Brand Jam returns to the Hong Kong International Licensing Show for a mix of the familiar and the fascinating. Find out all about it in our show report.

Hong Kong’s Convention and Entertainment Centre was the venue for the Hong Kong International Licensing Show and Asian Licensing Conference from 7-9 January. Brand Jam was again honoured to be a media partner of the event and accept an invitation to attend.

Perusing the aisles and halls is an unusual mix of the familiar and the far-out. For the familiar, local agents with predominantly Western rosters dominate much of the prime space. At first glance, it’s easy to mistake their presence as confirmation of a homogeneous global market, but deeper exploration quickly reveals the dizzying array of options facing local licensees. The enormous variety within the show is helped along by a strong presence of national pavilions, but are also an inevitable by-product of a region where the companies participating in licensing are more diverse and open-minded towards ideas beyond the traditional global licensing strongholds.

Among the conventional exhibitors, standouts included Long Wise, Tsuburaya, and the Malaysian office of Interasia & Associates. Long Wise represents several European museum brands locally, and has been a leader in executing themed promotions, cafes and restaurants in mainland China. The agency’s global representation of cultural institutions allied with the National Museum of China promises an interesting source of authentic and exotic Chinese art. Long Wise has used cultural archives to execute several campaigns with local offices of international CPG brands.

In a more modern vein, Interasia’s plans to manage extension programmes for K-Beauty brand, Tonymoly, were particularly interesting considering the global fervour for independent cosmetics, particularly from Korea. I was struggling to think of historical precedents of cosmetics brands with licensing empires, but the category’s strong communities and its interdependency with fashion and culture makes it an interesting proposition.

Tsuburaya is noteworthy for managing the rights for Ultraman – probably the most ubiquitous character at the show. Omega’s flash-sale activation of Ultraman with Fratello Watches was one of Brand Jam’s stand-out licensing programmes of 2018 and one that Tsuburaya’s international sales team was very proud of. Oh, and Hong Kong is opening the world’s first Monopoly theme park at The Peak (a light blue board location) this autumn.

Away from the institutional names there was far too much to comprehend, let alone report. What stood out above all was the large number of small creators – particularly from South Korea and Hong Kong – whose illustrations and Kawaii characters are often bafflingly obscure, but make perfect sense in a world where Line Friends arguably commands more attention than television.

We met several creators who had enjoyed surprising success licensing major programmes in spite of their small scale and experience. What also stood out was their skill at explaining the premise behind their characters, both in conversation and through their exhibit blurbs. In almost all cases, their character universes are created to address a specific aspect of modern life. Standout examples we met in the show’s excellent Hong Kong Pavilion included Capsubeans (stress), Canbot (ecology), Lonely Bear (loneliness) and Messy Desk (diversity).

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On the fringes of the exhibition, the European Lifestyle Brand Forum was a private pitching session co-organised by Brand Jam and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council to enable European rightsholders to meet one-on-one with local and mainland Chinese retail and brand decision-makers. Participants in this year’s inaugural session were Perfetti van Melle, Smiley World, MotoGP and HEAD.

Within the Asian Licensing Conference programme, there was an interesting presentation on eSports featuring Riot Games (League of Legends) and ESL, and a LIMA-led panel of international licensors sang the praises of Asia as a region with outstanding opportunities in sectors like food and beverage, education and entertainment.

With more than four hundred exhibitors and 23,000 visitors, the Hong Kong event is Asia’s largest licensing show. Visitors intent on making the most of their time can also visit adjacent shows for toys, stationery and baby products. This, along with the peripheral opportunities to view the world’s best retail and most vibrant collaboration culture, make it well worth the visit.