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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes gets carried away with The Force at retail this week.

I certainly felt The Force this week. With the fast approaching release of a new Star Wars film things seem to have further heated up at retail for the brand. Star Wars appears to be the licensing pick of the moment with a wide range of products at retail across ages, categories and sectors.

At first glance this is the sign of a well managed campaign with product arriving at retail with precision to take advantage of the demand created by the film release.

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Some might question whether is it cart before horse or horse before cart – is the film there to sell merchandise or is merchandise there to sell the film? Maybe it is a perfect storm.

The licensing programme associated with Star Wars takes in products, promotions and collaborations. It is a comprehensive campaign. All the elements appear to work together, but each licensee and retail partner will have their own take on this.

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Sainsbury’s has a range of Star Wars gifts as part of its Christmas ‘gift’ seasonal space. It seems in the main that this is to cater for adults and includes a diverse mix of product from licensees including Wow Stuff; some novel items such as Chewbacca Bed Warmer Pillows particularly caught the eye. Other noteworthy items included Infinity Lights. This really was a wall of product.

Broadly speaking the product in this mix was creative and used the licence in a progressive way. My reservation was simply is there too much of it? I guess from a retailer’s point of view a strong commitment to a brand makes sure consumers have got a range to show, it works well in-store from a visibility point of view and there is scope for multiple purchasing. I wonder though how far the Star Wars £ can stretch in one location.

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In the same store, there was a clever use of Star Wars on some children’s apparel with a bespoke Christmas design with characters such as Darth Vader and Stormtroopers in a winter scene with the tagline ‘Up to Snow Good’.

This was part of a wider Christmas apparel offer that included a bespoke Peppa Pig design – Peppa Loves Christmas (which is quite comforting to know) and, interestingly, a Home Alone t-shirt.

The latter is a very good example of a retro licence being used in a strategic way around retail events like Christmas. It is unlikely too many five and six year olds know the Home Alone films, but their parents and other relatives will so it appeals to gifters looking for a fun present or simply a Christmas ‘wear’ that will be talked about.

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Star Wars also features quite strongly in Marks & Spencer’s Christmas gift offering. Again there has been some thought given to product and product finishes. Chewbacca in particular is a character that has been dialled up not least because he allows licensees to develop fur finished products – in M&S there is a Chewbacca fur washbag.

This is a good example of a move that I think all of us in licensing should be mindful of – actually thinking about NPD in regards to using a licence to the full and the creative potential it offers. In tough times it is tempting to cut corners in product terms, but it is probably the moment to stand firm and develop bespoke creative solutions. Use a licence to its full potential. A popular licence allows manufacturers to add value and by adding value product should be somewhat insulated to price squeezes and, of course, be more in demand by ‘fans’.

Clearly retailers feel that Star Wars is a good bet for them and they have made sure they have stocked up accordingly. Other ranges of Star Wars products can be found in a diverse group of retailers including Robert Dyas, Maplin and Lakeland. Companies like Revell has got involved with construction kits – I saw a nice range of these in a specialist transport book shop Ian Allan Books – the reach is strong with this one Luke!

My general concern is whether there is too much product out in the market, but I have to say that broadly speaking the product I have seen is very well developed, nicely presented and seems to represent the brand well – all of which should help it sell through. It is certainly well coordinated at retail and, as mentioned earlier, is arriving at the right time.

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The Star Wars push has also been topped up with ‘collabs’ including one with GAP. The range offered by GAP crosses over a number of categories including footwear, knitwear, t-shirts and jackets. I believe it is a children’s wear collection. It is promoted in-store and importantly in window displays – with the strapline Shop the new Limited Edition Collection – confirming to consumers that this collection will only be around for a while and presumably has a certain uniqueness to it – maybe in design terms.

This kind of collab seems to make sense as it extends the reach of the brand, grabs window displays in shopping centres and on high streets, plus allows the brand to be featured in some new ways.

It is an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. Hopefully it will be exciting (and rewarding) times for licensees and retailers as well.

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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