Major changes are taking place across both the licensing and retail landscapes, and it’s not all driven by the pandemic. Yes, the arrival of the coronavirus on a global scale has influenced some sweeping evolutionary moves for businesses the world over, but it has only acted as a facilitator of the inevitable changes that were upon us.
Here, John Taylor, VP Northern Europe and MD UK and France at WildBrain CPLG talks us through a selection of the biggest trends he believes will go on to define the year 2021.
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With 2021 underway and the industry navigating changes to the licensing and retail landscape brought on by the global pandemic and other forces, I’d like to explore five key trends that we at WildBrain CPLG expect to see this year and what we think they will mean for brand owners.
For several years, the licensing industry has been discussing how we can make our business better for the environment, and how we can play a part in protecting our planet for future generations. There’s been significant acceleration in this area and a clear shift in priorities, with sustainability now an urgent focus for many businesses.
Plans for developing more environmentally conscious products and packaging are being worked into licensing agreements, which is an extremely positive step.
Some good examples we’ve seen include The LEGO Group pledging up to US$400 million over three years to accelerate its sustainability and social responsibility initiatives, and Hasbro phasing out plastic from new toy and game packaging.
I anticipate we’ll also see more brands making sustainability a focus not only in product development, but also in marketing activities. Last October, our partner Peanuts Worldwide launched a fantastic multi-year initiative called ‘Take Care with Peanuts’ as part of the brand’s 70th anniversary celebrations.
The campaign directly draws from Charles Schulz’s beloved comic strips and reminds all of us to be good global citizens, with caring for nature and the environment forming a key part of this. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re looking forward to delivering great licensing partnerships which uphold this ethos to support the campaign.
I’d also like to extend a huge congratulations to Helena Mansell-Stopher, CEO at Products of Change, for her work in pulling together the first Sustainability in Licensing Conference last year. It’s clear the licensing industry is committed to doing more to protect our planet, and seeing everyone come together to share ideas and knowledge was really inspiring.
Supporting retail innovation
Retail has always been a huge part of my career, and I have great respect for all those working in the sector – I still find myself tidying shelves and rearranging displays when I’m out shopping! It used to be that the industry would only assess the state of the retail landscape on an annual basis, which then became every quarter as e-commerce began changing the way we shopped. Now, with the current pandemic, retail is being discussed in the news on an almost daily basis.
Given the pace at which the retail landscape is changing, its important the industry comes together and works closely with retailers to ensure we understand their challenges, needs and ambitions. Now, more than ever, licensors and licensing agents need to provide the innovation and tools required for retailers to stand out and keep their customers coming back for more.
Navigating through COVID
While we can look to the horizon with optimisim, there is little doubt that COVID will still be affecting the industry throughout the year – particularly when it comes to forward planning and strategies. This pandemic has highlighted how important it is for brand owners and retailers to have not only a Plan A, but also Plans B and C and beyond, which gives them flexibility to effectively react and adapt to changing circumstances. These plans should be centred around aspects of the business they can control and where possible be informed by data and insights.
Consumer buying habits have changed significantly, from both where they are buying and what they are looking for, so staying on top of purchasing behaviours and trends will be very important. Sound contingency plans will ensure businesses of all sizes are equipped to face whatever surprises and opportunities may arise.
Shifting consumer habits
With a lot of the population spending much more time at home, we’ve seen notable changes in the types of products consumers are seeking out. Unsurprisingly, there’s been a big spike in home improvements and renovations as people make their surroundings not only more functional, but also more comfortable.
Licensing has seen positive benefits from this shift in purchasing, with growth in the homewares category and also in toys and games as families spend more quality time together. The World of David Walliams, for example, has shown huge growth for us this year with the brilliant collection from University Games.
Many new licensing opportunities are also opening up due to the increased time spent at home. Brand owners are exploring categories they previously had not considered or which may not have been a priority. For example, we recently secured a deal on behalf of Osprey London for a garden furniture range, which wasn’t in our plans at the start of 2020. We’re also in discussions with many other potential new licensees who have never ventured into homewares licensing before, but are starting to see the value of this revenue stream and now want to jump into our world.
Streaming brands blossom
As we’re not expecting any tentpole movie releases until later this year, streaming is currently winning the attention of audiences. The growth of streaming has opened up some exciting retail and licensing opportunities for key titles available on major platforms. We’ve been blown away by the demand for merchandise from streaming shows in our portfolio, such as Sony Pictures Consumer Products’ Cobra Kai and The Boys – both major hits that made ‘most watched’ lists in 2020. In early 2021, we’re bringing fans products from such brands that they’ve been eager to find, and we’re excited to see how the industry capitalises on the potential these type of properties offer.
Whatever 2021 has in store, this is definitely going to be a year businesses need to unite and support the whole licensing chain. Here’s wishing everyone a healthy and brighter year ahead.