Entertainment franchises with staying power consistently partner with consumer brands on product licensing, cross promotions, and brand collaborations. In fact, in the consumer products licensing sector alone, the entertainment portion of the business drives retail spending worth $120 billion a year, according to industry association Licensing International. Traditionally, brand partnerships featuring characters from pop culture have focused on the mass and mid-tier retail markets, but participation by luxury brands has emerged as a trend over the past five years.
This week, Swiss watchmaker Audemars Piguet unveiled a limited-edition Royal Oak Concept "Black Panther" Flying Tourbillon, based on the Marvel movie franchise. Alongside the release of the timepiece came a one-of-one (piece unique, in watch parlance) version of the watch in white gold, which was sold at auction for $5.2 million at an event hosted by Kevin Hart, with LeBron James and Serena Williams among the attendees.
The partnership with Marvel is the latest example of how Audemars Piguet has looked beyond “haute horlogerie” for inspiration, notably in the realms of pop culture and the entertainment industry. Previous notable collaborations have included working with Jay-Z, Michael Schumacher, Serena Williams, and LeBron James.
Recently, Marvel also collaborated with the high-end American brand Coach for a limited-edition collection featuring more than 100 pieces, including shirts, hoodies, handbags, wallets, collectible stuffed bears, and keychains — all incorporating the Avengers characters within classic Coach designs.
For years. marketers believed that once a brand like Marvel had gone mass, it could not go class, but the democratization of premium streetwear by Supreme radically altered the game plan, with luxury brands taking note of how to expand their appeal to younger audiences.
In a list of the ten highest-grossing media franchises of all time, Marvel’s Cinematic Universe comes in at number eight. Interestingly, four of the top-performing franchises were created in Japan. While Marvel has begun to crack the luxury market, several Japanese entertainment brands have also become well-established partners for high-end collaborations.
Top-ranked Pokémon and runner-up Hello Kitty have seen tremendous success in collaborating with both mass and class. In January, a three-way brand collab between Pokémon Go, American outdoor brand The North Face and Italian luxury house Gucci was a huge hit. And last year, the Kering-owned luxury fashion brand Balenciaga launched a $2,500 Hello Kitty version of its iconic Ville bag for both women and men.
Other recent fashion collabs: Gucci x Donald Duck:
Another three-way collab between Coach, Keith Haring and Mickey Mouse:
As noted by Jing Daily earlier this year, “For all their history and heritage, a growing number of luxury brands are looking to shake their stodgy images and branch out beyond their existing older core consumers to drive long-tail sales for decades to come.”
More resistant to traditional advertising, Gen Z and younger millennial consumers can be stirred by limited-edition drops featuring their favorite characters. And with the growing spending power and influence that this group of shoppers represents, the trend will continue well beyond 2021.
Steven Ekstract is Managing Director of Global Licensing Advisors, a consultancy that provides companies with insight and strategic direction to succeed in the $300 billion a year licensing business. Ekstract is the founder and former Publisher of License Global magazine, the leading information source for the consumer licensing business. He can be reached at email@example.com.