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Posted Date: 01/11/2016

Licensed Costumes Blast Off With Winning Brands

Julie Ritzer Ross, Contributing Editor

Some Halloween trends come and go. Consumer demand for licensed costumes isn’t one of them. “Licensed product continues to be the driving force in Halloween, especially in the preschool and child categories,” says Beice Nesbit, director of marketing, Disguise. The force is such that retailers are now carrying costumes in multiple price points to satisfy the needs of all their customers, Nesbit observes.

Statistics bear out licensing’s grip on the Halloween costume market. Howard Beige, vice president, Rubie’s Costume Co., estimates that in general, licensed options now generate 50% of all vendors’ children’s Halloween costume sales and 25% of all vendors’ adult Halloween costume sales. For his company, “the percentages are higher—and most consistently so.”

Beige says the anticipated premiere of Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens on December 18, 2015, and the appearance of related merchandise on retail shelves more than three months prior, made Star Wars Rubie’s number-one licensed costume seller in 2015. The trend is projected to continue this year.

Similarly, at both Rasta Imposta and Elope, licensed costumes and accessories have come to comprise 40% of overall business. Gary Schneider, director of licensing, Rasta Imposta, notes that one of the company’s biggest licensed merchandise success stories for Halloween 2015 was a line of costumes depicting characters from ABC’s Once Upon a Time dramatic fairy tale television series; a repeat performance is expected in 2016 and a line extension is planned.

Elope fared best with costumes based on Dr. Seuss characters Cat in the Hat, Thing One, and Thing Two as well as with a Where’s Waldo offering. All “will continue to be strong,” predicts Keith Johnson, president.

Such growth in licensing comes despite some real challenges—other than predicting which properties will be winners and which will not. Beige deems accommodating “late-breaking” requests for costumes that reflect “new licensed content” one such challenge. Rubie’s was compelled to “rush out” Scream Queens costumes after the horror/comedy series of the same name premiered at the end of September and immediately became a hit. Producing different versions of individual licensed costumes for different retail channels and at different price points—and making it obvious why one version of a costume is $15 and the other $30—is a roadblock as well.

In a somewhat different vein, Schneider sees price points (which along with uniqueness/differentiation of licensed properties most affects licensed costume sales) as a barrier, but also convincing retailers that there is more to the licensed costume market than properties owned by the likes of Disney and Marvel. For Disguise, Nesbit observes, it’s “combating the knock-off/unlicensed product that seems to make its way into the marketplace.”

Blockbusters and Fabulous Femmes Drive Licenses in 2016
In addition to ongoing attention for 2015 favorites, Halloween 2016 will see a major focus on the superheroes and action sub-category given theatrical releases and television programming planned for the short- and long-terms alike, says Marty Brochstein, senior vice president, industry relations and information, Inteational Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA). Rubie’s is most excited about licensed costumes that will tie in with feature films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (March 2016), Captain America: Civil War (May 2016), and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (June 2016).

Equally dominant will be the “girl power” theme — for the youngest female consumers to adults alike. “Some girls will always want to be princesses, and some women will go for the traditional, but many are tired of it. So the ‘strong female’ concept is gaining traction,” Brochstein observes.

He adds that myriad new properties will reflect the “girl power” theme. Examples include Ghostbusters (July 2016), in which the major characters are, unlike previous films in the Ghostbusters franchise, strong women; DC Super Hero Girls (Waer Bros., DC Entertainment, and Mattel); Supergirl (from the CBS television series), and WonderWoman, who will play a key role in Batman v. Superman. Rubie’s will produce costumes for these properties, while Disguise holds the license for The Powerpuff Girls from the series of the same name. The latter re-launches on the Cartoon Network in 2016.

New Influences Make an Impact
While movies and television continue to influence licensed costume sales, other drivers are coming into play and should continue to affect consumer buying habits going forward. Notably, sources say, video games are assuming more importance. At Disguise, Halo joins Disney, LEGO, and Hasbro on the list of hottest licenses—a status Nesbit doesn’t believe will change much, if at all, this year. Disguise also holds the license for Warcraft (June 2016), based on the Warcraft video game and novel series.
Netflix and the Inteet are also becoming increasingly strong influences on consumers as they peruse store aisles for Halloween costumes. Among Disguise’s new licenses for 2016 is DreamWorks’ DinoTrux, which already has a strong fan base on Netflix, Nesbit observes. Additionally, the company is counting on trailers of The Secret Life of Pets (June 2016)—“one of the funniest trailers on the Inteet,” Nesbit notes—to fuel sales of costumes associated with that motion picture.

“With little kids, especially, it isn’t only about theatrical releases and television shows when it comes to dressing up for Halloween,” Brochstein asserts. “Little kids don’t necessarily watch ‘live’ television, so it’s also about Netflix, HULU, and what property owners stream off their own websites.”
According to Johnson, “Youtube is the biggest thing to watch for new properties. Many people don’t realize that Youtube is watched more than every other content provider combined.”

Also continuing into 2016 will be the popularity of licensed costumes for families, groups, and duos, as well as demand for mixed-and-match licensed costume elements and kits.

“Group and family costumes are huge—and it’s no exception in licensing,” Beige states. “It started when more parents began trick-or-treating with their kids, and when home parties became a big deal. It’s just gotten bigger from there. Now it’s everyone—the mom, the dad, the kids—and the pets.”

Finally, evergreen licenses, perennial favorites, and costumes based on the classics are forecast to create waves in the licensed costume market. Ken Krinsky, sales account executive, Forum Novelties, cites Rocky Horror Picture Show and American Horror Story as examples of consistently strong properties for costumes year after year.

Rubie’s is counting on Batman costumes from the 1960s television series, along with classic Star Wars, the Universal Studios Monsters, Freddy Krueger, Jason, the Wizard of Oz, and Harry Potter, to appeal to traditionalists. Rasta Imposta’s list of licenses in this category includes Dumb and Dumber, Christmas Story, TED, Breaking Bad, M&Ms, and Crayola.

Elope has the license for high-end costumes linked with the feature film Alice Through the Looking Glass (May 2016). “Evergreen licenses do the best, always,” Johnson concludes.

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