Aleksandra Szczerba
Festival of Licensing 2020 Week 3: Americas
insight, audience,
10 mins

A weekly review of some of our favourite sessions and insights

Thinking about the purpose of brand purpose

During the third week of the Festival of Licensing, the focus of one of the final sessions was brand purpose. The panel saw experts discuss how brand purpose can play a vital role in licensing, in particular how the relationship between the two is bidirectional.  

Brand purpose is the “why” of a brand; it sits at the core of what a brand is and reflects its values and its mission. A good way of visualising it is the Golden Circle model by Simon Sinek, where “why” sits at the centre, with the “how” (the process) and the “what” (the result, or the product) of a brand sitting around it. The model posits that it is this “why”, the purpose of a brand, that inspires consumers - not the products or the design or the marketing - making purpose absolutely vital to long-term functioning and success. For this reason, some marketers are also now incorporating purpose as a fifth pillar to the four key Ps of marketing: product, price, promotion, place, and now purpose.

So what is the purpose of a brand having purpose? As people we all hold certain values and beliefs, and as we go through life we look for people who share the same values. We want to feel validated in our values and we stand by those who have the same values as us - it lies in our psychology. As such it makes sense that we also seek companies that we can align with on this front, and a brand that has a purpose can therefore attract consumers that identify with it. Numbers also confirm that this is the case; brands with a purpose are more profitable and show more growth. Millennials in particular are leaders in investing in companies that have a purpose, and now the same pattern is being seen with Gen Z.

One of the brands the session focused on was the American Red Cross. Established in 1881, the humanitarian organisation is heavily associated with disasters, when in reality it is actually a very  “everyday” organisation. Among other things they work with the military, offer education and training, and extinguish roughly 190 house fires daily. They want to be kept front of mind as more than just a disaster relief organisation, and licensing is a route to achieving this. Their licensing partners reflect the different day-to-day activities they are involved in, e.g. they have partnered with Kidde on fire safety products or Tomy on infant care kits, relevant to their fire safety campaigns and first aid training respectively. More recently, it has also been possible to purchase Red Cross branded hand sanitizer, again helping people associate the Red Cross with safety and health over earthquakes and hurricanes.

The second example of a brand with purpose was Ben & Jerry’s. The iconic ice cream brand’s founders wanted it to be about more than just a product; they wanted it to be a catalyst for change. The brand’s mission has since been to make the best possible ice cream (“euphoric concoctions” to be more precise), in the best possible way. This has meant using natural, sustainable ingredients, and promoting business practices that “respect the Earth and the environment”. Those who are familiar with the brand also know that they are outspoken on the social justice front, and as a company they only work with like-minded partners and suppliers to create products that fit their brand mission. In recent years, for example, they paired up with New Belgium Brewing Company on an ale-flavoured ice cream and an ice-cream flavoured ale. Euphoric concoctions? Check. The brewery is known for being one of the best places to work in the US, uses eco-friendly production techniques, and the proceeds from the collaborations were donated to a non-profit fighting climate change. Pairing with a company that shares their brand purpose? Also check. The collaboration was a success and Ben & Jerry’s remain a leader when it comes to purpose-driven companies, in the field of FMCG and beyond.

All in all, the importance of a brand’s “why” really cannot be ignored. It matters to consumers today and will continue to do so, with younger generations seeking out companies whose values line up with their own even more than the generations before them. They want to see companies know what they stand for, speak about it, and where relevant - act on it.

Bob Ross: the resurgence of a soft-spoken pop culture icon

For the final highlight of the Festival of Licensing we look at a powerhouse of happy energy. A special on-demand session shone a light on a true American icon: the painter Bob Ross.

A symbol of positivity and the owner of one of the more recognisable afros in pop culture, Bob Ross is undoubtedly best known in North America thanks to his “The Joy of Painting” television series which aired on PBS from 1983 until 1994. He made a lasting mark on generations of Americans through making art easy and accessible to all: his step-by-step instructions were clear, his colour palettes simple, and he rebranded mistakes into “happy accidents”, coining a mantra that has lasted well into 2020. That’s of course in addition to simply being a wholly pleasant television presence, often likened to Fred Rogers for his wholesome personality and calm, soft demeanour.  

Although Ross himself passed in 1995, his legacy lives on - and has exploded in recent years thanks to the internet. In the early 2010s he was the focus of a number of viral YouTube videos and memes. The bigger break came in 2015 however, when the streaming platform Twitch hosted a nine day marathon of “The Joy of Painting” to commemorate what would have been the artist’s 73rd birthday. The stream drew in a whopping 5.6 million viewers, and the success resulted in a weekly rebroadcast of the marathon, drawing in millions more eyeballs and generating chatter on the platform. It was through these new social and streaming platforms that Bob Ross was introduced to wider international audiences, younger audiences, and re-introduced to the Gen Y-ers who grew up watching him on TV.

Not long following the success of the Twitch marathons, Bob Ross became a streaming success on Netflix, with the series “Beauty is Everywhere”. This again helped spread the Bob Ross mania far and wide internationally and shot the painter to stardom on social media, including YouTube. The YouTube channel has been a particular success, gaining 1 million subscribers in the first year, and today clocking in at 4.3 million subscribers and 385 million views.

What else contributed to Bob Ross’ streaming success? His calm way of narrating his painting is likened to ASMR, which has been a hugely popular type of audiovisual content in recent years. We’ve all at some point come across YouTubers whispering, crunching on pickles, cutting soap, or mixing slime in ways that are meant to be satisfying and make us feel all tingly and nice. Of course, as with all other happy trends, Bob Ross also saw a spike in popularity this year due to Covid. With people being stuck at home and being both stressed and in need of new hobbies, his relaxing painting programmes were a perfect pastime, and even ended up being broadcast by the BBC in the UK.

You would think that a soft-spoken man known for painting nature vistas on PBS 30 years ago wouldn’t be a licensing success in 2020, but you’d be wrong. His signature hairstyle and trademark quotes adorn consumer products, his voice has found its way into a sleep app, his likeness has been turned into figurines, a Pez dispenser, and a Chia Pet. Official classes have been held around the globe, teaching fans to paint like Bob, and fans can literally eat Bob’s face on toast and on waffles thanks to a kitchen appliance partnership with Uncanny Brands. And on a more art-relevant note, after seeing that fans were inspired by Bob’s artwork and were creating lip-art and make-up looks, the brand went ahead and created an official licensed face paint range.

The fans have been central to driving the development of Bob Ross licensed lines, and today the brand has over 65 licensees. What is notable about the brand’s licensing strategy, and a big takeaway for us all, is that the key to the success has been finding the right deals for the brand, not the biggest deals. The partnerships have stayed true to the brand’s DNA and have worked flawlessly with the leading man’s aesthetic and persona. Additionally, many have also pushed the envelope in fun, creative ways.

Creativity, authenticity, and respect for fans - just as Bob himself would have wanted.

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