Licensing, marketing and retail expert/opinion leader Tony Lisanti, provides insight and perspective for the top headlines of the week. “Licensing and Merchandising Report” is a must read for top execs who want objective, straightforward and authoritative analysis.

Target adds new PL brands; Mattel’s Barbie names star; Walmart promotes pick-up service; Meredith launches Innovation group; plus other licensing and retail news. 

Target Starts 2019 with Two New Brands, Strong Holiday Sales

Coming off a strong holiday season, Target has added two more brands to its growing list of private labels in lighting and swimwear.

Interior designer Leanne Ford and co-host of HGTV’s Restored by the Fords has partnered with Target for a limited collection of lighting products.

“Ford’s modern, approachable aesthetic is a beautiful complement to Project 62,” said Jill Sando, senior vice president, merchandising, Target. “This capsule collection is the perfect way to expand our lighting assortment—especially with large-scale pieces—while giving guests even more inspiration to create their own unique looks at home.”
Project 62 + Leanne Ford features more than 30 pieces from table and floor lamps to pendant and sconce fixtures.

Target new swimwear brand, called Kona Sol, offers wide range of sizes created for women “who are focused on style, comfort and fit,” the retailer reported.

“We know the search for the perfect swimsuit can be daunting. Our goal is to make shopping for swimwear fun, easy and inspiring,” says Mark Tritton, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer, Target. “We created Kona Sol to complement our already incredible assortment of on-trend swimwear, giving women a full range of size and style options, all at an incredible value.”

Kona Sol features modern, classically cut bathing suits designed for women of every age with more than 1,500 styles.

Separately, Target reported its comparable sales in the combined November/December period grew 5.7% versus 3.4% growth in the same period last year. The retail stated that it expects 2018 will be the fifth consecutive year in which its digital sales grow more than 25%.

Brian Cornell, chairman and chief executive officer of Target, said: “Given our fourth quarter outlook, we are on track to deliver Target’s strongest full-year comparable sales growth since 2005, market-share gains across all of our core merchandising categories, and double-digit growth in adjusted EPS. In 2019, we expect to build on this momentum as we gain further scale in our fulfillment capabilities and deliver profitable growth throughout the year.” 

LIMA Outlook: Growth in 2019

Good news for licensing this year. In its annual outlook survey, LIMA reported that 44% of the respondents expect their licensing business to increase 7% or more this year, while another 19% predict gains of 4% to 6%. Respondents cited strength in videogames/esports, museum brands, collectibles, and sneakers, while negative aspects cited were about retail contraction, licensees citing overly aggressive royalty rates, and both licensees and property owners complaining about the vast number of properties and retailers’ private labels competing for shelf space and consumer attention.

Respondents also expressed concern about challenges confronting the licensing business over the next two years including “the shaky geopolitical and macroeconomic landscape,” characterized by such topics as Brexit, tariffs and trade wars.

Walmart’s Drives Grocery Pick-Up Message

Iconic cars from major entertainment franchises are the major ad stars of a new ad campaign focused on Walmart’s major commitment to its grocery pick-up service. While it’s a clever and effective ad for its new offering, it also demonstrates Walmart’s commitment and connections to entertainment licensing. The ad first aired during the Grammy awards telecast last Sunday.

The grocery pick-up ad not only reflects Walmart’s expansion of the service throughout the U.S., but also reflects the retailer’s competitive initiative in the food sector.

Featured cars included The Batmobile from Batman v Superman and Justice League; The Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters; KITT from Knight Rider; Lightning McQueen from Cars; the Mutts Cutts dog van from Dumb and Dumber; the family truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation; the Mystery Machine from Scooby-Doo; the Ford Explorer from Jurassic Park; the pumpkin-turned-horse carriage from Cinderella; the Flintstones family car; Bumblebee from Transformers; and the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future.

According to Barbara Messing, Chief Marketing Officer, Walmart U.S., the new campaign uses “famous cars” to highlight the “magic moment” of the Walmart grocery pickup experience: when a Walmart associate loads the customer’s trunk with groceries.

