What's a Licensee To Do?
Let me say first, I think brands are the salvation of consumer products like home furnishings and if that brand just happens to be a licensed one, secured from outside the industry, all the better.
That said, sometimes the business model of using a brand name based on an actual human being can backfire ... and sometimes it can backfire really badly.
It's quite possible we may be seeing the latest example of that. Earlier this year Kohl's announced with all due flourish that it had signed the husband-and-wife entertainers Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony to do a line of products for the store that would launch this fall. It was seen as a smart move by a store that, in my book at least, is known for making lots of smart moves. The Kohl's stable of private label and captured brands is as strong as anybody's in retailing today.
However unlike an Ernest Hemingway, who isn't around anymore, or a Betty Crocker, who was never around in the first place, J-Lo and Marc Whatever are very real people and they sometimes have very real problems that impact their very real lives. I don't have the inside scoop on what's actually going on with these two - not all journalists tap phones, Rupert, you know - but if in fact their marriage dissolves, it's going to cause some very real headaches for the folks from Menomonee Falls, despite what Kohl's is saying right now.
A spokesperson for the company was quoted as saying the two brands are separate and have distinctive elements, so there's no problem if they are not Mr. and Mrs. anymore. What would you expect them to say? They've got a lot of money tied up in this program, I bet, and with the goods sitting in containers now somewhere between over there and over here, they don't have a whole lot of choice on what to do with this program. Even TJX can't absorb this much close-out goods.
If you're starting to think of Tiger Woods - or for those with longer memories, O.J. Simpson - you're getting the problem. When celebrities crash and burn - or at least get burned - it can be a pretty messy situation for anyone who has chosen to peg their business to that individual. Can you say Britney?
Not that this means you stay away from licensed brands. Companies need brands to differentiate their products and to create the correct image for those products. Nothing does it better. For every one of these meltdowns there are usually ten brands that stay squeaky clean. And there are also more than enough Snoop Doggs out there where arrests, incriminating headlines and out-and-out character assassinations are not looked down on, but are actually considered marketing pluses.
I feel for the folks at Kohl's. They thought they had another winner in the works. And who knows, they may. But it's certainly not going to work out exactly the way they wrote it down in the business plan. Stuff happens.
Where's the Acme Sheet and Towel line when you really need it?