One of the things I like most about the licensing arena is its delicious unpredictability: while it is inevitable that the big budget, heavily backed properties often triumph, the favourites don’t always win – and every year there are curveballs which many licensors, licensees and retailers just didn’t see coming.
2022 is a typical year in that respect. As you would expect, some of the favourites have romped home, especially Jurassic World Dominion – a hit at the box office and in retail aisles. My guess is that Minions: The Rise of Gru may have pleasantly surprised a few people, who may have had modest expectations for the movie after what happened last time round, but nowhere near the extent of Top Gun Maverick, which truly caught just about everyone by surprise. Influencer and film buff Nick Gibbs-McNeil wrote an interesting piece in the latest issue of Toy World about the absence of Top Gun merchandise, which was certainly evident across all categories of retail.
Although Top Gun merchandise was scarce, fans of the movie can get their hands on one unique piece of memorabilia; a limited-edition Top Gun Maverick Navy jacket and an original ticket to the movie’s premier. These priceless items are being auctioned to raise money for the Light Fund, which was tantalisingly short of reaching its goal of raising £250,000 from its Channel Swim in the summer. If Wow Stuff’s Richard North is successful in attracting a bid of at least £5000 for the jacket, it will mean the team reaches its total – so hopefully there is someone out there who will be able to dig deep for this very worthy cause. (More here).
Stranger Things was another property that I suspect has wildly succeeded most peoples’ expectations this year: looking into crystal balls back in January, how many people had ‘£10.99 Stranger Things Capsule’ as one of the hot toys that would sell out across the summer, with stock being chased by retailers of all shapes and sizes? Maxx Marketing is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and it has undoubtedly announced its arrival on the retail stage in the most emphatic way with its Stranger Things collection, which is distributed in the UK by KAP Toys.
As much as winners have emerged that some may not have anticipated, conversely a few properties have come up a little short. At the turn of the year, who could possibly have predicted that Lightyear would turn out to be a disappointment from a merchandise point of view? Heavily tipped to be the runaway winner of the summer season, it has failed to live up to (admittedly sky-high) expectations, fizzling out relatively quickly. On this occasion, even Disney+ couldn’t save it, as had been the case with Encanto last Christmas. As I understand it, many retailers came back from the Christmas break with the intention of starting to close out their Encanto stock, only to find that demand exploded after the movie launched on Disney+ over the festive season. Indeed, Encanto merchandise continued to build momentum over spring, with the result that – as I understand = Disney added the brand to its Q4 ’22 marketing schedule, having initially chosen not to focus on it.
Sadly, even the Disney+ effect doesn’t appear to have been enough to redeem Lightyear. I know I said in the last paragraph that no-one could have predicted that, but actually that isn’t strictly true: we always had our reservations here, while at least one prominent specialist retailer whose judgement is usually spot on told me right from the start that he didn’t see it being as big as was being anticipated. Once he had seen the movie, his view was only reinforced: “The movie is ‘a bit’ boring” he told me, although he didn’t actually say ‘a bit’, but rather used a colourful colloquialism that rhymes with ‘trucking’.
We are all huge Toy Story fans here at Licensing.biz, but perhaps that was why we had our doubts; what made Toy Story so iconic was that we were watching toys come alive. In Lightyear, Buzz isn’t a toy anymore – and maybe that is where some of the magic was lost?
But that’s how it goes sometimes; everyone who works in the licensing community – whichever side of the market they are on – will appreciate that gambling and an element of risk come with the territory. Sometimes the gamble pays off in spades; sometimes it doesn’t. As long as the MGs aren’t overly crippling – or the licensor is open to an agreement to mitigate the impact – you just chalk it up to experience and move on and try to find the next big thing.
I’m sure that’s what the majority of visitors to BLE will be doing – and if you haven’t read our BLE Preview to give you a few pointers and some properties to look out for, you can access the digital issue here. The team has worked hard to bring this issue out in good time for BLE planning – with the show less than two weeks’ away, feedback indicates that many of our readers are finding this useful. Maybe that’s why this issue has already hit the highest number of digital readers of any edition since our January Toy Fair preview issue – in only five working days. We’re delighted that we can help so many licensees and retailers prepare for the event. And if you would like to catch up with the Toy World / Licensing.biz team at the show, we still have a few gaps left in our schedule, so feel free to get in touch – our contact details are on The Team link on the website.
Before BLE, we have the UK Licensing Awards next week. I haven’t been to this particular shindig for five or six years now, so I am looking forward to seeing how the event has evolved since I last attended. I will be bringing you my thoughts on the evening in next week’s Blog – I’m sure it will be a lively occasion as always.