It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Earlier this week, my business partner, Jim DeNuccio, and I decided to take a quick trip to Las Vegas to meet with a couple of existing and prospective clients at the Licensing Expo.
At the same time, I had a singular question for the exhibitors: What does a brand have to do to get your attention at an over-the-top, larger-than-life convention like the Licensing Show? Should they invest in gigantic banners and video screens? Give away tons of premiums? Take out ads in the trade magazines? As you can imagine, there was no right answer to this question, but I got a variety of refreshingly unique responses from various exhibitors around the floor.
There were five especially popular marketing techniques on the show floor. Needless to say, I have my own opinions about all of these tactics!
1. Give it away. “Everybody loves something for free,” says Carol Janet, CEO and Founder of Design Plus, a licensing boutique based in Atlanta. Her booth featured an enormous line of people waiting to get a free Icee, which is ,of course, one of her properties.
I would have to agree with Janet—we all love giveaways. I particularly like giveaways that serve a purpose after the show. One of my favorites this year was the colorful and clever messenger bag provided by Nickelodeon. I happen to be partial to bags as premiums, anyway. You can never have enough bags in your life; they are always useful; they serve as fabulous walking billboards; and they are great props for photo ops.
2. Sell the content, not the flash. Brandon Donofrio, CEO of Get Down Art, which markets consumer art products by leading artists and brands, says that when he comes to the Licensing Show, he looks for marketing techniques “that aren’t so in your face. That’s sometimes where you find the best stuff.” Often those subtler techniques are aimed at truly selling the content, Donofrio says, not just creating a flashy marketing spectacle unrelated to the product.
That content-focused method is one Donofrio uses as a representative for artist Stephen Fishwick. Fishwick provides “the ultimate live art experience,” says Donofrio, combining “his passion for music, his love of people and animals, and his art to create his unique brand of high-energy speed painting.” During a lively demonstration, I was able to watch Fishwick create a portrait of Jimi Hendrix in a matter of minutes.
3. Keep ’em entertained. Entertainment definitely seems to be a major exhibitor marketing tool. Gigantic video screens featuring the hottest movie and TV show clips are everywhere. Costumed character appearances and photo ops are also very popular. Sea World even had a live bald eagle demonstration, which at first seemed odd. Wouldn’t fish exhibits seem more organic to their brand? But that was before I learned that the bald eagle was a sea eagle!
One brand, the Boy Scouts of America, featured a very talented magician in its booth. While his act was really excellent, I had trouble understanding what a magician had to do with the Boy Scouts. Perhaps it didn’t matter as long as he brought people into the booth—which he did—but I would have preferred entertainment a bit more organic to the brand.
4. Make grown-ups feel like kids. You could get the glam treatment at the My Little Pony booth, where women were lining up to get glamorous manicures complete with bling and whimsical pony tails attached to their hair. While it bordered on the gimmicky side, it was unique and true to the brand so I say why not?
5. Get the grown-ups through their kids. “I’m influenced by my children,” says Doug Roberts, managing member of Woodstock Ventures (which oversees licensing for the original Woodstock music festival) and the father of a six year old and a two year old. “I was very happy to see Thomas the Tank Engine here, for example.”
No truer words have ever been spoken! Isn’t that really why we get our picture taken with the Cookie Monster or sitting on the Game of Thrones throne—so we can impress our kids?
But perhaps the best comment of all came from Jen Roberts, partner at Woodstock, who says, “I wish there had been more charitable aspects to the show. That element seemed to be missing.”
I couldn’t agree more. Many companies have already discovered the social and bottom-line benefits of aligning themselves with charitable causes. Maybe next year we’ll see more of this on display among licensors and licensees. (Hey, I can hope, right?)