Creating Licensed Property Blockbusters

It’s not a surprise that some of the hottest licensed properties encompass sports heroes as well as pop culture and entertainment icons. Little wonder that consumer product companies are flocking in record numbers to ink potentially lucrative, even game changing, licensing deals. Especially for properties that make it big in the movies.

What is surprising to some are the sources of today’s entertainment hits. We’ve seen inspiration from books leading to masterful screenplays and expert casting to create blockbuster movies for decades. Romantic literary heroes and even comic book heroes have made it big for their brand owners. But video game icons? Toys and board games? Disney World rides?

Fans of video games anxiously await the release of movies that are in the works around the “Halo”, “World of Warcraft” and “Mortal Kombat” properties. Will they be well done? Even if campy, will they be smash hits? How about toys? The stunning success of Hasbro’s Transformers franchise is legendary. Buoyed by fans’ enthusiastic response, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe hit the silver screen, followed recently by “Battleship,” loosely based on the classic game. It seems that the fans of the property are emotionally engaged by movie storylines -- if they are authentically portrayed, they’re successful.



Industry insiders know that the Hasbro brand has evolved from a toy company into an entertainment brand. More ways to engage with their brands on new media platforms have led to stronger sales and customer loyalty. Disney has also proven that maintaining the heritage of many of its beloved properties while using multiple media platforms to reach generations of consumers leads to success. Notwithstanding the magic of the Disney brand, when the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme park ride became a movie sensation, it surprised many critics. Yet there have been four blockbuster films to date with more planned. Lighthearted and nonsensical, the franchise has struck a chord with people around the world.

Some critics have eschewed films based on toys, games or theme park rides as a crass, opportunistic means of capitalizing on a well-known brand. Others bemoan the “lack of creativity” in the film industry with these sources of inspiration. Some say that our culture is becoming shallow. There may be some truth to these observations, but hasn’t pop culture long been a source of inspiration for artists from apparel designers to songwriters, TV show and movie studios? Is that necessarily a bad thing? Isn’t there room for all kinds of entertainment inspired by pop culture? 

Not every entertainment offering based on a popular property is a success. With so many choices vying for attention, they can fall flat unless they connect with their audience. Storylines matter. Delivering the property’s unique brand, its back story and its assets do too. A transmedia approach should be used to deliver a story in a variety of formats. It can drive fans to different threads of a property’s story via multiple platforms. Making it relevant to a modern audience and enriching their experiences is critical.

That includes the inevitable move to licensing. There are so many properties’ storylines in the pipeline one after the other, that some of the buzz and excitement they generate fizzles quickly. Others disappoint, failing to live up to expectations of dazzling success. Both scenarios cut short the potential for successfully licensed consumer products.

A blockbuster film does not ensure blockbuster licensed products. Licensing program design is as crucial to the success of properties as the design of the movies and other entertainment vehicles that launch them into public consciousness. It’s important to create a visual vocabulary that encompasses the assets of these properties at a glance as well as those that elicit emotional responses. Understanding the cues that resonate on an emotional level helps create compelling visual design. Then, licensed consumer products and packaging will find success.

People are visual. Strong visual design assets have a way of jolting people’s memories and sticking with them more than verbal communication.

What are the cues that made the property powerful in the first place? Design a licensing program and style guide around that. A well-designed style guide allows licensees flexibility with diverse design assets that are on-trend yet perfectly aligned with each property’s unique visual aesthetic.

No matter how many licensed products fill retail stores, a well-designed licensing program will achieve immediate recognition and relevance, eliciting those all-important emotional responses. That’s what creates blockbuster consumer products at retail at a time when most licenses seem to lose their power far too soon.


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