What The Simpsons, at Age 25, Teaches About Licensing

From Bartman T-shirts to videogames—and everything in between—The Simpsons has been sold everywhere over the past quarter-century. The show's ongoing success as a brand highlights the power of product licensing. And, yes, there's an association for that.

Don’t have a cow, man, but the Simpsons are on runways at Fashion Week. Who would’ve thunk it?

Designer Jeremy Scott featured Bart Simpson in his collection at New York Fashion Week in 2012. And Japan’s Joyrich fashion line also makes a Bart-themed collection.

The animated series, now with 560 episodes at its 26th season—and celebrating its 25th anniversary last week—is reveling in its success with absolutely no end in sight. Its anniversary marathon on FXX lasted for 12 days, grabbing nearly 25 million viewers in the process.

In addition to the show’s foray into the fashion scene, there are the standard licensed objects of kitchenware to collectibles. Then there’s an all-Simpsons section of Universal Studios Orlando. Another one is going up at the Los Angeles version of the theme park.

“People go, ‘How long can it go?,'” the show’s executive producer Al Jean told The Chicago Tribune. “Well, people would have thought I was insane if I had said 25 years, but now 30 doesn’t seem unreasonable, and even beyond.”

The value of The Simpsons as a brand is humongous—contributing both economical and cultural benefits to those who are investing—and is one of the most-licensed properties of all time.

And the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Association (LIMA) is all over it.

The Association Behind the Licensing Industry

“Sometimes companies stretch a little far in trying to monetize a property like this,” Marty Brochstein, LIMA’s senior vice president of industry relations and information, told Chicago Tribune.

But with The Simpsons, it’s been different—and very successful. The show’s made its parent company, 21st Century Fox, more than $4.6 billion over the years, according to a 2013 estimate cited by Variety.

“They’ve done a very, very good job of being creative but within the parameters of what the characters are all about,” Brochstein said.

Licensing is a huge business. In June, the trade group reported that the industry made huge gains in 2013, with an increase of 3.3 percent and earnings of $115.8 billion recorded in North America.

Film, television, and celebrities drive the most licensing dollars, followed by corporate and brand names, fashion, sports, and colleges.

“When it’s on the shelf, licensed merchandise is a billboard for the property,” LIMA’s Brochstein told Variety. “You have to think about licensing as part of a marketing campaign.”

Brochstein believes there’s a deeper meaning to the licensing side of business. He looks at licensing as a human relationship between the products and productions that are made year in and year out.

“Licensing is about emotion and when you have something the consumer considers valuable, that’s wonderful,” he says.

(iStock Editorial/Thinkstock)

Patrick deHahn

By Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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