dolls; Tyco for flying radio-controlled vehicles; Scene It? DVD game; Radica for 20Q Star Trek trivia game; Pocket Books for a movie novelization; IDW Publishing for a comic book prequel "Star Trek: Countdown;" Fundex for customized versions of classic games UNO, Scrabble and All About Trivia; USAopoly for a Star Trek Continuum Collector's Edition; Vandor for gift items such as business card holders, salt and pepper sets, mugs, clocks and magnets; Funko for bobbleheads and vinyl figurines; Briefly Stated for adult sleepwear and loungewear; E.S. Originals for kids' footwear, bags and accessories; and AME for kids' sleepwear. i6_102.jpg

Best Entertainment Licensing: Twilight

The merchandising efforts of Twilight, from Summit Entertainment and licensing agent Striker Entertainment, were greatly expanded last year for the sequel New Moon. One of the hot programs was the upscale apparel and accessories collection at Nordstrom, which launched last October. The line from Awake featured T-shirts, hoodies, dresses and jackets and the jewelry line from N.E.C.A. included silver- and gold-plated necklaces, bracelets, earrings and key chains. In addition, Hot Topic, which had great success with the exclusive merchandise in 2008, continued to be a Twilight destination retailer and TRU devoted extensive space for a boutique at its Times Square store. New Moon hit theaters in November and the third installment, Eclipse, is slated to release June 30, with undoubtedly even more extensive promotions and products.

Best Hardlines Brand: Sharper Image (Hilco)

Since the brand emerged from Chapter 11 a year ago, Sharper Image has done one deal after another in various categories and once again stacked the shelves at several retailers including Bed, Bath & Beyond. The deals include: Jacmel Jewelry for a line of men's accessories; Audio Technologies for TVs and accessories; mattresses from Ontario-based Natura World; kitchen appliances, including blenders, coffee-makers and cookers from Emson; and bedding and bath from London Luxury. The Sharper Image Web site was re-launched in November by Camelot Venture Group. The Sharper Image also signed a multi-year master distribution deal with Eurostyle de Mexico.

Best Green Licensed Program: FAB Starpoint/Terra Cycle

An unlikely partnership between a major licensee in accessories and a fledgling eco-friendly company has spawned an innovative collection of accessory products produced from non-recyclable packaging. FAB/Starpoint, along with partner TerraCycle, is producing messenger bags, backpacks, stationery, school supplies and other home décor accessories utilizing left over packaging from brands such as Frito Lay, Nabisco and Capri Sun. The product line will see major distribution for Earth Day in April 2010 at Walmart and other major retailers. i7_78.jpg

Best Joint Venture: Hasbro/Discovery

A joint television network from Hasbro and Discovery Communications announced last April, and officially being called The Hub, is set to premiere in fall 2010 and certainly will impact the kids' entertainment business. "A hub is a place where great things come together—and that is precisely what The Hub network will be when it launches," says Margaret Loesch, chief executive officer and president of the joint venture. "The Hub will be a fun and transformative destination that brings kids and their families together by presenting clever stories and engaging characters." The Hub will debut on what is currently the Discovery Kids network and will feature comedies, animations, live-action series and game shows based on properties from both entertainment companies, including Transformers, My Little Pony, Adventure Camp and Flight 29 Down. The network will also be supported by a Web site at

"Hasbro is a company built on play, and Discovery was founded on curiosity," says Brian Goldner, president and chief executive officer of Hasbro. "The Hub will have the resources of both partners as it goes about re-imagining the future of children's entertainment."

Best Corporate Acquisition: Disney/Marvel

This $4 billion mega deal, which was announced last August and closed officially on Dec. 31, brings the fourth largest licensor, Marvel Entertainment, into the world of Disney and its global consumer products business. The deal creates a licensing juggernaut that with almost $36 billion in combined retail sales of licensed merchandise, according to License! Global's top 100 licensors listing. "This transaction combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories," says Robert A. Iger, president and chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company. "Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney." i8_56.jpg

This deal offers Disney Consumer Products the opportunity to broaden its portfolio beyond its core kids', girls' and tween segments and into blockbuster family entertainment driven by the popular superhero characters. Conversely, it gives Marvel the ability to leverage DCP's strong global retail relationships and company-driven infrastructure in most countries versus Marvel's use of agents. In the future, DCP will be able to help grow Marvel's international licensing business. In addition, the deal will enable other company strengths to be leveraged in television, publishing, technology, interactive and gaming, live events and theme parks.

