Your brand, their identity: ka-ching!

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h1It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

J.K. Rowling

This week Global License magazine released their annual list of the top 125 global licensors, which ranks companies selling branded consumer goods. The companies that made the list generated more than $185 billion in retail sales, with nearly 50 of them reporting more than $1 billion in activity. And out of the top 125, we counted at least 45 media brands – ranging from Nickelodeon (sing it with me – Sponge Bob Square Pants!) to CBS (anyone up for an evening of CSI: The Board Game?).

Topping the list, of course, is Disney Consumer Products, which reported a whopping $28.6 billion in sales of branded merchandise last year. If you have children of any age this shouldn’t come as a surprise; when our daughter was young enough to start wearing pull-ups emblazoned with Disney Princesses, the first thing she wanted to know was “Who are these pretty ladies?” It’s been downhill ever since.

It’s no secret that as consumers, we use brands to help shape our identity. From wearing your home team jersey on game day to sporting the t-shirt from the hot new indie band, adorning yourself with a content brand helps you identify with your tribe, and gives your faves some free exposure. Win win, right?

It can be, as long as your brand experience is designed to scale from the accidental consumer (e.g. the parent who buys the Princess branded pull-ups without thinking) all the way up to the hard-core fan (e.g. the grown woman who dresses up as Cinderella and books a table at Disneyland’s Ariel’s Grotto).

But not every brand can give their customers a theme park where they can play dress up. Which can lead to some, well, interesting behavior in other parts of their lives. Do a Google Image search for “Harry Potter Halloween” for a taste of how fans adopt their favorite Hogwarts persona...while wearing some of the $6 billion in merchandise sold by Warner Bros. Consumer Products. But dress-up and role-playing isn’t limited to candy-filled holidays, and there’s a reason “fan” is the root of “fantasy.” Case in point: HarryPotterFanFiction.com, a site that's home to more than 69,000 fan-written Harry Potter-themed stories contributed by 70,000 site members. I wonder how many of them have bought Gryffindor-colored scarves?

A smart licensing strategy can help media brands embed themselves into their customers’ lives. But once the product leaves your warehouse and enters their house, remember that they’re in control. Whether it’s a Star Wars-themed polyester-blend Halloween costume, a Playboy bunny seat cover or a New York Giants sheet set, they’ll adopt your brand, your stories and your characters for their own needs. However deep-seated those needs are.

By Michael Sippey, vice president of artist development at SAY Media