By Anna Knight, VP of Licensing, Informa Markets
The past year and a half have been trying on businesses and consumers alike. Brands are racing to keep up with changing consumer trends. They are also navigating the challenge of understanding which behaviours will remain in the pandemic era and which will accelerate as society returns to the “new normal.” All the while, consumers are itching to enjoy experiences again.
People are now looking to re-engage with society in a hands-on way. So, there exists enormous creative opportunity through licensing, for brands interested in deepening their connection with existing fans and reaching new audiences.
Whether through IP extensions that encompass elements of familiarity from lockdown, such as gaming and loungewear, or a strategic partnership that propels a brand into a new aisle, licensing is aiding the rebound of many industries.
Licensing Expo Virtual
Serving as the much-needed catalyst for industry connection is Licensing Expo Virtual. This is a fully online event, in partnership with Licensing International, taking place from 24 – 26 August. It will reunite the global licensing community in a virtual environment. It will also be followed by in-person events in Q4 and beyond.
With the event less than a month away, I sat down with prominent exhibitor and president of Cronus Global, Kristin Calzada. She revealed the exciting announcements her entertainment and hospitality brands are rolling out at Licensing Expo Virtual.
Kristin, like many industries, the entertainment and hospitality sectors were challenged amid-pandemic. Could you share a few of the key challenges and learnings you faced representing brands in these sectors?
KC: Brands tied to the entertainment and hospitality sector were especially hard hit during the pandemic. For a global brand like Hard Rock, almost every company segment was affected by closures or reduced capacity.
Hard Rock Cafés were closed, Hard Rock Live events were cancelled, and Hard Rock Hotels were at reduced capacity. The pandemic even put plans to open new hotels, resorts, or cafés on hold indefinitely. And, of course, you can’t talk about closures in the hospitality industry without acknowledging the devastating effect the pandemic had on workers in this segment.
As a licensing agent for Hard Rock, whenever a new license or partnership is on the table, I plan potential social media and marketing tie-ins with the Hard Rock Cafés or The Rock Shops. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, not only was this type of collaborative marketing campaign impossible since these outlets were closed but even the general “noise” around the brand (based on new Hotel or Café openings) was silenced.
I learned that I had to depend on the existing connection of the brand with consumers to drive sales. This a bond or familiarity built over the years that exists independently of marketing or social media campaigns. Luckily, Hard Rock was a brand that met those criteria.
I also realized that Hard Rock was unique. It was not only a brand but also represented an experience for consumers. It’s an experience people want to take home with them on a t-shirt or a mug. Or even something as small as a collectable pin—just to keep the memory of that experience alive.
This ability for a brand to connect with consumers through experiences also signifies a particular advantage for entertainment and hospitality-based brands.
I see this as a future opportunity on which brands in this sector can build. And, if you look at the trend with other brands which are working to create those experiential connections with consumers post-pandemic via interactive shopping or themed stores, you also realize that entertainment & hospitality brands are already one step ahead. Or, in Hard Rock’s case, 50 years ahead.
What role does licensing play in overcoming these challenges? Could you provide a few examples?
KC: Licensing for Hard Rock served to maintain that brand connection with consumers during the pandemic. It required Hard Rock to pivot to licensing opportunities in new categories in which they’d never ventured before.
One example was the Hard Rock x Artistic “Alive & Amplified” nail polish collection launch. Most nail salons were not open, and consumers were now doing home manicures. That is why it made sense for Hard Rock to enter the health & beauty space, in the nail category in particular.
Hard Rock’s connection to consumers has always involved colour and music. So, we worked with the licensee to develop a nail polish collection incorporating both elements.
As such, the selection features bright hues, and each polish has a music-inspired name. For example, “Too Much Sax” (a neon pink crème), “Hit ‘Em With a High Note” (a coral crème), and “All About the Sound” (a bright teal crème). Hard Rock consumers might not have been able to get out to a Hard Rock Live event. But their fingernails and toenails were still going to look concert-ready!
We know that many people live paycheck-to-paycheck. And this became even more prevalent during the pandemic as closures left people without jobs and a steady income. So Hard Rock looked for opportunities within the financial technology category to find ways to help.
Licensing for Hard Rock served to maintain that brand connection with consumers during the pandemic
With this in mind, Hard Rock partnered with Card.com to launch Hard Rock-branded Visa Cards. The branded cards were reloadable and enabled many people who were unable to qualify for credit—to have a credit card.
Better yet, when a person signed up for a Hard Rock-branded Visa Card (or any branded card through Card.com), the person also became eligible to collect a paycheck or government benefits up to 2 days earlier than a traditional bank deposit. Two days may not seem like much time. But in many cases during the pandemic, those additional days were critical to putting food on the table for families.
Hard Rock is exhibiting at Licensing Expo Virtual – what can attendees look forward to at your booth?
KC: June 2021 marked the beginning of Hard Rock’s 50th Anniversary. At Licensing Expo Virtual, we’ll be celebrating how this familiar brand is more alive and has more energy with consumers than ever.
In the booth, we’ll be exhibiting images of new Hard Rock licensed products along with highlighting current collaborations; and maybe a sneak peek or two of a few new product partnerships slated for release fall/holiday and into 2022.
Speaking of partnerships, we recently announced Hard Rock’s association with soccer/football legend Lionel Messi. We’ll have the Hard Rock x Messi TV Spot to view in the booth.
Also, to bring everyone into the celebration of Hard Rock’s 50th Anniversary, we’ll be drawing names each day from attendees who stop by the booth and leave us their business cards.
In addition, we will be giving away things like 50th Anniversary Hard Rock Bluetooth speakers, Hard Rock x Messi hoodies, Hard Rock 50th Anniversary special-edition hats, and Hard Rock 50th Anniversary collector pins. We’ll draw three winners each day of the Expo, and one lucky winner/attendee will win the entire collection of Hard Rock 50th Anniversary prizes!
What excites you most about engaging with your community at the upcoming virtual event?
KC: Licensing Expo is unique because it brings all industries together under one trade show “umbrella.” As such, visitors get to engage with their peers in every category of business and with people working in various roles within an organization. So, I get most excited about catching up with my licensing community colleagues. Plus I get to form new connections with attendees representing a wide range of industries.
The most exciting part about this year’s Licensing Expo Virtual is that the Hard Rock-dedicated booth will truly represent the global nature of the licensing community.
It will be a collective booth hosted by Cronus Global (agency for Hard Rock for N. America) and J&M Brands (EMEA agency for Hard Rock). As such, we’ll be able to exhibit how the Hard Rock brand translates across the world through licensed consumer products.
Showcased in the booth will be global apparel programs, health & beauty launches and back-to-school assortments. There will also be other home goods, toys, and gift products.
To set up a meeting with Cronus Global, register for Licensing Expo Virtual here.