Licensing Expo 2019: Five Trends Ahead for the Licensing Industry

June 28, 2019 | By: Allison Ames - Beanstalk has returned from Licensing Expo 2019 full of enthusiasm and excitement for the continued evolution of the licensing industry. My experience in Las Vegas only reinforces the view that brand licensing will play an increasingly powerful role on the retail “battlefield.” Licensing is clearly the stealth tool for smart brands that need to connect with customers amid the influx of new competitors and marketing messages flowing through all channels.

I come away from Licensing Expo 2019 especially interested in the growing opportunities for licensing in five areas: Food, cannabis, eSports, experiential marketing and cause-related marketing.

The foodie culture is growing. And while licensing has always had a big role in food, things are on fire now. At Licensing Expo, Beanstalk announced GODIVA’s new partnerships with General Mills and Kraft Heinz. General Mills will develop a range of baking mixes for easy preparation of GODIVA-branded desserts like molten lava cake, brownie cheesecake swirl and flourless chocolate torte. Kraft Heinz will introduce a range of baking ingredients like chocolate chips and baking bars.

Licensing food, beverage and restaurant brands into fashion and beauty continues to be a hot trend. It was announced that snack brand Cheetos and fast-fashion retailer Forever 21 partnered to launch two fashion-forward lifestyle collections inspired by the bold Cheetos color palette. Confectionery brand Chupa Chups has partnered with Korean handbag maker Vincis to develop a limited-edition collection of fashion accessories, and Dunkin’ and Lauren B. Beauty will introduce a line of nail polish inspired by Dunkin’ sweet treats.

Cannabis is set to disrupt virtually every consumer industry – food and beverages, spirits, beauty, health and wellness, home and garden and tourism. The Expo was a great place to see the broad role licensing stands to play in the process. The show’s Hemp & Cannabis Marketplace was a showcase for pioneering consumer brands bringing cannabis, hemp and CBD mainstream. The Marketplace was curated by PRØHBTD, a consumer goods and content company in the cannabis and hemp industry. Beanstalk has partnered with them to represent several of their brands, including Hempathy, a hemp-based cosmeceutical line, and Ceeby Dee’s, a hemp-derived dietary supplement. We’ll help them identify manufacturer and retailer partners to extend those brands into lifestyle categories such as beauty, food, beverages, clothes, home décor and more.

Other brands at the Marketplace included The Legion of Bloom, Kiva Confections, The Patch Co., CBD Living, Heavy Grass and Foria Wellness. It’s clear that as companies seek to knock down taboos and change the current perception of cannabis to become more acceptable and mainstream, licensing will be an important tool to help educate consumers and gain their trust.

eSports is one of the hottest growth areas for licensing. The growth of organized multiplayer video game competitions for prize money has been astounding. The global viewing audience is 385 million, and projections are that the global market will exceed $1.6 billion by 2022. The NBA has established its own eSports league; non-gaming brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Gillette are investing in sponsorships, and scores of colleges have established varsity eSports programs and curriculums.

It seems from discussions at the show that the initial – and biggest – licensing opportunities will be via ecommerce (as opposed to brick-and-mortar retailers), given the audience demographics and the fact that the entire sport lives online. Right now, potential licensees are investigating whether the best route is to attach themselves to teams or to well-known players and gaming influencers, such as Fortnite star Ninja. I strongly believe that all brands in the arena will need to focus on reaching eSports fans in truly authentic ways in order to make the full range of licensing and sponsorship activities pay off in big ways.

Experiential marketing – think branded pop-ups, restaurants, cafes and hotels – is one of the most authentic ways to immerse consumers in a brand’s ethos and quality. And licensing can really power experiential marketing. For instance, Beanstalk has worked with Taco Bell in planning The Bell, a temporary hotel in Palm Springs; licensees will provide exclusive merchandise that will be sold on premise and online.

Indeed, we saw at Licensing Expo that location-based licensing is at the top of licensors’ priority lists as they seek to expand business beyond merchandise and attract customers who look not to just buy brands but also to experience them. Case in point: Meredith Corp.’s Southern Living Magazine plans to expand its current group of 21 boutique hotels, and its Coastal Living Magazine will associate itself with more developments. Sanrio is opening a Hello Kitty Café at the MGM Grand in Vegas and is considering locations in Orlando, New Jersey and New York, and a Mattel licensee plans to open a 25,000 square-foot family entertainment spot in Toronto next year featuring Barbie, Hot Wheels and Mega Construx.

With consumers expecting brands to stand for something and to take a position on key issues, cause-related marketing programs continue to grow. Younger generations want to purchase products that have a story and a purpose with which they can identify, and in response, companies have begun to up the ante on their corporate social responsibility programs and find other ways to give back. National Geographic helped launch the Photo Ark licensing program to inspire people to save at-risk species. The program’s founder has photographed over 9,000 species in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries across the globe – and these photos have inspired a comprehensive licensing program including adult and children’s books, apparel, footwear, puzzles, stickers and plush toys. And The Smiley Company, one of the world’s biggest licensors, has created the Smiley Movement, a social network platform for users to gain access to philanthropic projects and events and support opportunities that help them accomplish charitable goals.

I look forward to seeing how these trends take shape over the next year and how smart brands creatively engage with consumers through licensing. It’s sure to make for an interesting Licensing Expo 2020!