“There’s a real wave of enthusiasm from across the licensing industry as we emerge (once again) from pandemic restrictions. The impact of the last two consecutive pandemic-driven years has brought many challenges, but it’s also accelerated the evolution of consumer engagement with brands, creating new opportunities. As we emerge from these difficult times, I think it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in licensing.
Two of the biggest sectors to feel the impact have been physical retail and live events, so we look forward to a resurgence of these two pivotal areas of the industry in the coming year.
We’ve explored five key trends for global brand owners, retailers and licensees alike for 2022 and beyond:
Multi-layered approaches to retail:
Physical retail continues to be hugely important – and the holiday shopping scenes in-stores underscored this – but there’s also been a significant boom, in no small part by necessity, of digital retail. Consumers will continue to demand a multi-layered shopping experience and physical and digital retail will evolve in new ways to continue to co-exist together. We’ll see more digital experiences in-store to draw customers in, as well as unique events that offer increased engagement or touchpoints with brands and products that the digital world cannot create. Going forward, we’re likely to see a brand’s overall consumer products and retail strategy embracing both digital initiatives and innovative retail activities that drive consumer experiences over and above a product purchase, such as the impressive Chupa Chups Room in Dubai.
The emerging world of NFTs:
Another interesting component in the consumer relationship with brands is NFTs and, by extension, digital currencies. NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are the buzz word for brands right now, and an increasing number of companies want to be in this space to drive brand relevancy and be at the forefront of something that will eventually be regulated and part of our everyday life. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops – it could move very quickly, and we could see digital currency and NFTs become mainstream in only a few years. Another attraction of NFTs is how they play into the collectibles trend, which has been a key part of consumer products for many years. As brands look to enhance their consumer engagement strategy through digital platforms, NFTs have become a new commercial avenue.
Innovation in location-based entertainment:
An area of the business that I believe will also emerge transformed post-pandemic is location-based entertainment, which is also the theme for Licensing Expo 2022. We were seeing the start of consumers wanting to experience brands differently before COVID-19 hit, but I think we’ll now see much more innovation in those bigger consumer experiences with brands. Crayola recently announced plans for outbound licensing of its famous Crayola Experience which will see new locations installed around the world starting in 2023. It underlines the importance of the category to a brand as it creates more consumer touchpoints – location-based entertainment provides a brand destination to extend the consumer journey.
The importance of corporate and social responsibility:
A further area that will continue to grow in 2022 is the importance of corporate responsibility and brand values. Consumers, and particularly Gen Zs, are becoming more considered in how they interact with and consume brands – it’s not just about a product’s quality or how it’s marketed, but a company’s social and corporate responsibility. Themes such as wellness and sustainability are much more engrained. Inclusivity, too, is at the forefront and not just at a corporate level, but in terms of representation, ensuring kids and families today can see themselves reflected in content and products. Corporate and social responsibility is an important business pillar, not just a passing trend.
Fresh approaches to corporate brands:
One of the ways this heightened awareness of brand values has played out is that corporate brands are entering the licensing arena in new ways, while established brands are looking for collaborations and extensions into new aisles and channels that align with their businesses. For example, we’re seeing several CPG brands now looking at how they expand from the grocery channel to become present in other places, and this is driving innovative partnerships with other brands.
We’ve recently seen this with the Froot Loops and Sweethearts cereal collaboration as well as Sweethearts and Crocs coming together for a sweet colourful collaboration. At the premium end, Tumi, a corporate brand known for luggage, and McLaren, an automotive brand, have teamed up to offer a co-branded collection inspired by their shared values of meticulous design and durability. Looking to capture new consumers or buzz-worthy headlines, brands will continue to reach across aisles to form unexpected partnerships, leaving plenty of room for creative marketing campaigns and new product innovation.
From the toy aisle to the catwalk:
We’re also seeing a resurgence in creativity, particularly in the relationship between toy and kids’ brands and high-end fashion – encapsulated in the recent Balmain and Barbie collaboration, amongst others. These partnerships reflect and embrace popular culture and add value to offerings for both parties.
In part, this has to do with nostalgia – tapping into the original consumer demographic who grew up with a now iconic toy brand. Some major children’s brands have been around for many decades and there’s an intersection where the parents, who now consume premium brands, see their children playing with a toy they themselves loved. This offers opportunities across both the luxury and toy markets in playful and surprising ways, positioning the younger brand as aspirational, which then has a halo effect to the rest of the brand and licensing programme. From our own stable of IP, we see many examples of this: Peanuts, especially, has signed many diverse but brand-relevant fashion collaborations; LEGO has collaborated with YSL fashion; and Teletubbies has expanded from its core preschool audience to reach an older Gen Z fanbase through activations such as appearances at New York Fashion Week.
I feel we’re at the start of a new phase in licensing, where there’s a willingness and openness from brands to explore new and creative paths augmented by retail and technological evolution. Lockdown may have been a time of introspection, but it has also driven innovation, and as a result I believe there are many reasons to be optimistic about 2022 and beyond.”
Jasen Wright, VP North America for WildBrain CPLG, has developed consumer product and licensing programmes for some of the world’s leading brands across food & beverage, home improvement, automotive, art, sports, lifestyle and entertainment. Wright leads a team responsible for growing WildBrain CPLG’s North American portfolio of entertainment and lifestyle brands, as well as growing licensing business for WildBrain’s proprietary properties, including Strawberry Shortcake, Caillou, Teletubbies and Chip & Potato.