Following a decade shaped by reality stars, meme characters and the thrill of nabbing the latest sneaker drop or luxury drip, the consumer product space is poised for a more conscious and technology-driven facelift.
In a new report, License Global magazine reflects on the brands that dominated the 2010s and the emerging powerhouses to watch in for the Roaring Twenties. The brands selected for both decades were based on nominations sourced from License Global’s readership, industry colleagues and thought leaders.
The licensing programs from the brands selected as the 2010s’ top brands of the decade drove pop-culture and disrupted consumer purchasing habits that directly contributed to the $292.8 billion in global sales revenue generated by licensed merchandise, according to License Global.
Among the top brands for 2010s is Adidas, which flexed its unparalleled savviness in selecting collaborative partners that possess their own megawatt star power, including Pharrell Williams and designer Jeremy Scott. The sportswear and lifestyle giant’s most notable collaborations, however, were with pop culture figureheads, including Kanye West and his brand Yeezy, and more recently with Beyoncé’s brand, Ivy Park.
Adidas’ successful collaborations underscore the power of celebrity in the 2010s. Case in point: the Kardashians and Jenners, a blended family that parlayed its popular reality television show into licensing deals for virtually every relevant product category imaginable.
Before apps were a common licensing program, Kim Kardashian-West’s “Kim Kardashian Hollywood” earned more than $43 million in its first three months of release, License Global reported. The app was just a drop in the bucket of what was to come, including the $200 million deal Kardashian-West made with Coty for her beauty line KKW, and the $600 million deal her stepsister Kylie Jenner made when she sold her cosmetic line to the same company.
“If you calculate the collective net worth of the Kardashians and Jenners, it’s in the billions, thanks to licensing,” the report stated.
K-Pop group BTS made the list for its ability to draw a global audience since 2013, despite releasing its first English-speaking single just six months ago. License Global noted that BTS has “transcended the music industry through its strong portfolio of licensing partners,” including Starbucks and Mattel.
Similarly, music and fashion icon Rihanna and her Fenty empire now span licensing deals for 11 fragrances and multiple apparel lines as well as her own brand with luxury house LVMH. Though the singer hasn’t released a new album since 2016’s “Anti,” fans are getting their Rhianna fix with her Savage x Fenty lingerie collections and Fenty Beauty line—both of which have helped bring inclusivity and diversity to the forefront of fashion through game-changing marketing initiatives.
Luxury fashion brands, in general, experienced a solid decade, particularly when the category began to merge with streetwear. “Fashion giants Prada, Gucci, LVMH, Off-White, Moschino and Supreme grew exponentially via a host of footwear and apparel partnership that spawned a whole new consumer base for the fashion segment,” License Global stated.
Sneakers—such as Adidas x Raf Simons and Puma x Alexander McQueen—were the springboard for most of these limited-edition product lines, but it also led to crossover collaborations, including H&M’s collections with Giambattista Valli, Balmain and Alexander Wang, and Louis Vuitton’s famous partnership with Supreme, which redefined the genre of high-low collaborations.
Licensing added color and personality to children’s products in the 2010s. MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise!, a toy phenome that began as small dolls shrouded in a shrink-wrapped ball, evolved into a brand with licensing deals in gaming and e-sports, apparel, face masks and more, according to the report.
One influencer, however, cornered the tween and teen market. Singer, dancer, actress and Nickelodeon star JoJo Siwa emerged as a precocious real-life cartoon character for children, known for her positive attitude as much as her colorful fashion choices and signature hair bow. Siwa, who is now 17 years old, inked licensing deals throughout the 2010s with companies like Jay Franco for bedding, Mad Engine for apparel, Just Play for toys and Crunch Pak for snacks.
Young adult fiction emerged as hotbed for licensing opportunities in during the decade. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, however, catapulted into pop culture, thanks in part to four films that brought the dystopian saga to the big screen. An “active and passionate fan base” latched onto the brand’s licensed products, including Halloween costumes, apparel, jewelry and beauty, the report stated.
