Thanks to the array of hit films and properties from Universal Pictures, Universal Partnerships & Licensing has the opportunity to create desirable licensing, branding and marketing programs. Part of NBCUniversal, Universal Partnerships & Licensing leverages the inherent brand strength within each title. It reviews the film’s target audience and script, and takes into account whether the title is a sequel.
“We get together with our promotion, retail, licensing and digital teams to determine where we will take the program and how it should be developed strategically,” Senior Vice President of Global Retail Development Jamie Stevens says. “From there, we determine what kind of products are best given the target audience.”
This is particularly exciting considering Universal’s partnership with Illumination Entertainment. Illumination’s first three feature films – “Despicable Me,” “Hop” and “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax” – all targeted a broad audience, which opened up a range of possibilities for retail programs.
“Because [“Despicable Me”] was a new IP, we strategically created a tight licensing program and supported it with initiatives at retail that had never been done before, ” Stevens says. “For instance, we partnered with Best Buy to create an app that consumers could download to translate what the film’s minions were saying during the end credits in the theaters. We carried this into the DVD window where the ‘Minionator’ app could be used to translate the minions’ gibberish throughout the movie on Best Buy’s exclusive DVD SKU.
“We always work to develop innovative, industry-first programs with our partners,” she adds. “We had a successful targeted licensing program around ‘Despicable Me’ and a unique retail program, but because the market wasn’t oversaturated, we also created pent-up demand in anticipation of the second film.”
With each film, Universal Partnerships & Licensing tailors programs specific to its partners. With 2011’s Hop, an exclusive partnership with Walmart took advantage of Hop’s Easter setting. Walmart customers could build Hop-themed Easter baskets, and visit the movie-inspired “Candy Factory” with more than 100 exclusive licensed products, including candy, toys and apparel. “That was the first time Walmart used a licensed property to brand a seasonal campaign, and the program was so successful, they brought it back for the DVD window in 2012,” Stevens says.
For “Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax,” the company worked with Whole Foods Market, marking the first time the two companies worked together, and Whole Foods Market’s first-ever major studio film promotion. Although the Seuss estate was handling licensing, Universal supported its promotional partners, including Seventh Generation and Stonyfield Farms, by promoting the movie regionally through Whole Foods Market’s stores with in-store signage, events, screening programs and ticket giveaways.
“The Whole Foods Market program was organic,” Stevens says. “It made perfect sense for the ‘Lorax’ brand, and we received amazing exposure through in-store programs, which allowed us to deliver additional support to our promotional partners.”
Now the company is turning its attention to “Despicable Me 2” with global programs. “Despicable Me 2” programs and products will be everywhere, but the company plans to provide retailer-specific programs with unique points of difference, whether that means exclusive SKUs or marketing themes.
“Using different tactics will give our retail partners differentiation from their competitors,” she says. “There is a lot of demand for product because of the success of the first film, specifically around the minions, who were the breakout stars.”
Although the movie isn’t scheduled for release until July 3, 2013, Universal is months into the process of signing up promotional and licensing partners and retailers. Stevens says it takes about two years to ensure programs are properly created and supported, and early conversations with retailers ensures that they will be able to take advantage of the property. Already, Universal Partnerships & Licensing has signed its master toy and apparel partners.
Universal Partnerships & Licensing’s promotions, licensing, retail and digital organizations operate as a single group. This allows the company to speak with one voice to retail partners.
“Whether a product is digital, promotional or otherwise, there is one voice from us going to retail, and that includes working with our home entertainment team,” Stevens explains. “Retailers like that we come in with one voice, and it makes for a bigger impact at the retail level.”
Although it is a battle for space on retailers’ shelves, Stevens says everything starts with the property. There may be a lot of properties for retailers to consider, but Universal Partnerships & Licensing works to show retailers the strength of its properties and how it plans to market and communicate to consumers.
“By making retailers understand how much we will put toward our programs, they are more comfortable about working with us,” Stevens says. “It is a little easier with a sequel, but everything starts with going as one voice to the retailer and showing the level of support the studio will put behind it. Retailers and buyers are bombarded by properties, so our goal is to put them at ease and present them with something they can’t pass up.”
Clearly, “Despicable Me 2” will be one of the most important focuses for Universal Partnerships & Licensing in the coming year, but other Universal films, such as “Fast & Furious 6,” will also present exciting opportunities. The key is to give retailers and partners unique opportunities.
“Illumination develops great characters that translate well to retail,” Stevens says. “That makes the programs fun for us, our partners and for retailers. That is what we look for in all of our films, a way to translate the property to product in a fun, innovative and interesting way.”