By Jacqueline Monahan
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International Licensing Convention at Mandalay Bay Convention Center

There’s more to a license than driving a car, owning a dog or carrying a firearm.  Think of it as permission to use something that has a brand name attached to it, or a celebrity’s image.

Now imagine that there’s a place where the licensing world convenes each year in Las Vegas, showing off the iconic products that signal entertainment, art, fashion and food.  Lavish sets that showcase the products fill the massive Mandalay Bay Convention Center, spilling into the enormous hallways that surround it.

Freddie Oversees the Convention

This year’s convention transformed the Convention Center into Brand Central Station from June 14-16, evoking recognition, nostalgia, and Americana for the attendees, many of who came prepared to sign lucrative contracts in temporary offices just behind the large Fisher-Price telephone, or the Warner Bros. symbol.

Familiar Telecommunications Machine

Licensing is the process of leasing a trademarked or copyrighted entity (known as a "property") for use in conjunction with a product, service or promotion. This could be a name, likeness, logo, graphic, saying, signature, character or a combination of several of these elements. You’ll need one if you want to manufacture Elvis graphic T-shirts, for example.  It’s a billion dollar business, full of contracts, specified time periods and fees.

Branding without Fire

Examples of Las Vegas-based products that are licensed:  The Welcome to Las Vegas sign, Wayne Newton’s image, and slot machine logos (I Dream of Jeannie, Wheel of Fortune).

The entertainment industry is heavily represented, and each year finds mini studios constructed right on the convention floor.  Paramount, MGM, Disney, Sony, Warner Bros, and Dreamworks all lure the visitor with magical faux-architecture, wall-sized posters for both classic and upcoming films, and full-size replicas of characters (Darth Vader, Iron Man).

Get that License...or else!

Celebrity images fill up an enormous share of space and they don’t have to be alive to be licensed.  Their image can be sold to companies and business for the right to use it, and even then, there are restrictions put on that use.  Getting permission to use James Dean’s likeness on a T-shirt does not mean that you are also allowed to portray him in a clown collar, lipstick or any other circumstance that may diminish the image.

Image is Everything

A quick walk around the convention floor reveals that Janet Jackson, John Wayne, Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (image) as well as artists Frida Kahlo, Thomas Kincaide, and Norman Rockwell (paintings) all can be licensed for a price and a specific time frame.  When that time runs out, you’d have to renew the license to continue merchandising the image.  Ethan Wayne, John Wayne’s youngest son, and president of John Wayne Enterprises attended the convention as an exhibitor, handling the business of his father’s legacy.

A Las Vegas Icon

Nostalgia has a sentimental value that’s attractive – and profitable.  Classic Media’s portfolio includes Felix the Cat, Underdog, Gumby, Lassie, The Lone Ranger, Lamb Chop, and Godzilla.

Iconic treats from Popsicle, Good Humor, Breyers and Klondike were represented and yes, they gave free samples. The Kahlua brand encompasses more than just the famous liqueur; Kahlua brand coffee also made it into attendees’ bags, which were provided by Skechers.

Mattel, always a prominent presence, featured a Hot Wheels display made entirely of Hot Wheels.  Hasbro countered with Transformers and Nerf.  Betty Boop and Tinkerbell vied for face time on giant banners.

Even Tiny Cars Need to be Licensed

If Licensing is a stroll down memory lane, it’s also a glimpse at the future.  Film studios hawk their latest project and you’ll find giant movie posters for 2012 releases such as Puss In Boots (from Shrek), Despicable Me 2, and The Three Stooges Movies (another one).  

Jelly Belly, known for being President Reagan’s favorite jelly beans has branched out into soda and scented bubbles.  Big-mouthed Domo Bear characters from Japan are all the rage with middle school kids in the U.S. which means a nice big licensing deal in is the works somewhere.  The bears already fill grab/claw machines at the Adventuredome for fifty cents an attempt.

Old School Entertainment

Most of licensing concerns the familiar and the classic, terms that new products hope will apply to them with the passage of time.  A stroll the convention aisles is a way to go backward and forward simultaneously, steeped in both Americana and international product landmarks.  It’s also a reminder of the vastness of the brand empire, like being in a store where you can look, but don’t touch; don’t even borrow without a license.

Even Lassie has one.

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