For licensing and merchandising, it’s all about Game of Thrones and the final season of the popular HBO series; Macy’s tells a new story; Mary Kate and Ashley head to Kohl’s; WNBA partners with AT&T; ead head rplus, 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.

Game of Thrones Dominates Licensing

For the past few weeks, one of the biggest stories in licensing has been HBO’s Game of Thrones. With extensive publicity about the series from every possible angle and an array of licensed merchandise, this franchise reinforces the importance of a comprehensive brand extensions strategy to the overall business and popularity of the series.

Furthermore, the timing of the Game of Thrones final series eight comes just after the huge success of Disney’s Captain Marvel film and just prior to the release of Avengers: End Game and The Lion King, which debut April 26 and July 19, respectively. As I have pointed out before, it’s a mega year for Disney and its top franchises and therefore more difficult for other properties to find a window of opportunity not only at the box office, but also at retail.

Here are several examples of the licensed products for GoT:

  • HBO and parent company AT&T developed an extensive marketing campaign that included retail activations, exclusive accessories, video on-demand, and event sponsorships.

“This is the biggest television event in recent history, in large part due to the show’s passionate, loyal and committed fan base,” said Valerie Vargas, SVP of advertising and creative services, AT&T. “In celebration of that fandom, and as fans ourselves, we have created unique experiences across all of our platforms that only AT&T and HBO can offer. With this campaign we aim to celebrate the show’s super fans and its permanent place in pop culture.”

For example, AT&T flagship stores in Boston, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco features limited-reveal video content, custom digital games, VR and AR experiences, and an exclusive look at series memorabilia and authentic costumes from different Game of Thrones houses and their allies.

Exclusive products include figures from Funkco, PopGrip from PopSocket, Tumbler sets from OtterBox, and phone cases from Fellowes,

  • The New York Mets and HBO partnered for exclusive Game of Thrones Night on April 27. The first 25,000 fans will receive a Noah Syndergaard GoT-themed bobblehead.

  • HBO and Nabisco partnered for GoT-themed Oreo brand cookies featuring the four Great Houses–House Lannister, House Targaryen, House Stark, or The Night King–battling for the Iron Throne.
  • HBO and Pepsico brand Mountain in Dew created limited edition cans that engaged fans on social media to reveal what they would sacrifice in order to get the Mountain Dew can.
  • Diageo released a limited-edition collection of eight Single Malt Scotch Whiskies along with its White Walker branded bottle.

“There’s no better way to celebrate the finale of this epic HBO show than to give its devoted, passionate fans opportunities to immerse themselves in the Game of Thrones world leading into the final season,” said Zach Enterlin, executive vice president, program marketing, HBO. “Together with AT&T, we are committed to giving super fans a fun, memorable way to experience Westeros and the characters they love so much.”

Macy’s Tells a New Story

Less than a year since Macy’s acquired Story, the department store retailer unveiled the innovative independent New York retail merchandising concept in 36 stores.

With “Color” as its inaugural theme, Story at Macy’s features more than 70 small businesses and brands and more than 400 products. For example, MAC Cosmetics, Crayola, and Levi’s Kids are among major brands that created exclusive products and events.

“The simultaneous launch of STORY at Macy’s in 36 stores across 15 states is the successful outcome of a reimagined approach to cross-functional collaboration and the work of more than 300 Macy’s colleagues who contributed to creating this new, scalable business model nationwide,” said Rachel Shechtman, founder of STORY and Macy’s brand experience officer. “I’m so proud of the work this team did and look forward to continuing the STORY journey at Macy’s.”

While Story developed a reputation as an innovative retailer in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, the question is whether the name and concept will resonate in other cities. While Macy’s will aggressively market Story and generate excitement, the original focus and theme of the concept may be diluted. For example, the original Story would convert its entire merchandise assortment to feature a particular brand or theme, as it did with Nickelodeon and its Rugrats franchise. The message was clear and concise. However, while the color theme is clear, the focus on specific brands and merchandise is not. As the Story format evolves, perhaps Macy’s will better promote the brands that Story will feature. Furthermore, regardless of Story’s success, it’s obviously a huge and complicated initiative to execute. The important question is will its impact be enough to generate the sales revenue and traffic that Macy’s needs to improve its overall performance.

