From vibrators to colouring books, licensing proves that audiences are young at heart and eager to show it
A view from Kelvyn Gardner

From vibrators to colouring books, licensing proves that audiences are young at heart and eager to show it

Motorhead sex toys and Poldark colouring books show why licensing holds such exciting opportunities, writes the UK MD of the Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association.

Vibrators representing your favourite rock band? Poldark-inspired colouring books? Turned on by both?

These are just some of the more outlandish examples of licensed merchandise doing the rounds.

Licensing had a hugely successful year with the industry growing by over 4% globally, according to LIMA’s 2016 Global Licensing Industry Survey. The UK market in particular expanded a great deal, overtaking Japan to become the world’s second largest market.

Licensing is a growing outlet for key brands to reach new audiences, increase recognition and drive profits with colouring-books, film-inspired foods and yes, even sex toys coming to the fore.

Looking ahead to next year, there are some key developments we should expect to see in 2017 that brands, marketers and advertisers could learn from.

Never write off the big guns

Though disruptors will always engage those of us who are deeply embedded in an industry, there is little sign that the big names will be slowing down any time soon.

Character and entertainment properties, which account for almost half the licensing industry’s revenue, will stay strong and within this category, blockbusters will keep dominating.

High-grossing films are still huge events in annual calendars. Those that can produce kid-friendly assets via video games and toys or even through the keen combination of the two (see Lego’s Dimensions series), will inevitably do well.

Next year, Star Wars Episode VIII and the new Despicable Me film will lead the way. The key learning is that classic, well-established brands have no cause to weaken and that those at the top will probably stay there.

Take TV seriously

While huge films are still merchandising monoliths, TV shows are on the up as cultural assets. The rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime video mean that TV shows can both exist and thrive outside of a linear model, catering to their fans’ needs.

This means that if successful, they are able  to develop cult status much more quickly. The best example of this from the past year is Netflix’s Stranger Things. Recognising its success, Netflix has already commissioned another series.

Alongside this, social media’s focus on a select few hit TV shows have also catapulted these into the retail world on a level we have not seen before. Poldark and The Great British Bake Off, for example, have both been licensed in colouring books.

TV licensing will continue to grow as TV continues to hold its place as the source of most of the entertainment we share and the characters we recognise. Marketers should be sure not to neglect the cultural power of today’s TV shows.

Ditch old assumptions and recognise the kid in all of us

Licensing is a relatively young industry and as such still has a lot of room for growth. Traditionally associated with kids’ toys and other such juvenile paraphernalia, the target market is slowly changing.

This evolution is worth noting for retailers and marketers alike: grown-ups are beginning to buy the things that they actually like.

Gone is the stigma associated with adults wearing t-shirts of their favourite movie and TV stars; instead, they are flocking to buy them. Since adults typically have more economic power than children, the rewards for recognising this trend could be immense.

Some brands have already embraced this more mature market: Game of Thrones has a beer range, 50 Shades of Grey has licensed chocolates and rock band Motorhead have a range of vibrators.

In all, both brands and producers are beginning to sense that licensing is definitely not just for kids – now that realisation has happened, expect the grown-up licensing market to expand.

Retailtainment

For some intellectual property owners, licensed merchandise is even seen as part of their "content". With the term "retailtainment" now solidly in marketers’ vocabulary, and licensors investing regularly in experiential licensing – from theme parks to pop-up branded stores – it’s hard to see it any other way.

A retail display pulling together an entire range from a brand like DreamWorks Trolls or surprise hit Shopkins has visual and entertainment impact on shoppers. Expect more of this in 2017.

Be wary of the misleading side of the internet

Somewhat less encouraging is the rise of counterfeited products. As media owners have realised through recent political events, the web is full of misleading items. This is true of both news and goods.

The challenge moving forwards is to find keen ways to separate the real from the deliberately misleading without unnecessarily punishing those in between who make honest mistakes. Taylor Swift recently got embroiled in one such dispute.

For licensors and licensees, brands and their representatives, sites like Etsy represent the biggest threat as they are crowd-sourced and so difficult to control.

Hopefully marketers can learn from these developments in licensing and that brands can head into 2017 aware of the changes and opportunities that come their way.

Kelvyn Gardner is UK MD of the Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association