And then there are those brands with age-less appeal and unbound potential for licensing. When meme culture “blew up” in the 2010s, a four-legged sourpuss a.k.a. Grumpy Cat went viral and became the poster feline for apparel, toys, homewares and accessories geared toward moody consumers. Marvel’s “The Avengers” became a “multi-generational” brand and spawned licensing deals for video games, books and comics, as well as immersive experiences, License Global reported.
Then there is The Smiley Company, owner of the simple yellow smiley face created in 1972 by Franklin Loufrani that has become a globally recognized symbol for happiness. With licensing deals that run the gamut from McDonald’s to Lee Jeans, Asos and Moschino, License Global reports that the licensing program has helped the company earn more than $538 million.
Brands to watch in the 2020s
The 2020s future top brands will continue to alter the licensing landscape, License Global reported.
Consumers reliance on handheld technology—be it to communicate, navigate or shop—is unlikely to subside in the next 10 years. “Consumers are more comfortable than ever with e-retail and apps enable a genuinely engaged community to reach through brand partnerships,” License Global stated.
As such, “megawatt” mobile apps like Postmates, DoorDash and Calm show the potential to lead in other product categories. Recent examples include mindfulness and meditation app Headspace’s collaboration with “Sesame Street” to help calm children and DoorDash’s partnership with Old Navy and Macy’s for same-day delivery.
Zoom, which has kept families, friends and colleagues connected during the pandemic, became a $130 billion brand this year, and is putting plans in place to maintain its growth even when social distancing becomes a thing of the past. The report pointed to licensing opportunities in telecommunications and phones for the tech company.
Another pandemic distraction, TikTok, lands on License Global’s list of brands to watch, partly for the app’s ability to launch the careers of influential personalities. TikTok accounts like WeWearCute have inked licensing deals for cosmetic sets and for a line of Build-a-Bear plush toys and accessories, while others have joined content-making groups or signed to a talent label. “The influencer market is continuing to explode, and TikTok will only continue to push the narrative into the next decade,” the report stated.
The buzz that an unexpected collaboration can generate presents opportunities for fast-food chains. Though names like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and KFC have existed for decades, License Global points to recent a host of out-of-the-box ideas (a Taco Bell hotel, KFC-scented candles and McDonald’s collaboration with pop-reggaeton star J Balvin, to name a few) from the brands that prove consumers’ love for a guilty pleasure.
Athleisure brands may be the benefactor of some of these oddball licensing deals. The report described VF Corporation’s recent acquisition of Supreme as confirmation that hoodies, sweats and loungewear will likely ramp up in the decade ahead. Nostalgia, however, tees up the greatest opportunities for these casual brands. Champion had recent success with nostalgic cereal brands like Lucky Charms and Wheaties, as well as Nintendo’s “Super Mario Bros.,” while Fila bowed a Notorious B.I.G. collaboration in early 2020.
Though the sports industry has experienced a heavy blow from the pandemic, it hasn’t diminished the NBA’s cool factor. The sports league and its athletes have driven some of the biggest footwear, apparel and video game licensed collaborations in the U.S., but it is the league’s growing fan base across the globe that points to even bigger opportunities, License Global reported.
On the performance side, however, stationary bike company Peloton is on track to expand its reach. Peloton recently released a Barre streaming service and announced a partnership with Beyoncé on a strategic streaming workout program, but the report pointed out that it has the potential to expand into adjacent categories like apparel, equipment, and food and beverage.
And brands that are “cause-related champions” are poised for a licensing boom, thanks to Gen Z and millennials’ unwavering support for brands with uplifting values. “With limited discretionary dollars, concerns over environmental sustainability and a laser-sharp focus firmly affixed on inclusivity, consumers want to purchase from brands that make a difference,” License Global stated.
Fashion and accessories brands like Patagonia, Bombas and Warby Parker, which each take part in some kind of giveback program, have the opportunity to “boost their bottom line and licensing footprint,” according to the report.