2014 was year of big successes (Frozen), milestones (Hello Kitty’s 40th) and industry-changing innovations (3D printing). Here’s a recap of the news that shaped the year and laid the foundation for 2015.
Between Frozen, "Star Wars Rebels" and Guardians of the Galaxy, Disney stole the show in 2014.
The frenzy for 2013's Frozen carried through the 2014 holiday season, and the brand even ousted Barbie as the No. 1 toy on girls' holiday wish lists, ending the doll's 11-year reign.
Disney also released its first original content for the Star Wars brand since it acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, the TV series "Star Wars Rebels," and had the second highest grossing domestic movie of the year, with Guardians of the Galaxy pulling in $333 million in the U.S. alone.
The success of Guardians underscored the studio's new focus on building evergreen boys' franchises like those it has on the girls' side of the business (think Disney Princess and Minnie Mouse). Josh Silverman, executive vice president, global licensing, Disney Consumer Products, outlined how the studio planned to leverage Marvel and Star Wars content to grab a bigger share of the boys' market in the License! Global February 2014 cover story, "Growing Boys."
At the same time, the company also launched Imagicademy, an educational initiative featuring apps and technology-driven products designed to aid in early childhood learning.
But the year's successes didn't keep Disney from looking to the future. Among the new projects announced for 2015 and beyond are Walt Disney Animation Studios' follow up to Frozen, Monae, which is scheduled for late 2016; Disney Channel's TV movie Descendents, which will star the offspring of some of the studio's most iconic villains; as well as tantalizing trailers for May's Avengers: Age of Ultron and the first new Star Wars film in 10 years, Episode VII: The Force Awakens (hitting theaters in December).
Classic Character Revival
With the demand for a retro aesthetic showing no sign of fading, a number of licensors planned comebacks for classic characters.
SEGA re-introduced the world to Sonic the Hedgehog with a whole new iteration of the classic brand–Sonic Boom–that features a revamped look, new video games and a CGI TV series.
DreamWorks picked up the rights to Felix the Cat, adding another iconic brand to its Classics portfolio.
Simon Cowell's Syco Entertainment and Animal Logic Entertainment teamed up to develop the first-ever feature-length film starring Betty Boop.
And Authentic Brands Group used one of the biggest movie stars in history (and one of its most successful brands), Marilyn Monroe, as the inspiration for a new girls' brand–Mini Marilyn.
One of the biggest stories of the year was the creation of Li & Fung's spin-off licensing operation. The company created the standalone Global Brands Group in May, freeing up Li & Fung to focus on its core business of sourcing. Then in December 2014, the newly formed GBG announced a joint venture with David Beckham to develop a lifestyle brand for the soccer star.
The formation of GBG followed another major move by Li & Fung in January 2014, when the company acquired the world's fifth largest licensing agency, The Licensing Company.
Meanwhile, entertainment company Saban Brands made a big statement about its future plans when it launched a dedicated lifestyle unit. The division is currently anchored by Paul Frank, footwear brand Macbeth and the Australian fashion label, Mambo, which it acquired in January.
And publishing company Hearst took a stake in a new kind of content when it acquired a 25 percent interest in the YouTube network AwesomenessTV from DreamWorks.
In fact, AwesomenessTV was in the news a lot last year. After acquiring the multi-channel network in May 2013, DreamWorks took the next step in bringing the AwesomenessTV's brands to market when it appointed retail veteran Jim Fielding (formerly of Disney Stores and Claire's) to lead the brand's consumer products and retail efforts.
Fielding made short work of initiating the network's first retail activations with a capsule collection (and corresponding web series) launched at Kohl's in September, followed by the opening of the Scene@AwesomenessTV pop-up store in Los Angeles in November.
AwesomenessTV wasn't the only brand to launch pop-up shops in 2014, with the format becoming increasingly popular. Warner Bros. Consumer Products recreated the Central Perk coffee shop in New York for the 20th anniversary of "Friends"; Saban Brands launched the first-ever pop-up shop for its lifestyle brand Paul Frank; and online retailer Amazon went old school for the holidays with two brick-and-mortar shops in California.
Nickelodeon went a step further when it unveiled plans for five permanent retail locations, the first of which will open in London in the second quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, more traditional retailers struggled to find solid ground in an increasingly web-driven world.
Following a disappointing 2013, Toys 'R' Us outlined a strategy to improve performance, called the TRU Transformation, that led to a number of innovative partnerships including in-store shops from tween/teen jewelry retailer Claire's, a pilot program for in-store 3D printers that create custom toys in under 30 minutes and a partnership between Babies 'R' Us and Disney Baby to offer combined services to parents.
At the same time, Target took a different transformation tack, replacing long-time Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel with Brian Cornell, formerly of PepsiCo and Sam's Club. In one of his first big moves, Cornell announced this January that the company would close its Canada operations (launched just two years ago) in order to focus on the U.S. business.
