The Brand Radar: The perks – and potential pitfalls – of personality licensing

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at the rise and rise of personality-based licensing – and why it’s a route worth navigating carefully.

From a research perspective, brand licensing can be a little bit frustrating at times. There isn’t a lot of ‘go to’ research available – nor an industry standard reference point that is acknowledged as a research benchmark.

As an industry we often rely on hunch, instinct and trend watching. With all three in mind, my feeling is that there has been a rise in the use of brand personalities by licensees, retailers and manufacturers recently.

Deals featuring personalities can range from endorsements through to fully developed product ranges, and in-between are activities such as influencer campaigns. For brands, working with well-known personalities can accelerate the product development process, enhance their credibility in a category and – in the fractured modern media market – help them find an audience.

While there seems to be more activity in this sector at the moment, it’s by no means a new thing. A quick scan of supermarket shelves shows this… Brands marketed under names such as Ainsley Harriott, Lloyd Grossman and Paul Newman all remain on shelf many years after their initial launch. The fact that these products are still on shelf points to the longevity that a deal with a personality can deliver manufacturers.

That said, manufacturers have to tread carefully when working with personalities. Popularity can wane and the brand fit can shift over time. For example, a personality’s career path can change and what they may have focused on in their career can change… There can be serious ramifications when things go wrong.

The Sunday Times recently reported that investors in the sportswear firm Adidas are suing the company because of its alleged failure to disclose the risks associated with Adidas’ partnership with Kanye West. Adidas ended their partnership with Kanye West in October following antisemitic remarks that West was reported to have made. The investors are alleging that Adidas should have been aware of the risks associated with a partnership with the musician.

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