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4 Trends We Spotted at Licensing Expo 2024

May 31, 2024
Julian Ward
Senior Account Executive

Last week, a few members of the EQL team headed to the neon-drenched strip of Las Vegas to attend the Licensing Expo 2024. As a company deeply rooted in the intersection of culture and commerce, we wanted to take the opportunity to see the world’s biggest brands converge to expand their reach and revenue.

True to its host city, the conference took things to another level of showmanship, with booths that rivaled Hollywood sets and a daily parade of characters that would have sent my kids into an emotional spiral (Bluey, Bingo, Princess Peach and the Telly Tubbies in one place? Who needs Disneyland?).

But as captivating as the visuals were, it was what was happening behind the scenes that excited us most: New collaborations being solidified and partnerships being made that will energize and excite fans for years to come. 

Here are some lessons we learned and trends we spotted from our first go at the Licensing Expo: 

Lesson 1: Cute is the new cool

If there's one thing we learned at the expo, it's that ‘cute’ reigns supreme. From Squishmallows and TokiDoki to Pudgy Penguins and Pokemon, adorableness was everywhere, and it was clear that the market for these particular playthings is not slowing down anytime soon. And it makes sense, as this trend is backed by science. According to Oxford University, when we encounter something cute, it ignites fast brain activity in regions such as the orbitofrontal cortex, linked to emotion and pleasure. These are also key drivers in purchasing behavior. So yeah, cute sells. This was made apparent to any passerby at the Jazwares booth, which was harder to get into than the hottest nightclub on the strip. 

We quickly realized that in the kingdom of licensing, cuteness holds the scepter, and everyone wants a piece of the adorable action. 

Ran into a few legends, Bingo and Bluey

Lesson 2: Timing licenses and releases is an art and a science

Timing is everything, and this was a theme we heard over and over again at the expo. What’s interesting is how far in advance many of these brands have to anticipate what will resonate with their fans. Deals can take months if not years, and that’s not even considering production. This takes quite a bit of talent and intuition from licensing professionals but also sheds some light on the need for good data across brands and categories — data that most of the current ecomm solutions can’t deliver.

At EQL, we are lucky to have visibility across a variety of fandoms, ranging from art and sneakers and collectibles and whiskey. We are able to see where crossovers lie and where those crossovers might make for some interesting collaborations. We chatted with a few brands about this at the expo, and we’re excited to see how EQL’s birds-eye view of passion in commerce can play a part in building the world’s next big partnerships. 

Lesson 3: Creators are the new ‘it brand’ 

Seeing so many brand powerhouses in one place was something to behold, but there was a special aura around the creators. It’s no surprise to any consumer-facing brand that creators are the powerhouses of building community, wielding influence and innovation in equal measure, conduits between brands and communities. 

Artists, illustrators, influencers, and their entourages were ever-present at the event, a reminder of just how much the digital age has changed how brands reach new audiences; a trend we know won’t be slowing down anytime soon.

EQL team at Licensing Expo 2024

Lesson 4: Plan to make the most of the moment

While seasoned veterans of the expo might nod knowingly at this, we, the rookies, quickly found ourselves in a whirlwind of realization. Who knew that securing a slot for meetings required the precision timing of a NASA launch? As we (now) know, the Licensing Expo is a place to get deals done, and that requires advanced (and we mean advanced) planning. So if you’re thinking of attending in the future, make sure you’re prepared for the massive opportunities ahead of you by:

  • Understanding your role: Brands license or look for licensing opportunities for a few distinct reasons, the biggest being to grow revenue, but also to grow and extend their brand awareness. Before you approach a potential partner, know what the main benefit would be in working with you, and have enough data to back up your claims. 
  • Practicing your pitch: As we mentioned, meetings are back-to-back for many at the Licensing Expo. Make sure you can convey the value of a partnership with your brand in as succinctly as possible. And make sure to plan out which brands you’d like to speak with well in advance. The three-day conference goes fast and the number of brands in attendance is massive. Be sure to prioritize.
  • Setting your alarm - We heard from many there that the day the meeting scheduling portal becomes available is the day to start reaching out to get face time, which is around 6 months before the event. If you plan to attend, register early, and start your outreach ASAP. 

Bonus lesson: 

Parched from a day of navigating the labyrinthine halls of the expo, I stumbled upon what seemed to be a mirage in the Vegas desert —a coffee stand. I grabbed a flimsy paper cup and filled it with anticipation, only to be crushed by reality at the payment counter as the cashier asked me for $13.50. In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson—never underestimate the power of BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverages). For future expos, I think I’ll get my pick-me-up by walking around the cute-toy booths. 

Want to learn more about how EQL can help your brand launch your next big licensed product? Get in touch.
Julian Ward
Senior Account Executive

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