Iconic brands celebrate anniversaries; WB unveils plans for Batman’s 80th; Mattel honors Barbie’s 60th; Star Wars land to open in May; Hello Kitty to smile on big screen; Target reports Q4 and annual outlook; plus, other top brand licensing and retail news.

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 for the retailers, licensors and brands.

Disney Sets Date for Star Wars Attractions 

As Disney execs anticipate a huge box office win of more than $100 million with the premiere of Captain Marvel, they also have their eyes on the debut of Star Wars lands at its theme parks.

Overall, the company should experience a strong 2Q and beyond, not only from the box office performance, but also from theme park attendance and consumer product sales. And there’s the other films and merchandising initiatives for Triple Force Friday on October 4, for Star Wars: Episode IX and Frozen 2, and Toy Story 4, Avengers and Spider Man.

During Disney’s annual meeting, the company announced that the much-anticipated Star Wars land attractions in Anaheim and Orlando will open May 31 and August 29, respectively. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will feature the Millennium Falcon thrill ride, Savi’s Workshop, Droid Depot, Oga’s Cantina, and Black Spire Outpost Shops.

WB and DC Have Big Plans for Batman

For Warner Bros. and DC, Batman has been a longstanding and top-performing franchise for decades and the studio has big plans for the Caped Crusader’s 80th anniversary. The multifaceted campaign will feature exclusive celebrations, theatrical engagements, release of Detective Comics #1000, live events and products. The campaign’s tagline is #LongLiveTheBat.

WB and DC are also joining forces with an extensive list of retail partners, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, iTunes, Walmart, GameStop and Google Play and licensees including LEGO, Mattel and Funko.

This is a huge milestone and opportunity for WB and DC to promote the franchise, engage fans and drive merchandise sales and compete with rival studios and brand franchises.

DC will honor #LongLiveTheBat throughout 2019, including Batman’s 80th anniversary on March 30 and Batman Day on September 21. Highlights include:

  • Two commemorative books: including the landmark collector’s issue of DETECTIVE COMICS #1000, on sale at comics shops March 27, and a special hardcover release, DETECTIVE COMICS: 80 YEARS OF BATMAN THE DELUXE EDITION, available March 19.
  • SXSW in Austin, Texas, will kick off the global celebration with multiple fan experiences, photo opportunities, limited-edition merchandise and a mural by a local artist.
  • DC will celebrate Batman’s 80thanniversary with panels at major conventions, including a dedicated “Happy Birthday, Batman!” panel at WonderCon in Anaheim on the actual anniversary, March 30.
  • Generations of fans across the globe will gather together to honor the timeless hero on Batman Day, September 21. The Bat-Signal will light up in major cities worldwide, alongside a wide array of fan celebrations, including interactive photo opportunities, live music, food, games and more. Plus, fans will race across the finish line in their favorite Caped Crusader attire in a series of 5K and 10K runs in select cities.
  • Families can celebrate #LongLiveTheBat at multiple Six Flags locations across North America in August with extended hours, exclusive Batman-themed experiences and special merchandise. Warner Bros. theme parks across the globe, including Warner Bros. Movie World Australia, Parque Warner Madrid and Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi, will host Batman 80th anniversary events.
  • Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando and Sydney will unveil interactive fan-friendly experiences, photo opportunities and special merchandise in September.
  • In May, collectible art boutique MONDO will host a curated anniversary exhibit at its Austin gallery celebrating iconic Batman cover art throughout the years.
  • The global touring exhibition THE ART OF THE BRICK: DC SUPER HEROES will celebrate the Dark Knight with a special Batman edition, beginning this September in São Paulo, Brazil.
  • Romics—the comic book, animation and gaming convention in Rome, Italy—will host an immersive Batman 80th anniversary exhibit in April.
  • Visitors to Shanghai this summer will be treated to a first-of-its-kind special exhibit celebrating Batman.
  • Otter Media brands Rooster Teeth, Crunchyroll, VRV and Fullscreen will celebrate Batman’s 80th anniversary through a variety of programming and social campaigns designed to amplify DC’s global campaign.
  • AT&T will activate across retail, digital and DIRECTV, which will celebrate the anniversary with a Batman-branded channel. Plus, AT&T customers will get insider access through AT&T THANKS to Batman content, comics, merchandise, exclusive fan experiences and more.