Best Property Acquisition: Nickelodeon/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Nickelodeon acquired the global rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from 4Kids Entertainment and The Mirage Group for $60 million giving the iconic property, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year, a myriad of new growth opportunities. The kids' property started as a comic book series in 1984 and later became a TV series followed by four feature films. TMNT has more than 600 worldwide merchandise licensees.

Nick plans to launch a new CGI-animated series this year and Paramount Pictures is on board for a new film in 2012. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shares a comedic sensibility with the Nickelodeon DNA, with added layers of action and fantasy that have kept this property an evergreen favorite with multiple generations of audiences," says Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids and Family Group.

In October, Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products named Playmates Toys global toy licensee for TMNT continuing a longstanding 20-year relationship.

Best Brand Extension: The Biggest Loser

NBC Universal Television's "The Biggest Loser" is certainly one of the biggest winners of the year as the property extended its reach with numerous licensing deals and widespread publicity. i9_49.jpg

Among the many innovative partnerships signed last year: BioSignia for a Biggest Loser-branded Know Your Number HealthScore program; Sakar International for a range of gaming accessories for the Wii Fit games and Wii balance board; and THQ for an interactive health and fitness game for Wii and Nintendo DS featuring the show's trainers Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels. In addition, the Biggest Loser Health Spa resort recently opened at Fitness Ridge in Ivins, Utah, offering weight loss programs.

Best Global Partnership: TLC/Iconix

The Licensing Company and Iconix Brand Group paired up to create a new subsidiary, Iconix Europe, which will be responsible for further developing and expanding the Iconix brand portfolio throughout Europe. The agreement sees an investment group led by TLC and Albion Equity Partners acquiring a 50 percent interest in Iconix Europe in exchange for $4 million. "We are excited to be partnering with TLC, who are recognized as licensing experts in the European marketplace," says Neil Cole, chairman and chief executive officer of Iconix. "With early signs of success in our recently formed international partnerships in China and Latin America, we have found that having local expertise with local resources around the world is instrumental to the success of rolling out our brands globally. International expansion remains an important initiative for our organic growth."

Iconix Europe will follow the same business model as Iconix Brand Group, signing traditional and direct-to-retail licensing agreements for its brands. Currently, there are 11 licensing agreements in Europe. "We are excited to be partnering with Iconix who have clearly helped redefine the licensing and brand extension business globally. TLC is uniquely qualified and respected throughout Europe and we will be looking to translate the Iconix model and brand assets into real industry success through our local offices in London, Munich and Paris," says Melvin Thomas, chief executive officer and co-founder of TLC. Iconix Brand Group's other international partnerships include Silas Chou's Novel Fashions in China and The Falic Group in Latin America.

Best Gaming/Interactive Licensing: Beatles Rock Band

Dubbed Beatles 9-9-9, the release of the game, remastered CDs and an extensive line of licensed merchandise was one of the major marketing and promotional events of the year. The Beatles Rock Band music video game, from Apple Corps, Harmonix and MTV Games (and distribution partner Electronic Arts), featured 45 songs, highlights from the group's historical performances and commemorative replica instruments. The CDs were all custom packaged. Almost every major retailer in all channels participated with related Beatles merchandise coordinated and created by Live Nation Merchandise. i10_34.jpg

Best Celebrity Licensing: Michael Jackson

The death of Michael Jackson created a merchandising frenzy worldwide, which will likely make this property the largest celebrity brand in history, eclipsing Elvis Presley. Last August, Bravado, a global music merchandiser, was named the official manufacturer and distributor of Michael Jackson-branded products worldwide.

Licensed products are available at retailers such as Hot Topic, Target, Old Navy and JCPenney, as well as online at The line of more than 200 items includes T-shirts, "Thriller"-inspired jackets, "Who's bad?" onesies, sunglasses, handbags and novelty items. Says Tom Bennett, chief executive officer of Bravado, "Creating this new line alongside Michael was a privilege of a lifetime; it truly celebrates Michael's unmistakable style and irreplaceable talent, and helps commemorate and preserve the legacy that is Michael Jackson." Most recently, Bravado signed Playmates Toys as licensee for Michael Jackson memorabilia featuring a commemorative line of figures and dolls.

