Ahead of the latest iteration of Brand Licensing Europe, Anna Knight, SVP Licensing at Informa Markets, tells Toy World what to expect from this year’s show when it returns to Excel London and why BLE is ‘the definitive event for the European licensing industry’.
BLE returned last year after an enforced hiatus: what kind of feedback did you receive following the event, and how has it shaped this year’s iteration?
We got amazing feedback – attendees commented on what a ‘triumphant return’ it was, the volume and quality of retailers present, how everybody just loved being able to get together in a live environment, and how important trade shows still are as a critical business driver for the industry.
Last year’s BLE showed us what we all thought we knew, which is how important face-to-face business is to the licensing industry as well as how important it is to see brands and products in person.
Armed with this knowledge, for 2022 we’re bringing branded product to life on the catwalk, bringing the License Global Theatre back to the show floor, offering loads of networking opportunities, and introducing orientation sessions and show tours for BLE first timers and newcomers to the industry. We want to make sure these attendees don’t miss any content that’s specifically relevant to them because the show is jam-packed this year – there’s so much to see.
What can you tell us about this year’s theme, Fashion, and the thinking behind it? How does this year’s keynote tie into this theme?
Fashion is an incredibly exciting space to be in right now. Selfridges has opened as a fully-functioning online retailer in the metaverse and there are amazing in-store experiences popping up all over the world. We’re also seeing increased numbers of luxury brands collaborating with mass market labels, and becoming more open to working with characters: that’s testament to the power of brand extension. Recently, that’s been apparent with collabs such as Adidas x Gucci, Lacoste x Peanuts and Uniqlo x Marni.
We believe that the impact fashion can have on brands (and brands can have on fashion) is endless, and that’s why we have been desperate to run a fashion-themed BLE for a few years. As you know, this year’s keynote is Barbie x Fashion – a brilliant one for Toy World readers and anyone attending the show from the toy industry. Barbie is such an icon, not only in toys, fashion and licensing, but also in D&I and empowering children to be proud of who they are. This is something we are passionate about. We’re really excited to have Mattel president and COO Richard Dickson present our day one keynote.
How is registration from exhibitors and attendees shaping up so far – are you on track to match or surpass BLE 2021?
To date, we have over 160 exhibiting companies confirmed for BLE, which is ahead of where we were this last time year. This is obviously great news. We’re all still emerging from a global pandemic and even though most Covid-related restrictions have been lifted, it’s still impossible to predict attendee numbers with certainty. But so far, the data is really positive.
Are there any new big-name exhibitors this year that we should know about?
The exhibitor list already includes some of the world’s leading brand owners and so many are relevant to the toy category: Paramount, Warner Bros, Hasbro, NBCUniversal, Mattel, Aardman, Acamar Films, Banijay Brands, Asmodee, Asterix, Bandai Namco, Beanstalk, Crunchyroll, Cyber Group Studios, Difuzed, Magic Light Pictures, Natural History Museum, Penguin Ventures, Perfetti Van Melle, Sanrio, Sega, Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe, The Pokémon Company, The Smurfs and many more.
In June, The NPD Group concluded that ‘2022 could be the year of the ‘blockbuster’ toy’: can we expect to see this reflected at BLE 2022?
For sure – ‘blockbuster’ toys are often linked to big movie releases. After a drought of new films hitting cinemas during the pandemic, the movie industry is now back with a bang and audiences are filling seats (you only need to look at the success of Maverick for proof of that). In 2022, Jurassic Park, Minions, Lightyear, DC League of Super-Pets and more will all appear on the big screen. As mentioned above, Paramount, Warner Bros, Hasbro, NBCUniversal, Mattel and Aardman are among the companies exhibiting at BLE 2022 so there are loads of brands for toy manufacturers and retailers to discover.
Economic conditions are currently very challenging. Is this being felt by the licensing community, and are there still opportunities out there for the taking?
The global licensing industry surpassed the $300b valuation mark in 2021. It’s now worth $315b. That’s a rise of 7.75% on 2019, which, compared to retail sales overall, is an incredible achievement. It’s impossible not to feel proud of and optimistic about the future of this sector when you look at these stats.
Cinema and toys have, in the past, been described as recession proof. When money’s tight, which it undoubtedly is across millions of households in the UK, we tend to stop spending on big tickets items like expensive holidays and things for the home, instead redirecting disposable income (where it exists) towards family experiences and keeping our children happy.
We’re also taking a deep dive into some of the biggest trends facing the licensing industry in our content programme at BLE, including ‘building a post-pandemic retail strategy’ and ‘how to retail to the new age consumer’. These – and much more – will investigate opportunities for brands, manufacturers and retailers.
It couldn’t be easier – simply head online and register for a free pass.
While you’re there, don’t forget the networking – the most important part of any trade show. We’re hosting opening night drinks on the show floor on Tuesday 20th September from 5pm-7pm for attendees and exhibitors, followed by an exhibitor drinks reception on Wednesday 21st September at the Novotel from 5pm-7pm.