Barbie Celebrates 60 Years

Like WB, Mattel has big plans to mark the 60th anniversary of its iconic Barbie brand franchise. This represents a mega promotion and sales opportunity for Mattel in the near term as well as a global example of the popularity of the brand as it is being developed for the big screen.

Among the Barbie characters shown in the photo that reflect its growth and diversity: Maya Gabiera, surfer, Brazil; Naomi Osaka, WTA tennis player, Japan; Kristina Vogel, cycling champion, Germany; Tessa Virtue, ice skater, Canada; Yara Shahidi, actress, United States; Adwoa Aboah, activist and model, United Kingdom; Dipa Karmakar, artistic gymnast, India; Chen Man, photographer, China; Ita Buttrose, journalist, Australia

“For 60 years, Barbie has championed girls, inspired generations to believe through make believe and showed them that they have choices. With more than 200 careers, six runs for president and a trip to the moon before Neil Armstrong, Barbie continues to evolve to be a modern, relevant role model for all ages,” said Lisa McKnight, general manager and senior vice president, Barbie. “The Barbie brand believes girls should never know a world, job, or dream women haven’t conquered. Through our global platform, we are igniting a movement to help close the Dream Gap and further establish Barbie as the ultimate girl empowerment brand.”

Highlights of the celebration include:

  • Celebrating role models to inspire the next generation:Barbie will honor more than 20 women across multiple countries and continents ranging from 19 to 85 years old and speaking 13 languages. These women are gifted a one-of-a-kind doll made in their likeness. Barbie is honoring role models including actress and activist,Yara Shahidi, tennis star, Naomi Osaka, activist and model, Adwoa Aboah, and many more.
  • Launching the Barbie Dream Gap Project Fund: Barbie will donate one dollar from every doll sold in the United States up to $250,000. The funds will be managed through the Mattel Children’s Foundation, the company’s social impact arm.
  • Leveraging Barbie as a role model and connecting with fans through inspiring content. As the #1 girls brand on YouTube, Barbie has a powerful platform to showcase teachable moments and is launching a new vlog onMarch 7called “Finding Your Voice.”
  • Hosting inspiring events: An immersive Barbiepop-up experiencein New York City on March 9; The Barbie “Be Anything” Tour will kick-off in Bentonville, Ark. with GRAMMY-nominated, country music star Kelsea Ballerini on March 9 and 10 and will run through October at 36 participating U.S. Walmart locations; “Barbie Presented by Amazon” pop-up stores are in five major markets across the U.S. based on Amazon’s innovative physical retail model; In-store activations in various Target stores will feature the “What Will You Be” exclusive Barbie-themed apparel and accessories line for girls ages 5 to 10.
  • Introducing commemorative product: Barbie Career 60th Anniversary doll collection celebrates six careers that have been in the Barbie line from the beginning and are still areas that are underrepresented by women, including astronaut, pilot, athlete, journalist, politician and firefighter; Barbie 60th Anniversary and Proudly Pink Barbie dolls pay homage to Barbie’s heritage; plus collaborations with partners across multiple categories including apparel, publishing, food, beauty, and travel.

Hello Kitty Heads to Big Screen

For the first time in her 45-year history, Hello Kitty will be smiling on the big screen thanks to the partnership among Sanrio, New Line Cinema, and FlynnPictureCo.

Sanrio founder, President and CEO Shintaro Tsuji said, “I am extremely pleased that Hello Kitty and other popular Sanrio characters will be making their Hollywood debut. Hello Kitty has long been a symbol of friendship and we hope this film will only serve to grow that circle of friendship around the world.”

Sanrio’s strategy to develop a film based on its iconic character has been in the works for more than five years since the franchise’s 40th anniversary and during the tenure of former president Janet Hsu, who is now heads up global franchise development for Mattel.

Similar to the strategy of other top licensors who are developing content for their key franchises, Sanrio’s Hello Kitty needs a global market jolt that a major film can create. It will provide various new merchandising opportunities and also strengthen the recognition for other characters.

The partnership marks the only time Sanrio has granted film rights to Hello Kitty and other popular characters—including Gudetama, My Melody, Little Twin Stars and more from its expansive universe—to a major film studio. The Hello Kitty film will be produced by Beau Flynn and executive produced by Wendy Jacobson for FlynnPictureCo.

