The concert T-shirt is quickly becoming a canvas for the intersection of art, fashion and entertainment for Universal Music Group’s Bravado.
Music giant Universal, part of Paris media behemoth Vivendi, has seen its Bravado division embark on an ambitious push to grow its licensing business as it seeks to transform how music merchandising and brand management is done. Just ask Kanye West, who worked with Bravado to stage last year’s 21 city pop-up event ahead of his Saint Pablo Tour for his “Life of Pablo” album that generated a fan frenzy.
There’s also the more recent example of Justin Bieber, who this week released — with the help of Bravado — his moto-inspired “Purpose the Stadium Tour” merchandise. On Friday, three Bieber pop-ups debut at Storm’s Copenhagen and Aarhus boutiques along with ANSH46 in Rotterdam, all of which are complete with motorcycle and dirt for effect. Where band merchandise was once seen as memorabilia bought mostly at shows, Bravado’s caught on to just how lucrative the business of music merchandise and memorabilia can be when backed by thoughtful design and experiential retailing.
“We were a music merchandising memorabilia, T-shirt driven business very much based upon going to the show, buying the black concert T-shirt and that was it,” said Bravado chief executive officer Mat Vlasic. “As we’ve proceeded on our journey, the end goal [is] being a brand management company and being able to help our artists create a brand that will also very much include a black T-shirt that they sell at their concerts…but also to help them build a retail business, e-commerce business, direct-to-fan business. Part of doing that is being able to extend their brands into different categories, different territories and therein lies the need and goal for us to build out a robust licensing business.”
Vlasic, who has been with the company for about a year, cautions use of the word licensing and instead said it’s about partnerships rather than finding anyone to take a license and haphazardly do with it what they may.
Bieber’s “Purpose” tour line is a good example of the strides made in the past 12 to 15 months, Vlasic said, as it relates to building out these full-on brand experiences. The collection released this week includes long-sleeve tops, shorts and yoga pants. Earlier iterations helped push Bieber’s merchandise into the doors of retailers such as Barneys New York and Selfridges.
“We’re putting out there a product of the artist’s vision and in this case, for Justin, it’s a whole line,” he said. “I don’t want to call it a fashion line. It’s a line that is well thought out, well put together. You can’t call it a concert T-shirt….It could sit with many of the brands out there. If you look at the amount of attention it’s gotten and the social media impressions, you start to think about this. It isn’t about a concert T-shirt; it’s about a brand.”
As an entertainment company, the brands Bravado works with are more than just music. It recently inked a deal to be the licensing agent for Paddington Bear in the U.S. and Canada and a new sports league started by Ice Cube called The Big 3. Working with different forms of entertainment opens the door to crossover collaborations. There will be announcements on that front soon, Vlasic said, but none the executive could discuss.
Bravado’s successes at retail for the artists beg the question of whether it would consider doing its own permanent doors through which an array of merchandise from several of its artists could be housed and sold.
“The thoughts crossed my mind and we’ve opened plenty of temporary stores, not necessarily [selling] a collection of artists’ product, but we’ve definitely gone through the exercise of what we would need to do,” he said. “We haven’t done it yet per se, but it’s an idea. It’s a thought, but we need to figure out a way to continuously have an experience and to not just be stagnant and have a bunch of product sitting there.”
There’s also opportunity to grow e-commerce or geographic reach, but all of that will be driven by the goal of creating robust experiences, Vlasic said. It’s a particularly apt strategy to take when one thinks about the evolution of the music industry, he said.
“[Merchandise is] one of the only physical interaction [fans] will have with the digital nature that music now lives in. They get to touch and feel it. They get to wear it. Why has the sports world, the character world — Disney and Marvel — merchandising been so critical to their business for so many years? Because it’s about pride, showing that you’re a New York Yankees fan or a Pokémon fan or Spider-Man fan. Whatever it is. It’s the same thing here and I don’t think the people who were doing it before thought of it in that way. It was thought of as concert memorabilia. That’s the upside.”
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