Brand Licensing Trends That Will Shape 2022

Our life as we know it has changed in the historic breakthrough of 2020. The year 2021 was no less than strange and has redefined consumer behavior, workplace culture, community needs to a greater extent.

If anything, last year has taught the brand licensing industry to adapt and shift to meet changing demands. New and exciting trends have emerged, existing trends have advanced when it comes to brand extension and licensed consumer products.

For licensing where the business can change daily, we wanted to share a few trends and themes that will grow and shape 2022. These trends can help the licensing executives as they lay out their roadmaps for the new year and beyond.

Brand Licensing Trend: Sustainability Matters

Sustainability continues to be at the forefront for consumers and businesses. Sustainability is a significant part of any brand strategy. And for the licensing industry, sustainability has stepped even more into the spotlight as consumers’  fears about the planet have increased.

For many consumers, it’s now a purchasing criterion while for businesses sustainability makes profits and sense.

Kate Dwyer, Senior Director for Global Licensing at The Coca-Cola Co., recently  revealed, “There has been a pivot in the last 6-12 months because consumers not only say they want it [sustainability], but they are actually willing to pay the difference.” 

At Dependable Solutions’ Licensing Automation Summit, co-founder of Sustainability think tank Products of Change,  Helena Mansell-Stopher shared that 86% of consumers expect brands to be responsible for what they’re producing.

Helping the planet makes a difference to consumers. Many companies are already putting major sustainable and innovative initiatives into practice. Unilever quite recently made it public that 76% of its profits are coming from its sustainable living brands.

Gap, a founding member of the Water Resilience Coalition, pledged that it will be a water-resilient value chain by 2030 and will source 100% of cotton from more sustainable sources by 2025.

This is in addition to their goal of saving 10 billion liters of water in manufacturing by 2020 which they surpassed by over one billion liters.

Raugust Communications publishing 15 Licensing Super Trends for 2020 and Beyond discusses that Eco-friendly licensing and collaboration efforts are also on the rise. Products are incorporating new, sustainable materials. The food industry is introducing plant-based alternatives. And marketers are looking for ways to reduce eco-unfriendly materials and promote recycling and reuse.”

Conferences solely dedicated to sustainability in licensing have emerged in the past couple of years. The Sustainability in Licensing Conference is heading into its third year and will take place in person on June 22nd at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

SILC22 will share ideas, insights, and innovations on how the licensing industry can drive positive global change to a more sustainable future through the actions they take today.

Brand Licensing Trend: Representation Matters

Diversity and inclusivity have been a big issue for years as there is the need for more representation when it comes to consumer products and services.

Diversity and inclusion focus on a range of areas that embrace consumers of different ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ identification, sizes, ages, special needs, and economic status as Raugust Communications’ report reveals.

For Gen Z, diversity and inclusivity are part of their lives and not just buzzwords. They’re looking for authenticity from brands and are demanding more diversity and inclusivity. And brands have taken this to heart. They are becoming more inclusive in their content, advertising, product design, marketing, and retail strategies.

Some recent examples include Marvel’s  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings which was a huge hit even during the pandemic. The Equalizer starring Queen Latifah was the number one new broadcast show of 2021.

Netflix’s #1 show for 2021 was Squid Game, the Korean sci-fi survival show that wasn’t even spoken in English (you had to read subtitles). Nickelodeon recently premiered its third season of The Casagrandes which follows a big, loving Mexican-American family.

Entertainment is reflecting the world we live in and is experiencing lots of success.

Over the past few years, many consumer products have enhanced representation in their offerings.

For example, a few years ago Mattel realized they needed to make some changes to their iconic brand Barbie. Between 2011 and 2015 sales of Barbie were down by one-third as the doll hadn’t evolved that much since the 1950s.

Little girls no longer found her aspirational and body image was a big issue. In 2015, Barbie released their Fashionista line–a collection of two dozen dolls with eight different skin tones and some curly hair options.

In 2016, they launched Barbie in different body shapes including curvy Barbie, tall Barbie, and petite Barbie. The Fashionista line now comes in 22 skin tones, 94 hair colors, 13 eye colors, and 5 body types.

