Merchandise featuring Marvel’s superheroes, Disney’s princesses, Pixar’s toons and Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” helped the Mouse House ring up a record $40.9 billion in global retail sales in 2013.
The sales topped 2012’s $39.4 billion, $37.5 billion, in 2011, and $28.6 billion in 2010, according to Disney Consumer Products. Those kinds of numbers have long made the company the world’s top licensor.
Disney isn’t likely to give up that title anytime soon.
It’s ramping up several major product pushes around “Cinderella,” the animated films “Inside Out” and “Big Hero 6,” Marvel’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Star Wars: Rebels” and “Star Wars: Episode VII” coming out through the end of 2015.
With those brands in hand, Disney will be one of the largest exhibitors at the Licensing Expo, which kicks off today from the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.
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Having titles from Disney, Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm “certainly makes our job easier,” said Josh Silverman, executive VP, global licensing for Disney Consumer Products. “It gives us a rich portfolio of stories and characters and we spend a lot of time thinking of how to maximize these at retail.”
“In 2014 and 2015 we have one of the best content slates in the Walt Disney history,” Silverman said in an interview with Variety. “Our job is to bring them to life in physical products whether (consumers) are wearing it, playing with it or eating it, we’re trying to capture the soul and spirit of each of the films.”
In Las Vegas on Monday, Silverman, was joined by Mickey Mouse; Iron Man; Buzz Lightyear; Stormtroopers; Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer John Lasseter; Marvel’s senior VP of marketing Mike Pasciullo; and Lucasfilm’s executive VP of franchise management Howard Roffman during a company presentation for licensees and retailers (see above).
While toys are still Disney’s top seller, apparel is also strong for DCP, and custom collaborations with designers like Stella McCartney and MAC cosmetics are growing around films like “Maleficent” and “Cinderella” that enable the division to court various age groups with product.
While Disney has products in 137 categories, the company tries to be careful not to over license things. “We want it to have meaning,” Silverman said. “It’s got to be authentic to the storytelling.”
Of course, a lot of attention surrounds “Star Wars,” which has the animated “Rebels” series debuting this fall on Disney XD, followed by “Star Wars: Episode VII” in theaters on Dec. 18, 2015.
The first products for “Rebels,” which will try to build a new fanbase for “Star Wars” with younger audiences leading up to the new films, will appear on store shelves in August and throughout September. Lego and Hasbro are lined up to produce toys and playsets.
Among new properties, Disney has lined up Bandai as the master toy licensee for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Big Hero 6,” based on a Marvel comicbook. The film out, Nov. 7, stars the robot Baymax who helps a robotics prodigy try to save San Fransokyo.
Bandai will create a detailed line of figures to help bring the film to life with young viewers. Walmart and Kmart also will promote the film and its products which will also include apparel and books.
Early in 2015, Walt Disney Studios’s “Cinderella,” out March 13, will enable DCP to tap into the popularity of the billion-dollar Disney Princesses line.
“We have a robust 365-day a year princess business, and among princesses, Cinderella is the one,” Silverman said. The live action film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, will put a spotlight on the princesses business with toys, beauty and lifestyle products from the glass slipper to the castle. Mattel will produce dolls while Jakks Pacific will also produce role-playing product.
The summer in 2015 is also expected to be a major one for DCP, considering that it has Marvel’s “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” starting in May.
Mattel, Lego, Hot Wheels, Under Armour, Mad Engine, Hallmark and American Greetings are only among some of the licensing partners that will pump out product around the heroes.
“Every partner, every retailer is all in,” Silverman said. “This will be a big program that captures the soul and escapism of the film.”
Products will be released around the characters as a group but also for each hero, as well. “You want the individuality of each of the superheroes to come through,” Silverman said.
The first products will hit store shelves in March, six to eight weeks before the film’s release, with the roll out designed to coincide with the film’s marketing campaign.
“Timing reveals of characters with marketing materials is very important,” Silverman said. “If filmmakers don’t want to release images of the bad guy, we don’t want to come out too early with our products.”
The release of products also are now seen as another piece of not only promotion but storytelling.
“We want (kids) to play with them and play as them,” Silverman said.
In June, it has Pixar’s “Inside Out,” a toon that stars emotions which provided Disney’s consumer products team with a challenge.
“We worked closely with the filmmakers and John Lasseter to figure out how to capture five emotions in products,” Silverman said. “It’s harder to capture emotion in a physical form factor.”
As a result, DCP is playing with the film’s visuals and will feature them on apparel and greeting cards, for example.
“You will be able to wear an anger T-shirt on Monday, a sadness T-shirt on Sunday,” Silverman said. “It will be fun to bring those themes and emotions to life.”
Kellogg’s has paired up with Disney to produce food products, while Johnson & Johnson is working on health care and other products.