I was talking to The Pretty AE last night and she mentioned that her client has asked her for the agency’s POV on licensing, specifically if licensing is an effective tool and, if it is effective, how this particular brand may benefit from it. A fair and fairly interesting request (and a surprising one from this client as they are the type that generally, despite the agency’s best efforts, uses their agency only for creative…which goes some way to explaining why their sales have been less than robust for some time).
An unscientific view of licensing says that it works based only on the vast number of products that use property tie-ins or even the property itself as the brand (think of the kerfuffle over Nickelodeon licensing its characters to Kellogg’s and Kraft).
By works, of course, I mean that it moves product. And moving product is certainly critical…hard to stay in business if you’re not selling anything (though Y&R would get to differ).
But you know that licensing deals get sold in based on more than just “this will sell X number of incremental widgets and therefore we simply must do it.” That just wouldn’t pass muster through the marketing department and certainly not through senior leadership because everyone is wedded to branding.
And rightly so.
Short-term incremental sales are nice and all, but all decisions must really pass the “is this the right way to handle the brand” test of else you’re on the express train to irrelevance and over-extension. Just ask labels like Yves Saint Lauren and others who line-extended themselves to within an inch of their life.
The real question is whether or not companies are diligent in protecting their brand or if they just go through the motions, rationalizing a bad brand decision because it makes business sense. I would imagine it’s the latter. Take Snickers, which, according to Brandweek, is launching a new flavor specifically for the new Indiana Jones movie:
Never mind that the flavor, chocolate chai coconut, sounds more like something that I would find on a trip round the corner to the nearest Starbucks than on an expedition to a remote jungle, I am certain that this movie tie-in was sold to the Snickers organization because it was a movie that appealed to their demo and this new flavor would make Snickers look hip and cool.
Never mind that a sixty-something Harrison Ford is hardly the person that I or any kid would like to see swinging around and whipping bad guys, (it also has Shia Leboef from Transformers just in case Harrison has to retire to a walker), this is a movie that appeals to everybody. And that is the licensing conundrum.
Perhaps brands like Snickers (and Pepsi and Budweiser) have to go after the big properties to make sure that they are casting a broad enough net to reach enough of their consumers while not alienating any core constituency. But does that mean that it builds the brand? With all of the money that Snickers surely had to throw at the studio to tie-in, with how broad the target and how vanilla the opportunity (it’s harder to name a CPG company that hasn’t done a movie tie-in than one that has), the answer is clearly no.
This is clearly a partnership that is designed to move short-term sales, no matter what the brand team may tell you.
It may not kill the brand, in fact, this movie tie-in may have absolutely no brand effect while it does drive up sales. The question though is about the opportunity cost: what could Snickers have done with the money that they spent on the movie partnership? A lot, especially if you believe as I do that it is possible to build the brand while driving sales (be it through licensing or other tactics).
Snickers, it’s time to out-think instead of out-spend.