Best QSR Promotion: Avatar/McDonald's

McDonald's launched a promotional meal campaign for James Cameron's and Twentieth Century Fox's Avatar, which hit theaters on Dec. 18 and quickly became the largest grossing film of 2009. On Twitter, McDonald's (@McDonalds) held the BigMacAvatar Code Breakdown Countdown where fans were able to decode a series of daily word scrambles relating to the restaurant chain and movie. The first 10 solvers received a prize pack, including two Avatar movie tickets and other movie-themed gifts, as well as Big Mac value cards. Consumers who purchased a Big Mac received access to a digital experience to explore the world of Avatar, exclusively from McDonald's.

Best Anniversary Celebration: Barbie's 50th

Mattel created extensive buzz around Barbie's 50th anniversary with a host of global initiatives, including fashion shows, products and retail partnerships. Barbie hosted her first runway show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York where more than 50 designers showcased real-size looks inspired by Barbie which celebrated the past, present and future of fashion. A 50th bash was held on March 9 (the day Barbie was introduced) at a specially built, Malibu Dream House designed and decorated by celebrity interior designer Jonathan Adler. Mattel also featured a wide assortment of new Barbie toys. Toys"R"Us opened an in-store boutique dedicated to the fashion doll; Paris retailer Colette held a three-week promotion; Hamleys held anniversary events; and Bloomingdales created a Barbie-themed display of 120 classic Barbies and a shop-in-shop. In addition, Mattel opened a Barbie pop-up store at the Mall of America in Minneapolis. i11_25.jpg

Best In-Store Character Promotion: Domo/7-Eleven

Convenience chain 7-Eleven featured a Domo promotion last fall that featured the fuzzy brown character on Slurpee cups, in-store signage and more. The 7-Eleven Domo-themed program included collectible Slurpee cups featuring Domo and his friends, four unique character Slurpee straws and an exclusive Fuji Frost by Fanta Slurpee flavor. Domo also appeared on a 99-cent coffee cup, a cardboard hot dog carrier and gift cards. Domo merchandise, including DVDs, Qee miniature action figures, comic books, plush characters, apparel (T-shirts and caps), was also available. "Because Domo has such a hugely devoted, cult-like following among kids, teens and young adults, we believe he's a perfect match for 7-Eleven and its iconic Slurpee brand," says Rich Collins, Big Tent Entertainment's chief executive officer. A three-part webisode series supported the campaign at and

Best Packaged Goods Promotion: 39 Clues/Post Cereals

Kids' adventure book series "The 39 Clues" from Scholastic Media appeared on Post Cereals' packaging on more than 4 million cereal boxes beginning last month and coinciding with the release of book No. 7 "The Viper's Nest," and in August, with book No. 10, the untitled finale of the series. The book series, written by Rick Riordan, was featured on Post Cereals' Honeycomb, Alpha-Bits, Golden Crisp and Waffle Crisp brands. "We are delighted to work with Post on this terrific promotion for 'The 39 Clues,'" says Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products for Scholastic Media. "Based on the multi-media adventure series, this promotion truly captures the mystery and adventure of 'The 39 Clues' in an entertaining and compelling way." The publishing property also has a movie in the works through DreamWorks Studios.

Best Licensing Coup: Sesame/Hasbro

In a 10-year global strategic agreement, Hasbro was granted the rights to manufacture and market an extensive variety of toys and co-branded games inspired by Sesame Workshop's "Sesame Street."

The initial line of Sesame Street toys, under Hasbro's Playskool brand, will hit retail in 2011. The range will feature characters such as Elmo, Big Bird, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster.

The previous master licensee for 15 years was Mattel's Fisher Price. "At the heart of Hasbro's business is making fantastic games, toys, lifestyle and entertainment products that are enjoyed by people of all ages worldwide," says Gary E. Knell, Sesame Workshop's president and chief executive officer. "We are thrilled to work with the leading provider of play to provide families with an extended and engaging Sesame Street experience."

Best Brand Extension: Discovery Adventures

Viewers have traveled the globe with Discovery Communications through programs such as "Animal Planet" and "Man Vs. Wild," so it only makes sense that they can now set off on real adventures of their own through Discovery kicked off the site over the summer in partnership with G.A.P. Adventures and offered 31 trips. The first official booking for the site was a trip to Egypt. The site plays off the network's strengths and was a great extension for a brand made popular by fans who have a sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors. "I think people are looking to enrich their lives with experience rather than just product and I think these trips are incredibly affordable. That is another hallmark of our brand—while it is very inspirational, it is also very attainable," says Elizabeth Bakacs, vice president of licensing for Discovery Commerce. "In some cases destinations will tie into what people are seeing on air." The deal was brokered on behalf of Discovery by its licensing agent, The Joester Loria Group. i12_22.jpg

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