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Retailers Drawn to Licensed Art image

Retailers Drawn to Licensed Art

Retailers and consumers are being drawn to licensed art as much for the story behind the artist as the design itself.

It’s a trend that picked up speed during the pandemic as homebound consumers sought solace in games, puzzles and home décor products – all offerings that can provide a canvas for licensed art. That trend piqued retail interest in products featuring licensed art and plays into a larger focus on storytelling as consumers seek to delve deeper into the products they buy.

For example, Sam’s Club is launching a chain-wide pallet program in April with licensee Fit & Fresh for hand-painted lunch kits (including an insulated lunch bag, matching tumbler, two food containers and a reusable ice pack) featuring the artwork of Jewel Branding and Licensing artists Alja Horvat, Kendra Dandy of Bouffants & Broken Hearts, Cat Coquillette of CatCoq, and Jessi Raulet of EttaVee. The packaging is replete with the artists’ photo and some of their background.

Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex launched a limited edition four-pack of “Celebrate the World Around Us” ultrasoft tissues at Target last month. The packaging features the designs of Nerissa Thomas, a graphic designer at Dog and Pony Studios in Canada; Sara Alfaraj, a digital designer at Out of Place Studio in the UK; and Shruti Shyam, a senior designer at Pearlfisher in New York.

Additionally, Target featured an American Greetings end cap in its cards and stationery section in February for Black History Month featuring Black artists including Dandy, who last year had a similarly timed apparel collection with Athleta.

“People are much more interested now in a connection to what they are buying and that means following it on social media so you can get an artist’s story and design aesthetic” said Ilana Wilensky, president of Jewel Branding & Licensing. “It’s a way of connecting product and the design behind it to consumers in a more meaningful way.”

In addition to creating opportunities to connect more deeply with consumers, licensed art also addresses the ever-faster changes in merchandise mix.

Traditionally, wall décor products (a licensed art staple) were refreshed every six to nine months but now it’s every quarter, said MHS Licensing & Consulting partner John Haesler. Wall décor has been a strong seller during the pandemic and to keep pace with demand, MHS artist Emily Wood delivers a new collection of artwork every week for the likes of Designs Direct Creative Group, Boston Warehouse Trading Co., iCanvas and Giri.

“A lot of it is being driven by retailers constantly needing new art to differentiate themselves,” Wilensky said. “It used to be on the shelf and they would change things seasonally. Now, to stay competitive, retailers are doing weekly turns.  There is a need for regular content.”

But these changes aren’t limited to retail. MHS and Jewel are joining forces to launch a virtual showcase in April featuring their combined rosters of more than 70 artists, along with three other agencies. Additionally, MHS launched its first new website in seven years and revamped its logo, which hadn’t been changed in over a decade, Haesler said.

Because it’s not just consumers revamping their homes – MHS also felt the need to shake off the doldrums of the pandemic, Haesler said. “A lot of the thinking was we seemed a little corporate, stodgy and not terribly creative. We were good at doing the business, but we wanted to convey that we are a creative agency. It wasn’t just about doing contracts, but rather collaborating and working together to do a creative business.”

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