Pokemon, superheroes, Disney Princesses, corporate brands and logos and other licensing icons kept their selling power during the pandemic, according to a study released today by Licensing International.
Consumers spent $315.5 billion worldwide on licensed merchandise in 2021, according to the study, up 7.75% over 2019. Licensing International did not conduct ita annual industry study in 2020, due to the impact of the pandemic.
Royalty revenues from licensing deals rose 10.6% to 17.4 billion, and the weighted average wholesale royalty rate increased to 8.47% in 2021, up from 8.31% in 2019.
Licensed merchandise, during the pandemic, reflected many of the consumer trends of the past two years, with licensed home improvement, home entertainment, and pet products seeing strong sales.
Perennially popular characters and brands showed particular strength during the pandemic, the study found, as consumers dealt with uncertainty by choosing the familiar.
“Consumers absolutely were migrating to evergreen properties, what’s tried and true,” Maura Regan, President of Licensing International said in an interview. During the pandemic, Regan said, consumers were gravitating toward “what’s familiar and what gives us comfort.”
“And the evergreen brands absolutely do that. They deliver that experience, that comfort, that familiarity that some things are dependable,” Regan said.
Licensing International has been producing the global study since 2014. The report “is particularly helpful for brand owners, manufacturers, licensees doing their strategic planning, and for looking at what the trends are, and where to place their bets,” Regan said.
While potential licensing revenue from blockbuster movies and in-person entertainment events continued to take a pandemic-related hit in 2021, strong spending in categories including celebrity, corporate, publishing, and art made up for the lack of new entertainment releases in 2021.
The sports property category suffered significant disruptions due to Covid shutdowns in 2020, but rebounded strongly in 2021, with 8% growth over 2019. The collegiate category saw 18.6% growth, fueled in large part by a rules change that allows college athletes to license their names, images, or likenesses for products, services, or video games.
The study also found that e-commerce sales became increasingly important in licensing during the pandemic, just as they did in retail in general.
E-commerce accounted for 34% of global licensed sales in 2021, up from 22% in 2019.
Manufacturers of licensed goods used the pandemic to expand their direct-to-consumer and e-commerce capabilities. Licensees surveyed for the study said that e-commerce allowed them to expand their distribution as physical shelf space is being reduced, and that it also allowed them to increase their profit margins, compared to brick and mortar sales.
“Some licensees commented that their new e-commerce capabilities had become a source of competitive advantage, driving new licenses their way,” the study reported. “One licensor,” according to the study, “even mentioned that they now require their licensees to have at least 1/3 of their sales from online channels.”
The pandemic also affected which merchandise categories sold well, and reflected broader retail trends. Video Games & Software (+34.9%), sporting goods (+30.8%), lawn/garden/ tools/hardware (+19.6%), housewares (19.1%) pet products (+17.5%), toys/games/crafts (+17.1%), home décor (+15.6%), and food/beverage (+12.1%) all showed greater than average growth.
All of those categories “were tied to the pandemic trends of spending more time at home, outside in the fresh air, cooking in the kitchen, pantry-loading, and together with family,” the study said.
The United States and Canada accounted for 59% of licensing sales in 2021, at $186.28 billion, the largest percentage of all the global regions.
The study, which included a market research survey that drew responses from 244 licensing industry companies, found that licensors increasingly are exploring new digital licensing channels, including NFTs, e-sports, and brand placements in the metaverse.
At the Licensing Expo, the annual licensing trade show and conference, held this year in May in Las Vegas, one of the keynote speakers, entrepreneur and marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk, spoke about the need to look at the metaverse in terms of “the perspective of the consumer and where the consumer is taking us,” Regan said.
“It is something that we are, as an industry, spending a lot of time with because it’s about the consumer experience,” she said.