Richard Brener, president and chief creative officer, and Carolyn Blackwood, president and chief content officer, New Line Cinema, said in a joint statement, “We are thrilled to partner with Sanrio and FlynnPictureCo. on developing a film based on this treasured icon. It’s a rare privilege to have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of such timeless IP. Hello Kitty and her friends have been part of our shared culture for decades, and we look forward to exploring where her newest adventure will take her.”

Beau Flynn, CEO, FlynnPictureCo., added, “Hello Kitty has been one of the most beloved characters around the world for the last forty-plus years. We’re incredibly honored that President Tsuji has entrusted us with the responsibility of bringing her story to the big screen globally for the first time ever, and it’s a dream that we get to do this with our long-term partners at New Line and Warner Bros. With the positive and family-oriented values that Hello Kitty and Sanrio embody, there has never been a better time than now to share her message with the world!”

Target Posts Strong Results

“We closed out the fourth quarter with a 5.3% comp, our strongest finish since 2004. And for full-year 2018, we reported our most successful year-over-year performance in well over a decade, including an all-time company record Adjusted EPS of $5.39. We’re also pleased to see our market share continuing to grow in every major category across our business.”

That’s what Target CEO Brian Cornell said during the annual analysts meeting in New York earlier this week and while it was great news for Target, it was also positive news for the retail sector. Since embarking on new strategic initiatives and investments two years ago, Target has made significant progress.

“We committed to reimagine our stores, reinvent our supply chain, reposition our owned brand offerings, rethink pricing and promotions, repurpose our technology and reinvest in our team,” said Cornell. “While other retailers were closing stores and cutting back, we listened to our guests, and bet big on new ways to deploy our most powerful assets—our stores and our people—to create shopping experiences like only Target can.”

From a merchandising perspective, Target has been very aggressive introducing more than 12 brands over the past 18 months including The Collection, a premium wine assortment, intimates and sleepwear brands Auden, Stars Above and Coisie, and its newest design collab with vineyard vines, which are launching this month.

Target remains committed to adding new brands perhaps at a slower pace and building its existing portfolio. Target’s focus on its PL brands will continue to put pressure on licensed brands especially in home, food, apparel categories.

Here are key financial highlights:

  • Q4 comparable sales grew 5.3% on traffic growth of 4.5 percent.
  • Full-year comparable sales grew 5.0% — Target’s strongest performance since 2005.
  • 2018 is the fifth consecutive year in which Target’s comparable digital sales have grown more than 25 percent.
  • Q4 total revenue of $23 billion essentially flat to last year. Operating income was $1.117 million compared with $1,129 million in 2017.

Deal of the Week: Gillette and Twitch

Gillette, P&G’s men’s grooming brand, and Twitch, the leading service and community for multiplayer entertainment, have partnered for the “Gillette Gaming Alliance.” A team of 11 Twitch streamers from 11 countries have been selected to represent the brand and create content for viewers. Starting this month, the Gillette Gaming Alliance will support a “Bits for Blades” promotion, as well as an ultimate fan experience at TwitchCon Europe in April.

“With our history of partnering with the best in class in sports and entertainment around the world, and as an early non-endemic brand playing in the gaming and esports space, Gillette is proud to take this next step with Twitch and align with the best streamers from around the world,” said Jaweria Ali, global marketing director, Gillette.

Lawsuit of the Week: Stanley Black and Decker

Since getting yet another opportunity to save its business just a few weeks ago, Sears is being sued by Stanley Black & Decker over the Craftsman brand for trademark infringement. SBD acquired Craftsman IP for $900 million two years ago. Last week, Sears launched the Craftsman Ultimate Collection brand, claiming to be the “real home of the broadest assortment of Craftsman.” The bottom line: Sears has so many challenges that the launch of the Craftsman brand couldn’t even begin to solve. The retailer should simply stay focused on “survival.”

More Store Closings: The Latest Update

Family Dollar – 390 stores
Abercrombie – 40 stores
Amazon – 87 pop-up stores
Charlotte Russe – 400-plus stores

Last week’s report:

JCPenney – 18 stores
Victoria’s Secret – 53 stores
Gap – 230 stores
Macy’s – 8 stores
Shopko – 250 stores
Gymboree – 900 stores
Payless – 2,000 stores

Total estimate for the year: 4,800+ stores, according to Coresight Research.