For more than 35 years. Licensing Expo has connected the world’s most influential entertainment, character, fashion, art and corporate brand owners and agents with consumer goods manufacturers, licensees and retailers. At this year’s show, held in Las Vegas May 23 – 25, more than 16,000 licensing professionals participated in this important event.
Lookout Marketing, global licensing experts and The Trend Curve’s partner in our new Taking Stock of Retail series, was there to capture the top licensing trends and themes, which were both exiting and diverse. They ranged from unicorns to retro video games, included content trends such as girl power and emojis, focused on the ongoing rise of streaming services as viable distribution channels, and featured collaboration and co-branding continuing as key business models.
Read on for these and other insights, spotted by Lookout Marketing among the 406 exhibitors on the show floor in Las Vegas last month. Don't forget to look below for a gallery of images.
- Unicorns. Unicorn imagery and themes were featured on art and fashion properties. The fantasy artist Anne Stokes, was among those involved in this trend. So were kids’ properties like Zoonicorn, which supports social-emotional learning for 3- to 6-year-olds, and Poonicorn from Fun2Play toys, which mixes the unicorn and emoji trends. Nickelodeon’s new preschool series Nella the Princess Knight had a unicorn as a starring sidekick.
- Retro videogames. Interactive gaming properties are always abundant at Licensing Expo, but this year there was a focus on retro games. Most important were new licensing programs (Intellivision), anniversaries (Space Invaders’ 40th in 2018), new style guides (Bandai Namco’s recently launched Pac-man Retro) and re-launches (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? on Netflix)
- Emojis: still going strong. EmojiOne, the Creative Commons character set, launched a licensing program with Brand Liaison, while first-time exhibitor Kika Tech, an emoji keyboard app developer, was seeking partnerships for branded emojis. Emoji: The Official Brand and Smiley both commanded large booths, as usual, while Sony’s The Emoji Movie, supported by a complete licensing program, is set for release this summer. Emoji-inspired designs also were common at booths such as Grumpy Cat’s.
- Christian characters. Religious characters historically have had a low profile at the show, aside from VeggieTales during its heyday. But there were some glimpses of inspiration this year. Sony exhibited The Star, a feature film about the nativity story, with licensees including Simon & Schuster. Agency Brand Central touted a new licensing program for Bible bbs, a faith-based kids property that counts Beverly Hills Teddy Bear as its master toy licensee. The perennial Precious Moments had a small booth as well.
- Brown Bears. Always a popular and classic theme, bears—especially brown ones—had particularly high profile this year. Many of them were international properties being pitched to U.S. licensees and retailers, including LINE Friends and Wingcle (from Korea), Rilakkuma (Japan), Boonie Bears (China), and Masha and the Bear (Russia), to name a few.
- Line Art. All-over black-and-white line art, reminiscent of the look of an adult coloring book (but not meant for coloring), appeared in categories from booth designs, to premium items like tote bags, to licensed products such as journals and t-shirts. The designs typically incorporated line-art versions of characters or logos as part of highly detailed patterns.
- Netflix et al. The number of TV properties available only on streaming services, particularly Netflix but also Amazon, Hulu, and others, has proliferated over the past three or four years. At the 2017 show, this concept seemed to hit critical mass. That is not to say there have been any significant success stories yet. Still, many manufacturers are increasingly willing to consider franchise-based streaming properties (think Star Trek: Discovery) or wholly original streamed productions (e.g., Trollhunters).
- Female force. The girl power trend continues, with appealing females in lead roles (e.g. Nella), ensemble casts featuring strong female characters (Adventure Time and Steven Universe on Cartoon Network), and girls being added in later seasons to complement the original male lead (Yo-Kai Watch). Licensing programs for properties including DC Super Hero Girls and the Wonder Woman feature film are proliferating, and in many cases performing well.
- Collaborations and co-branding. There were ample examples of short-term fashion collaborations and other forms of co-branding—another trend that has been ongoing in recent years—with licensors from Coca-Cola and King Features to Peanuts and Pokémon touting recent initiatives.
- Preschool. Despite a very crowded landscape, preschool properties remained plentiful. The top examples were typically those airing on PBS Kids, Disney Junior, or Nick Jr., but shows distributed on other traditional networks or streaming services also were spotted, such as The Ollie & Moon Show on Sprout.