“We not only picked “famous cars” from iconic movies we knew would be instantly recognizable to our customers—and launched the campaign during one of the film industry’s most popular awards shows—but we also worked with a variety of different Hollywood studios to gain access to these vehicles. This helped ensure the “famous cars” looked just like what our customers knew from the films, while demonstrating the ease, speed and convenience of the service—and that it’s for everyone, regardless of what car you drive,” said Messing.

Mattel and WB Announce Plans for Barbie Film

While it garnered national headlines and commentary, it will likely be more than two years before the new live-action Barbie movie hits the big screen. And that means there will be a lot more discussion about the overall performance and future of the venerable brand, a critical piece of the Mattel portfolio.

The movie has the potential to reinvent the Barbie brand and create a contemporary movie franchise that offers huge licensing and sponsorship potential.

The new film, which will feature Margot Robbie as Barbie, is the first deal from Mattel’s new theatrical division, Mattel Films, and its first venture with Warner Bros, Pictures. Robbie will also co-produce the film under her LuckyChap Entertainment banner, along with Tom Ackerley and Josey McNamara from LuckyChap Entertainment.

Ynon Kreiz, chairman and CEO of Mattel said: “Barbie is one of the most iconic franchises in the world and we are excited to partner with Warner Bros. Pictures and Margot Robbie to bring her to life on the big screen. We look forward to building on this collaboration with Warner Bros. Pictures as we tell the stories of our beloved brands. Mattel Films is on a path to demonstrate the enormous potential of our brand portfolio, as we continue to execute on our strategy of transforming Mattel into an IP-driven, high performing toy company.”

“This project is a great start to our partnership with Ynon and Mattel Films,” said Toby Emmerich, chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group.  “And, Margot is the ideal producer and actress to bring Barbie to life on screen in a fresh and relevant way for today’s audiences.”

NFLPA Teams With New Licensee

Life is Good, the Boston-based “positive” lifestyle apparel brand, has partnered with NFL Players Inc. for a collection of limited-edition T-shirts in support of the Community MVP program that highlights shared values in giving back to those in need.

The collection will feature 18 different t-shirt designs, one for each of the players selected as Community MVPs by the NFLPA. The list includes LA Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, New England Patriots brothers Devin and Jason McCourty, and the Buccaneers defensive back Gerald McCoy. Each player’s graphic is unique to them, featuring his number, name and signature.

“NFL players are superheroes in their communities,” said Steve Scebelo, vice president, licensing and business development, NFL Players Inc. “We are extremely proud to add a value-based company like Life is Good as a new NFLPA licensee and Community MVP partner. Like the NFL players they are celebrating via this creative new product line, the work Life is Good does is transformative and makes a positive impact in the community.”

“Life is Good is proud to partner with the NFLPA to highlight its Community MVP program,” said Bert Jacobs, Life is Good co-founder and chief executive optimist. “These players are outstanding examples of Life is Good values in action: spreading the power of optimism and helping those in need. Just as we have always done through our own Life is Good Kids Foundation, we are happy to support these MVP playmakers who grow the good in their communities.”

Meredith Forms Innovation Group

Media conglomerate and licensor Meredith Corporation, which acquired Time Inc. last year, has created a new business focused on innovation and consumer product development. Called Meredith Innovation Group, it includes Meredith Product Studio, Meredith Voice Network and Meredith Smart Codes.

