International Licensing Expo at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center
Characters, logos and images of all kinds had license to roam the halls of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center from June 2-4. For the first time, the International Licensing Expo convened in Las Vegas (instead of New York City). The international part of the title was correct, with representatives from Spain, Korea, Australia/New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Canada, and Great Britain in attendance.
This kind of licensing is not about driving cars or teaching. Brand licensing is big business ($191 billion worth), and has to do with the buying and selling of recognizable images and iconic personages for product promotion. Selling the likeness of Elvis, Marilyn or Bruce Lee means paying for the privilege. And you have to ask nicely.
All manner of trademark and copyright laws apply here, and many of the booths had General Counsel on hand to quickly handle inquiries. Brand licensing is the process of creating and managing contracts between the owner of a brand and a company or individual who wants to use the brand in association with a product, for an agreed period of time, within an agreed territory. If you think you can get away without having legal representation, be prepared for a rude, name-brand awakening.
But enough of the business side. The truth is, for your humble correspondent, the Licensing Expo was simply fashion, novelty and toy-filled fun. Where else could a stroll around the immense exhibit space yield encounters with the likes of Speed Racer, Felix the Cat, The Energizer Bunny, a ten-foot Transformer, Mr. Bean and life-size Star Wars: The Clone Wars figures, lightsabers drawn and ready for battle?
Mr. Bean and the Energizer Bunny celebrated 20 years of lucrative licensing, while the Rubik’s Cube turned 30. Both Bean and Bunny could be persuaded into long bouts of mugging for the camera. The Cube was elusive, rarely showing the same side to anyone who approached it.
Fashion shows were logo-filled, with apparel broadcasting everything from The Beatles to Sonic the Hedgehog. Tweety Bird, Marvel Comics Superheroes and Dr. Suess characters beamed their countenances from the torsos of living billboards. Barbie, The Simpsons, The Sex Pistols and Andy Warhol belong to the same club: licensed images adorning products with owner permission, like a fashion lease.
Ed Hardy by Christian Audigier T-shirts, hats and jackets occupied one very chic, ebony-colored booth that was perused by none other than CatWoman Julie Newmar from the Batman TV series. Other celebrity sightings included Tony Curtis, who celebrated his 84th birthday at the Expo, complete with a cake cutting and book signing; and Wilmer Valderrama, the voice of Disney’s hit show, Handy Manny.
Film and television studios figured prominently into the Licensing Expo: Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox, Disney, The Cartoon Network, MGM, CBS, Universal, Fremantle Media, King Features, and Nickelodeon were among the media titans displaying copyrights and trademarks for sale (well, rent, really).
Not to be outdone, toy manufacturers covered large areas of the immense space with their own familiar products. Hasbro featured its Popular Transformers and G.I. Joe, Mattel, Inc., its ubiquitous but ever-evolving Barbie. Lego offered a tiny snap-together special edition Darth Vader, and the education-based Scholastic was generous with DVD's featuring Clifford the Big Red Dog's top 15 Manners Songs.
Even such American institutions as The Boy Scouts and The United States Post Office got into the licensing act, both being highly recognizable brand names.
You’ve no doubt heard of virtually every company and product mentioned thus far, but I wanted to fill you in on -
Three to Watch: (future familiars)
The four-year-old Bat Princess is pink, cute and sexy and comes with her own charming legend. She lives with her royal bat parents and a devoted 432-year-old bat butler, Mukudon. Dad Nanity is the King of Bat Kingdom and Mom Nanity is the Queen.
Nanity is inquisitive and her favorite question is “What?” Her image can be found on apparel, cosmetics, cookies, pens, notebooks, lighters, matches, even toilet paper. There’s also handbags, shoe, boots, socks, umbrellas, jewelry, cushions, scarves, lingerie, jackets, flotation devices and kimonos.
Usually hot pink in color, Nanity can also be shades of purple or gray. She can fly around even during the day investigating the wonders of the human world. Nanity is from Japan but has no objection to going international. In fact, her curiosity demands it.
It is said that seven wishes come true if you have or wear Nanity seven-o-heart and that the secret of the seven-o-heart part is that it has powers to make anyone who encounters it happy.
I’m certainly going to be wearing my pint leopard-print Nanity tee a whole lot. No guano.
Jennifer Main is one of the most prominent artists of Las Vegas, showing her work in galleries nationally with a growing list of collectors worldwide. Main graduated from the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing, and Visual Arts and attended the prestigious School of The Art Institute of Chicago, hometown of your humble correspondent.
Her work has been featured on MTV’s Real World San Diego, Discovery Channel’s American Casino, and the red carpet premiere for Warner Brother’s movie “Racing Stripes” starring Hayden Panettiere. Main was also selected to be the featured artist for the award winning Wildflower Arts and Music Festival in Texas and the Jazz and Art Festival at Mt. Charleston Hotel in Las Vegas, NV.
She uses vibrant color and people are prominently featured. Eyes tell a story in each painting. The artist has also donated artwork to charities such as The Boys and Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, March of Dimes, American Heart Association, Shade Tree, Race to Erase MS, and Project Sunshine. And she’s one of our very own, making a name for herself that’s becoming recognizable enough to license.
Micah Linton’s saffron-colored creatures are bipeds with distended bellies, ample backsides and heads that are shaped like a combination of lizard and prehistoric pterodactyl. They are sexless and androgynous, explorers and inventors by nature. Each one comes in his/her own little burlap sack.
An accompanying tag identifies them as an ancient species. They are industrious, adventurous, social, and can be persuaded to don appropriate apparel when the occasion calls for it (not often).
The author is kind enough to have written a three-volume set entitled Weebeastology to introduce these little beings to the world.
You can’t even call them cute, but you might find yourself captivated by these sun-colored, pot-bellied go-getters.
The Licensing Expo will return to Las Vegas next spring with its load of logos, its ton or trademarks and its cargo of copyrights; not what you’d call your generic convention at all. And that’s just fine with them.