According to Macy’s, Story averages 1,500 square feet, representing more than 55,000 square feet of main-floor retail space across all 36 stores. At its Herald Square flagship location, Story covers more than 7,500 square feet. According to Macy’s, themes will change every few months and Color Story at Macy’s will run through June 26.

Chipotle Teams Up for Esports Competition

Chipotle Mexican Grill announced its official partnership with DreamHack and ESL to launch Challenger Series, a new onsite amateuer esports tournament.

Chipotle will further establish its esports presence as the official partner of CORSAIR DreamHack Masters Dallas; presenting partner of DreamHack Open Atlanta and an integral part of ESL’s Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Chicago.

“Our partnership with DreamHack allows Chipotle to become even more ingrained in the esports community,” said Chris Brandt, chief marketing officer of Chipotle. “This sponsorship provides the perfect platform to directly engage new and longtime loyal Chipotle fans on-site and online, and we are excited to recognize and reward possible up-and-coming talent in the space.”

“Since launching our first North American event in 2016, DreamHack has been able to continue to grow and capture a larger audience both online and on-site in the United States,” said Michael Van Driel, Chief Product Officer at DreamHack. “Having a partner like Chipotle on board to support what we are already doing while adding more content to the event is tremendously exciting for us. DreamHack Dallas will be the biggest North American event we have hosted to date, and is the perfect location to kick off this partnership.”

In addition, Chipotle will be sponsoring the player lounges at all three of these high-profile events as well as Rank S Combine.

The partnership kicked off with the Chipotle-sponsored player lounge at Rank S Combine at the MGM Grand Las Vegas.

Kohl’s Partners with Olsen Twins

Kohl’s announced an exclusive partnership with Elizabeth and James, the popular brand founded by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, for apparel, handbags and accessories.

“Our vision for Elizabeth and James is to deliver a lifestyle brand that offers women access to premium fashion at an affordable price without sacrificing quality and fit,” said Mary-Kate Olsen. “Kohl’s is the right partner to take our brand into a new era, while staying true to the high-quality, fashion-forward designs that our loyal brand enthusiasts expect from us. Leveraging Kohl’s extensive store network and digital platform will also allow us to reach a much larger audience than we have in the past and for this we are particularly excited.”

“Kohl’s is doing a great job with innovation and thinking differently about omnichannel retail. We have always seen Elizabeth and James speaking to a much larger audience and this new business model with Kohl’s will allow us to achieve that,” said Ashley Olsen. “Mary-Kate and I are excited to work with them building out additional lifestyle categories and curating spaces that will bring a new shopping experience to our customer.”

Founded by the Olsen twins in 2007, this brand has been very popular among consumers and it’s a great move by Kohl’s to enhance its fashion position and deliver value to its shoppers. The Olsen twins continue to be leading fashion influencers and this will be a strong advantage for Kohl’s and its social media merchandising initiatives.

“With sophisticated, modern apparel and accessories, Elizabeth and James at Kohl’s will heighten what it means to make fashion accessible,” said Doug Howe, Kohl’s chief merchandising officer. “The addition of the esteemed Elizabeth and James brand and its elevated design aesthetic builds on our continued work to evolve our brand portfolio and deliver a strong pipeline of new offerings.”

According to Kohl’s, the brand will remain an independent business and Mary-Kate and Ashley will continue to serve as creative directors overseeing the design and development of its seasonal collections. The brand will debut for Holiday 2019.

Elizabeth and James joins Kohl’s exclusive brands that include Nine West, POPSUGAR, LC Lauren Conrad, Simply Vera Vera Wang, Apt. 9, Nike, Under Armour, adidas, Levis, and New Balance.

