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How 2019 Could Spark Some 2020 Licensing Surprises

by: Jon Robinson | January 31, 2020

The disruptions and surprises in 2019 licensing trends have set the tone for swirling around the bone china cup and reading the settled tea leaves for 2020. In no particular order, here are some seminal licensing events from 2019, along with some thoughts as to how 2020 could play out:

The Toy Retailer That Wouldn’t Die: With brand equity that has been building since 1948, the collective consensus was one of deep regret when Wayne, New Jersey toy retailer Toys R Us announced their national closure. Eventually, two stores with reduced footprints in Paramus, New Jersey and Houston’s Galleria mall at the end of 2019. Toys R Us has placed a smartly calculated emphasis on SnapChat and Instagram-worthy interactive, experiential retail store designs again reminding Americans of why we first fell in love with the TRU brand.

2020 Smart Move: The glaring chasm in the Gen-Z and Millennial collectors’ market is a product line of toys to help fans celebrate their favorite online influencers—Instagrammers, YouTubers, and Esports heroes. A line of TRU limited edition influencer-branded toy exclusives would be innovative. The influencers could do in-store promotional signing sessions to draw more foot traffic to TRU retail locales.

The Beatles –A Perennial Band: Baby Boomers and Beatles fans got a short-lived treat over the holidays when the Beatles Pop-Up store opened for a few days in New York City, offering everything from gift wrap and ornaments to a line of Happy Socks. For those who couldn’t make it to New York City, there’s the more-permanent Beatlemania pinball machine that will be a must for collectors everywhere.

2020 Smart Move: Can an experiential, traveling Yellow Submarine Hotel with a Strawberry Fields Garden landscape design surrounding it be too much to ask?

The Car Maker-Luxury Brand Mashup: Bugatti and luxury brand Hermés collaborated in crafting the Chiron design, mixing high fashion and sports car performance. Just one sleek car was created, in Hermés’ signature creamy Craie shade, for a California real-estate mogul.

2020 Smart Move: Since many people choose to purchase vehicles as an extension of their personal brand, there seems to be an opening here for automakers. Rabid pop culture fans would welcome the opportunity to purchase cars co-branded with their favorite entertainment properties—can a new Ford Falcon (as in Millennium Falcon) be on the horizon?

TikTok, The Influential Music Titan: Conflating the trend of micro-entertainment and the Gen-Z/Millennials’ desire to interact with their favorite brands and artists, TikTok has given them the user-friendly platform to do so. Lil Nas X’s wildly successful Old Town Road hit is just one meteoric success story born of this en fuego platform and top music licensor.

2020 Smart Move: As competitors slowly chip away at TikTok’s market dominance, TikTok will likely sustain their dominance with some disruptive feature, like enabling users to enhance their on-camera appearances—auto-tuning facial features and body shapes (think the unplugged vs. digitally enhanced versions of Phoebe’s Smelly Cat performance on TV series FRIENDS).

Odd Food Brand Collaborations: When Dunkin’ partnered with Beauty nail polish company to launch eight colors inspired by their signature lattes, and adidas partnered with AriZona to sell shoes with their signature minty green and cherry-blossom pink tea can-inspired graphics, food manufacturing CEOs everywhere did a double take. (Prior to their bankruptcy filing in September 2019, retailer Forever 21 did a clothing line of Frito Lay/PepsiCo-owned Hot Cheetos-inspired wear in fiery oranges and reds.)

2020 Smart Move: Foods renowned for their distinctive color palettes like Hershey’s chocolate, Heinz ketchup, Campbell tomato soup or Velveeta cheese should explore partnering with Crayola or Sharpie for signature crayons and markers. Can cherry Lifesaver-branded Estee Lauder lipstick be a stretch?

Odd Luxury Brand Collaborations: While the rest of the world wasn’t paying attention, Louis Vuitton saw the future: Esports. Louis Vuitton collaborated with League of Legends publisher, Riot Games to design in-game skins (digital clothing) for the game characters, plus a one-of-a-kind trophy travel case to hold the Summoner’s Cup from the League of Legends World Championship in November 2019.

The adidas-Prada collaboration was another example of odd bedfellows, resulting in the limited-edition Prada x adidas Superstar sneaker and matching bowling bag, limited to 700 pieces, each with a unique serial number.

2020 Smart Move: To establish their relevance for the Millennials and Gen-Zers, Gucci and Chanel may want to seek out the top-performing Esports teams and personalities for clothing line collaborations, while Tiffany does their own glam spin on game controllers, and luxury champagne makers like Dom Perignon and Krug explore co-branded energy drinks for the Esports gamers.

But how do you see it playing out in 2020? Where do you see the greatest and most overlooked licensing opportunities? Feel free to leave your comments below.