Trend-Spotting at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas

May 29, 2018 | Retail and other revenue generated globally by the trademark licensing business in 2017 rose 3.3 percent to $271.6 billion, according to results from the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association’s (LIMA) 4th Annual Global Licensing Industry Survey. Revenue from global sales of toys is the second largest merchandise category in the licensing business behind apparel, represented 13.3% ($36.1 billion) of the global licensing business in 2017.

With licensing representing nearly 30 percent of U.S. toy sales, Laurie Chartorynsky, a member of The Toy Association’s trend team, attended this year’s Licensing Expo in Las Vegas to learn the latest in licensing trends and pop culture. Toy News Tuesday sat down with Chartorynsky to discuss trends that she spotted at Licensing Expo and how they might influence the toy and youth space. 

What sparked your interest at this year’s Licensing Expo?

LC: I noticed the growing number of toy companies – besides the veteran brands like Hasbro, Mattel, LEGO, and Crayola – that were exhibitors such as Moose Toys, Spin Master, WowWee, and Innovation First/Hexbug. 

WowWee recently announced new digital content on YouTube for the Fingerlings brand as well as extensive licensing agreements. TCG will introduce a line of puzzles and board games featuring Fingerlings, Penguin Random House will work with them on a global publishing program for Fingerlings including handbooks and guides, activity and sticker books, journals, picture books, and Mad Libs, that will hit retail shelves in August and through the holiday season.

For the first time, Spin Master known for its Paw Patrol and Hatchimals properties was an exhibitor at Licensing Expo as it looks to secure licensing deals, including those for newer initiatives, such as Fuggler, Toca Boca, and Etch-a-Sketch.

Did you see any new properties that lent themselves well to toys and games?

LC: Of course, there were plenty of children’s properties exhibiting hoping to secure licensing deals. Zoonicorns, for instance, is an adorable animated digital property on YouTube about magical creatures (part zebra, part unicorn) that inhabit the dreams of young animals facing challenges relatable for children ages two through six. Zoonicorns just landed its first toy licensing deal with Jay@Play to launch a plush toy this fall called the ‘Wish Me’ Zoonicorns. 

Zoonicorn creator and CEO Mark Lubratt called the Zoonicorns “anti-superheroes” because “the power to win comes from within.” He said he is talking with other media companies and toy companies to expand its licensing platform and to get the message out about the social and emotional skills children can learn from the Zoonicorn brand, such as collaborative problem-solving, building confidence, and critical thinking skills.

Another example is “Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty,” an animated character comedy for kids that features a spirited, colorful kitty named Felicity who is part rainbow, part butterfly, part unicorn, and “100% kitty.” Developed by Saban Brands and Funrise, Felicity gains magical and majestic powers and lives with her friends in a mythical world, and teaches kids to celebrate individuality and self-confidence.

What else was interesting about the show?

LC: In several conversations and presentations that I heard, it was apparent that fans are looking for quicker and broader choice in merchandise options of the brands they love, even if it’s a relatively new hit show. Several entertainment executives said the cycle has gone from “12 months to 12 weeks” for branded merchandise. Yet finding a licensing partner and getting merchandise on the shelf quickly isn’t that easy, no matter the company size.

Of course, Amazon wants to be a part of that growth (and grab its share). Nicholas Denissen, vice president of Amazon, said in his keynote speech that “the licensing industry can grow to $1 trillion in the next 10 years.”

Denissen announced Amazon’s Merch Collab platform, a new initiative by the e-commerce giant that will allow licensors to develop and launch products faster than ever before by facilitating brands to work with vetted designers and manufacturers to create an expanded selection of branded merchandise.

This could benefit toy companies, especially smaller companies, that have found success with hit properties and products and find they need to keep the momentum going by allowing them to get customized branded merchandise to customers in a relatively short amount of time.  

The program, piloted by Cartoon Network, CBS Consumer Products, Hybrid Apparel, and social media influencer and content creator Shane Dawson, will initially be open to a select number of companies and brands. Amazon is now accepting applications for Merch Collab.

Anything else you would like to add?

LC: One of the questions I asked when meeting with companies is:  “What is the secret to having a successful toy license (whether that’s bringing content to life through toys or bringing toys to life through content and other consumer licensing)?” Of course, that is the billion-dollar question, but I thought some of the answers I received were thoughtful, and they included: 

  • “Having an amazing style guide” of characters;
  • Being able to break the rules with new products that still offer tried-and-true play patterns;
  • “Storytelling is critical,” and
  • It’s all about “customization and personalization.”

With licensing accounting for such a huge stake in the toy industry, we will be interested to see which licenses pan out and which fall by the wayside in the near future. 

For more information about the hottest toy trends of 2018, visit