While Meredith dishes out a lot of terms and descriptions for its three new groups, the bottom line here is that the publisher is looking to leverage its data and consumer reach across platforms, expand its consumer products business, and develop new ways to engage and connect its audience and advertisers. The company says it reaches 175 million consumers monthly. Here’s the description of the three new business units as stated by Meredith:

  • Meredith Product Studio “brings together the company’s first-party data and insights, editorial authority, retail prowess and creative expertise to help partners rapidly design and develop innovative direct-to-consumer products. The Meredith Product Studio rapidly iterates design and creative concepts with The Foundry, Meredith’s in-house creative and content agency, enabling brand partners to reach new markets and achieve growth with new products.”
  • Meredith Voice Network“bundles a portfolio of voice and audio experiences based on Meredith’s premium editorial content and consumer utilities for advertisers. Meredith Voice Network captures the fast-growing audience for voice experiences across Meredith’s more than 40 websites, social media and leading podcast platforms, as well as voice assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.”
  • Meredith Smart Codes “apply QR code technology to enable readers to use their smartphones to scan magazine pages across the Meredith portfolio and connect to a wide range of digital experiences while generating enhanced ad performance and attribution data for advertisers.”

“Everything we do at Meredith is founded on our deep, proprietary consumer data and insights, and these new offerings extend the value, utility and reach of our brand portfolio,” said Jon Werther, president of Meredith National Media Group. “We continue to enable cross-platform experiences, including print-to-purchase experiences unlocked through Meredith Smart Codes, and extend our trusted content for busy, time-strapped consumers whenever and wherever they are, including smart speakers and on smartphones.”

Corbin deRubertis, head of innovation, said, “Launching Meredith Product Studio is a significant and natural next step for our business. We have enormous scale, the marketing and advertising know-how, and the proven editorial expertise and insights necessary to help launch successful consumer products in collaboration with our marketing partners.”

Panini Partners with Fighting Irish

Panini America announced an exclusive multi-year trading card agreement with the University of Notre Dame that will begin in April. Fermata Partners, the University’s licensing representative, negotiated the deal.

The new deal gives Panini America the exclusive rights to produce licensed trading cards featuring former Notre Dame football, basketball and baseball players and former athletes from other sports. The first Panini Notre Dame trading cards will be featured in the company’s Contenders Draft Picks and Prizm Draft Picks products that will release in early April.

“We’ve been producing creative and compelling college trading cards honoring more than 200 schools from across the country for several years and we’ve had great success with that part of our business,” said Panini America CEO Mark Warsop. “But the ability to finally be able to welcome Notre Dame into the Panini America fold is something we’re extremely proud of; there is such a rich history with Notre Dame and we look forward to producing unique trading cards for the Fighting Irish faithful, some of the most passionate fans in the world.”

“Panini’s creativity and partnerships will provide Notre Dame fans with new and dynamic trading cards,” said Tomi Gerhold, director of licensing for Notre Dame. “We look forward to working with them and seeing Fighting Irish trading cards available next spring.”

Date to watch: January 14

The fate of Sears will be determined in bankruptcy court. Will Eddie Lampert’s $5 billion bid be accepted? And will it really save Sears or just delay yet again the inevitable reality of liquidation. Or as reported by Yahoo Finance, will Amazon/Whole Foods acquire the Sears sites of its grocery business?

Congratulations to Pam Kaufman and Gaye Dean

Women in Toys will honor Pam Kaufman, president, global consumer products, Viacom/Nickelodeon and Gaye Dean, a Target marketing and licensing veteran executive. Kaufman will be awarded the Wonder Women Mentorship Award and Dean will receive the Wonder Women in Retailing award. The 15th Annual Wonder Women Awards event will be held Feb. 17 at Pier 60, Chelsea Piers, New York during Toy Fair.

More Store Closings: And no end in sight!

  • Chico’s announced it will close 250 stores over the next three years as the retailer shifts its focus from brick and mortar to online sales.
  • JCPenney. Company reports that it will discuss future store closings when it reports earnings on February 28. Reports indicated it could be anywhere from 20 to 125 stores.
  • Lord & Taylor closed its flagship Fifth Avenue New York Store and more closings are expected. Another venerable retail store is gone.

Quote of the Week

Gerald Storch, former CEO of Toys R Us, vice chairman of Target, and Hudson’s Bay, CNBC.

“Traditional department stores are fighting for their lives in an Amazon era and even if Macy’s does everything right, it may not be enough.”

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