Nostalgic Licensing

Nostalgia Still Strong Draw for Licensing

Rough Economy Also Means Fewer Corporate Brands

By Michael Stone, Advertising Age

June 16, 2011

It's the final day of the 31st annual Licensing International Expo, here in Las Vegas. All of my meetings are finally done, but before I get away I wanted to share with you my final take on the important trends impacting this year's show.

Heritage Still Remains in Vogue I've been writing about the heritage and nostalgia trend in licensing for a few years now, and based on the properties being showcased this year, the trend has not yet reached the end of its lifespan. In fact, at this year's show, heritage and nostalgia brands abound for nearly every age group.

For example, the iconic Pan Am brand has been re-launched as a license and is appearing for the first time at the show. For those of you not old enough to remember, Pan Am was at one time one the world's most recognized airline brands and the name of a famous building in New York (now the Met Life Building). The company launched in 1927 and ultimately ceased operations in 1991. The newly revived brand, according to its style guide, "is currently open to developing business opportunities with companies, products and services that reflect [its] dedication to surpassing the highest standards."

For a company that ceased operations in 1991, Pan Am is hot again. Paramount is using the line "Classics Made Here" to highlight its movie franchises at this year's show, which makes sense since it is promoting a wide variety of classics to suit all tastes, including "It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), "The Godfather" (1972), "Grease" (1978), "Top Gun" (1986) and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). Even its new films are either based on classics or part of classic franchises: "Footloose" (a re-make coming out this October), "Mission:Impossible Ghost Protocol" (coming this December), "Star Trek 2" (slated for 2012) and "The Adventures of Tintin 3D" (coming this December).

The Boy Scouts of America, a staple at the Licensing Show for a number of years, is rolling out a whole new property, the Eagle Scout Centennial, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Eagle Scout award to Arthur Rose Eldred.

Another nostalgia play featured heavily at the show this year is the Power Rangers franchise. Recently revitalized by Saban Brands, the all new Power Rangers Samurai property began airing a TV show on Nickelodeon earlier this year. Products are forthcoming.

International Licensing: Here and Abroad While there are brands representing every country each year at the Licensing Show, this year in particular feels more international than ever before. Part of this is clearly due to the efforts of Advanstar, which is strongly promoting its Global Partners program, which encourages exhibitors to participate in the Licensing International Expo in the U.S. as well as the Brand Licensing Europe show within the same year.

Adding to the sense of internationalism, of course, is the large presence of international attendees (according to Advanstar, there was record attendance this year from China and Latin America), and the international pavilions at the show. The China Pavilion featured more than 20 Chinese companies and was officially opened by Liu Yuzhu, director-general of the Department of Cultural Industries, Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China. In addition there were pavilions for Spain, Thailand and Japan.

Asian properties could be found all over the exhibit hall. Asia in general seemed to loom particularly large. Not only did the Asian pavilions feature a number of top properties (for example, in the "Cool Japan" pavilion, I found Tezuka Productions, the brand owner for the art of Tezuka Osamu, Japan's most famous cartoonist and the creator of Astro Boy), but Asian properties could be found all over the exhibit hall. South Korea's Pucca and Myo & Ga franchises, as well as Domo-kun, the official mascot of Japan's NHK television station, are a few examples.

Quite interestingly, I also heard from a colleague that Marvel created for the show a new style guide with Asian-inspired artwork.

Studios Dominate, Corporate Licensing Less of a Presence A number of individuals mentioned to me that it felt like the studios and the entertainment properties really dominated the show and that it didn't seem as if there were as many consumer and corporate brands exhibiting this year. In years past, it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to see major consumer and corporate brands such as Coca-Cola Co., Kellogg, Reckitt Benckiser and Caterpillar with a large presence. But this year, there were very few non-entertainment/media or toy brands exhibiting on their own. Even now, after three days of walking the show, the only truly corporate exhibitor that comes to mind is Electrolux. It seems Electrolux knows it too. It has placed signs around the show with phrases such as, "Tired of fluffy animals?" and "Don't need another Superhero?" and "We have real corporate brands."

This isn't to say that the brands weren't here in some capacity. I suspect that many of them appeared through their licensing agencies, but their absence as exhibitors is telling. It tells me -- not surprisingly -- that corporate America is looking to trim budgets and cut costs wherever it can. It also tells me that many of these brands are focused on other, more pressing priorities. Licensing is always a longer-term play and many organizations are worried about the here and now. But corporate licensing is alive and well and I expect that we will see a number of exciting deal announcements coming from the show in the next few weeks and months.

Parting Thoughts As a lifelong New Yorker, I was appropriately skeptical when the show first moved to Las Vegas from New York. I wasn't alone, of course. We all wondered if the show could survive outside of its home of more than 25 years. Those fears appeared to be unfounded. When the final tallies came in, not only were there 150 new first-time exhibitors, but also Advanstar is projecting 8% growth in attendance this year. As we complete our third year in Las Vegas, I can report that the Licensing International Expo continues to be a worthwhile experience for brands, manufacturers and retailers as well as other assorted onlookers.

And those are my observations from this year's Licensing International Expo. See you next year in Las Vegas!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael Stone is the president and CEO of Beanstalk, an Omnicom Group-owned global brand licensing consultancy. You can follow Beanstalk @BeanstalkGroup.