Other Big Moments from 2014:
- Hello Kitty Celebrates 40 Years–One of the world's most prolific character brands, Sanrio's Hello Kitty celebrated four decades of success in typical fashion–with events and products too numerous to count, including the brand's first-ever fan convention.
- Hasbro Takes Over Disney Doll Business–Hasbro pulled off a major coup in September when Disney shifted its Princess and Frozen doll business to the toy company and away from long-time partner Mattel.
- SpongeBob Turns 15–From TV star to international pop icon in just a decade-and-a-half, and that's before his theatrical debut this month.
- Duck Dynasty, Joester Loria Star at LIMA Awards–Brandgenuity's program for A+E Networks' reality series "Duck Dynasty" was named the best of the year, while the founders of licensing agency The Joester Loria Group were inducted into the LIMA Hall of Fame.
- DHX Media Expands–The company launched a dedicated consumer products division, DHX Brands, in June, then acquired fellow entertainment company Nerd Corps in December.
- CPLG Turns 40, Opens U.S. Unit–One of the largest and most respected licensing agencies in the world, Copyright Promotions Licensing Group (a division of DHX Media), celebrated four decades and opened a U.S. division.
Apparel & Accessories
- Disney Consumer Products and Kohl's launched the tween lifestyle brand D-Signed, inspired by the fashions seen on Disney Channel shows.
- Authentic Brands Group introduced a revitalized Juicy Couture brand with plans for all-new concept stores (opening in the U.S. and Canada this year) and high-level licensing partners such as Steve Madden for footwear.
- Playboy established itself in the lifestyle space through a collaboration with streetwear brand Joyrich and the opening of branded lingerie and shoe boutiques in Mexico.
Art & Design
- Other Criteria and Marc Jacobs released a limited edition t-shirt featuring artist Damien Hirst's take on Mickey Mouse.
- Britain's National Gallery teamed up with agent JELC to develop a licensing program.
- Polaroid launched its new retail concept, otobar, offering on-site printing solutions for photos in micro-stores throughout the U.S.
- Virgin Galactic appointed Brand Central to build a licensing program for the first-ever commercial space line.
- Mustang celebrated 50 years with a host of products including a t-shirt collection designed by five top fashion designers, a capsule at Lucky, a desktop clock, a pinball machine and even a range of nail lacquers.
- General Electric sold its appliance business to Electrolux, the 18th largest licensor in the world.
- Atari, Swarovski, LeapFrog, Fam Brand's Bally Total Fitness and Universal's The Biggest Loser were just some of the brands that launched fitness devices and/or apps in 2014.
- Microsoft bought Mojang, the gaming studio behind one of the hottest brands of the year, the video game "Minecraft," and the game hosted a number of brand crossovers throughout the year.
- After going public in March, King Digital Entertainment looked to licensing to take its hit app "Candy Crush" to the next level with the appointment of 10 agents around the world.
- Licensees from around the world lined up for the fourth film in Universal's Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, coming out this May.
- Warner Music Group and Rhino Entertainment took advantage of The Grateful Dead's 50th anniversary to release a host of new product featuring the band's iconic imagery.
- Saban teamed with Lionsgate to develop the first-ever feature film for its Power Rangers franchise.
- Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia partnered with 3D printing company MakerBot to develop a line of 3D printing materials and printable product designs.
- kathy ireland Worldwide launched two lines of co-branded home and kitchen products under the names kiWW's Jardin and kiWW's ACafe Society.
- Oscar de la Renta teamed with the New York Botanical Garden to create a limited edition tabletop collection.
- Meredith continued to build its Better Homes and Gardens brand at retail, while developing lifestyle programs for some of its other top publications including Parents, Allrecipes and Fitness.
- The Joester Loria Group celebrated the 45th anniversary of Eric Carle's classic children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar with a host of brand extensions and activities.
- DreamWorks re-imagined the experience of meeting Santa (and threw Shrek into the mix) with its DreamPlace holiday pop-ups.
- Bookseller Barnes & Noble opened Educational Toys & Games Science Centers at select stores across the U.S. and on its website.
- After the expansion of its Fast & Easy convenience store chain in the U.S. was abandoned in 2013, Tesco announced plans to take a second stab at America, this time with its fast fashion chain F&F.
- In the wake of World Cup fever, IMG was appointed to manage the licensing program for soccer's next big international event–UEFA Euro 2016.
- NFL Players Inc., the merchandising arm of the NFL Players Association, celebrated 20 years by aggressively expanding its licensing strategy to drive retail sales year-round.
- Major League Baseball commemorated Derek Jeter's last season with a pop-up shop and collectible coins.
Toys & Games
- Nickelodoen, alongside licensees such as Playmates Toys and LEGO, released a full product line for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.
- Mattel and its subsidiaries HIT Entertainment and Fisher-Price unveiled a new retail model for Thomas & Friends that will emulate the American Girl brand. The toy company also announced plans for the first-ever Barbie live-action feature film.
- Saban Brands and Jakks Pacific aligned to develop a new multi-platform property, Emojiville, that will include a web series, toy line and technology products inspired by emoticons.