For thousands of motorists, the Blue Oval is just another hood ornament whizzing by on an expressway. But for Ford, there is real money being mined in that famous trademark beyond the grille of a new Explorer or F-series pickup.
Ford, as Forbes.com reported in May, has a thriving $1.5 billion business licensing the Blue Oval and various corporate trademarks for video games, die-cast car models and other merchandise -- even pool tables. That's up an amazing 50 percent from $1 billion in 2005.
So it was no understatement when high-fives busted out of the Glass House in Dearborn, Mich., after the second of three credit-rating agencies lifted Ford debt out of the junkyard, allowing the automaker to recover full rights to the Blue Oval and other assets. Ford surrendered the Blue Oval as collateral for the first time when it secured $23.5 billion in new financing in 2006.
Ford's financial turnaround has been well-documented, but the intangibles are making the difference in its recovery.
Ford has roughly 400 licensees today, up from about 300 in 2004, Forbes said, and the automaker granted about 18,000 product approvals in 2011, up from about 15,000 two years ago.
The "Built Ford Tough" slogan was recently licensed for clothing at Forever 21, Forbes said, and a Ford line of Tervis Tumblers debuted at Bed Bath & Beyond last year.
But it's the Blue Oval that has recovered the most. John Nens, Ford's brand lord in charge of licensing and corporate identity, told Forbes that the Blue Oval has raced ahead of the Mustang and "Built Ford Tough" on the wish lists of licensees.
For corporate giants such as Ford, licensing is simple. Use it to build the brand, then to protect the brand. All told, Forbes said, retailers sold about 45 million pieces of Ford-branded merchandise last year, up from about 40 million pieces five years ago. Not shabby for an automaker some investors left for dead a few years back.