Sesame Street Land Debuts at Sea World

Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando officially opened in late March, giving both brands numerous opportunities to expand their fan base.

Sesame Street Land features Abby Cadabby’s Garden, Big Bird’s Nest, Mr. Hooper’s Store and the famous 123 Stoop, along with all the iconic characters. The six-acre attraction is the largest Sesame Street land inside of any of the SeaWorld parks and an exciting part of Sesame Street’s year-long 50th anniversary celebration.

“We are thrilled to officially welcome guests to walk down Sesame Street for the very first time in the theme park capital of the world,” said Mark Pauls, president of SeaWorld Orlando. “This highly-anticipated, immersive new land is the largest Sesame Street land inside of any of our SeaWorld parks. With over 30 new ways to play and an award-winning parade, this is a new land that guests of all ages will love, and we are excited to share it with the world.”

“Theme parks represent one of the most powerful ways for families to engage with and delight in the Sesame Street characters,” said Scott Chambers, Senior Vice President/General Manager, North America Media and Licensing, Sesame Workshop (the nonprofit educational organization behind the iconic brand). “Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando will enable us to establish deeper connections with even more families while helping the Workshop sustain its nonprofit and educational mission.”

Sesame Street at SeaWorld Orlando  features several educational themed interactive experiences; six themed rides including  Abby’s Flower Tower, Cookie Drop!, Slimey’s Slider,  Big Bird’s Twirl ‘n’ Whirl, Elmo’s Choo Choo Train and Super Grover’s Box Car Derby; Eats on the Street, where food trucks offer a variety of healthy choices and sweet treats; and Mr. Hooper’s Store, which features a broad selection of licensed merchandise including plush characters, apparel, and collectible pins.

WNBA Adds AT&T as Top Sponsor

The Women’s National Basketball Association announced a multiyear partnership with AT&T, making the global communications and technology company the first non-apparel partner to have its logo featured on the front of all 12 team jerseys throughout the league. The jerseys officially debut during this week’s WNBA Draft.

Throughout the season, AT&T will be integrated into, the WNBA app, and WNBA social channels as well as with broadcast partners ESPN networks and NBA TV. AT&T will also be title partner of WNBA All-Star with oncourt logo placement, signage and unique activation opportunities beginning this year in Las Vegas.

As part of the partnership, AT&T and the WNBA will collaborate on programming to support women in sports.

“The WNBA is deeply committed to empowering and inspiring women,” said Kerry Tatlock, Senior Vice President, Marketing Partnerships.  “AT&T’s groundbreaking commitment to our game, which is anchored on our shared values of diversity and inclusion, make it the perfect partner for the WNBA at this exciting time.”

“Together, we can create ways for basketball fans and for AT&T customers to engage in the causes and communities important to the WNBA and to AT&T,” said Fiona Carter, chief brand officer, AT&T Communications. “Whether it’s women in sports, supporting small businesses like those owned by WNBA players, being a leading voice in LGBTQ rights, or giving back to communities in which we operate, we have much in common and many opportunities to empower these incredible athletes and their fans.”

The 2019 WNBA season will tip off May 24 featuring 12 teams.

Quote of the Week: PL at Bed, Bath, Beyond

During its earnings call, Bed, Bath, Beyond CEO Steven Tamares stated that private label brands are a key part of the retailer’s merchandising strategy. “We have launched the first of six new private label home furnishing brands that will be introduced over fiscal 2019 and 2020. Bee & Willow Home consists of products across key categories such as decorative furnishings, bedding, tabletop, kitchen, home décor, rugs, candles and floral. While its still early in the campaign, Bee & Willow categories such as bedding, area rugs, and decorative accessories are performing well.” 

Big Deal of the Week: Endeavor

According to several reports, Endeavor (WME-IMG) is close to acquiring On Location Experiences, the hospitality company partly owned by the NFL, that focuses on hospitality, ticketing, live events.

Article of the Week: Hot Topic

The headline proclaims, “Hot Topic is Still Hot.” Give it a read.

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