Fash forward to  2020, they added new dolls who are in wheelchairs or use prosthetic limbs. Ken dolls also adopted a broad array of body types and hairstyles including man buns. Barbie’s sales soared; in 2020 Barbie generated its best sales growth in two decades and its #1 doll was sold with a wheelchair.

In addition to products, Barbie’s marketing has embraced diversity and inclusivity. Barbie’s YouTube vlog tackling racism went viral.

The latest Gallup poll shows that LGBT identification is on the rise. Retailers have found success in their Pride collections like Target and Petco. But June cannot be the only month where LGBTQIA+ is showcased. According to Forbes, the LGBTQ+ is the fastest-growing  consumer market in the U.S. and is the “$1 trillion blind spot.”

Forbes also quoted the GLAAD study in collaboration with Procter & Gamble that showed on 1.8% of all advertising on mainstream media in 2020 represented LGBTQIA+. Scout Productions, the company behind Queer Eye, unveiled its web store and licensed product line for the series in late 2020.

For the licensing and consumer products industries,  this target audience is looking for products that represent them to spend their money on.

Brand Licensing Trend: Experiences & Pop-Ups

While e-commerce is still essential for retail, “brick-and-mortar retail has proven more resilient than most could have anticipated. A year-plus of turmoil has largely continued into 2021, and yet nearly half of shoppers still prefer to shop in-store rather than online,” according to Forbes. It’s the experience that keeps consumers coming back again and again.

And for licensing, it’s experiential licensing and pop-ups that are helping consumers get back in-store. It’s become so essential, that Licensing Expo’s 2022 theme is “Location-Based Experiences.” Pop-ups and experiential events are a great way to create awareness for a marketing initiative like a new TV season or a brand anniversary.

Current brands like Stranger Things and retro brands like Friends have provided interactive experiences that have fans lining up to step into Hawkins Lab or grab a coffee and pastry from Central Perk. The Vincent Van Gough immersive experience allowed guests to step into the artist’s paintings interactively. This unique experience continues to add to cities around the globe.

By allowing fans to truly engage in-depth with a property, experiential licensing and pop-up stores provide a way for brands and licensees to test products for mainstream potential as well as gather feedback and market research data on the most ardent fans.

For fans, these venues provide them with a sense of belonging to a community and provide the opportunity to engage with other fans and creators.

The nature of pop-ups and experiential is to be short-term which creates a sense of urgency and excitement. It’s also relatively low-risk. Pop-ups can also provide better conversion rates. For Glossier, their pop-up stores had a conversion rate of 60% whereas their permanent retail stores had a rate of 50%.

In addition to stores, experiences are also being found in theme parks and hotels. Peppa Pig is opening her first theme park in Florida in 2022, steps away from the LEGOLAND® Theme Park.

Nickelodeon opened a new hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico during the Summer of 2021 that features brands like SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and PAW Patrol.

Through these immersive destinations, fans can interact with their favorite characters, purchase exclusive products, and have one-of-a-kind experiences like the opportunity to get Slimed!

Brand Licensing Trend: Get It Fast

Consumers have become more capricious and want what they want now. Everything seems to be a click away from their fingertips. Getting products in their hands has become a race against the clock.

Today, products can reach consumers faster due to manufacturing and technology.

As Raugust Communications suggests, For licensing executives, that means keeping an eye on hot markets and micro-moment opportunities and being ready to capitalize quickly; streamlining manufacturing, licensing negotiations, approvals, and all other aspects of the process of bringing licensed products to market; and relying on a fast-fashion mentality that gives consumers something new for a brief time, knowing they will immediately move on.”

When fans embrace a moment or a catchphrase by creating memes or sharing online, brands can make merchandise available almost instantaneously with print-on-demand technology.

This can help fans gratify the fan’s in-the-moment fandom desire and allow the brand to capitalize on a short-lived trend.

No matter the trend, it’s always important to meet your consumers where they are. The opportunities will continue to present themselves.

By paying attention to both the trends of the moment and the trends that stick, it’ll help you plan a path to create products and environments that keep consumers coming back again and again. And that’s a trend we all want to continue in this coming year and the future.

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