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The Licensing Lookout: Comeback kings (and queens)

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes reflects on rejigged strategies bringing back older brands.

It used to be said that a good benchmark for getting older was to look at police officers. As they got younger you got older. I have certainly felt this myself over recent months – the Met Police seems to have recruited a lot of youngsters recently!

However I think I have found a new benchmark to measure your age. Sitcoms you watched as you grew up being turned into plays. I noticed that 1970’s classic Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – a BBC sitcom that starred Michael Crawford – is now out on a theatre tour with Joe Pasquale taking the role of Frank. Clearly the producers feel there is an audience for this and I am sure part of their thinking is looking at the huge popularity of the original TV show – I think episodes still run on channels like BBC2 and UK Gold even now. The hope is that the TV audience will translate into a theatre-going one.

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This is a really good example of how ‘live’ events offer licensing some new opportunities and also that there is scope for ‘vintage’ properties to come to the fore. I expect to see more classic TV shows and other ‘retro’ brands gaining traction in the licensing market – not always in the conventional product market but in new channels like live shows, exhibitions and theme parks. The success of events such as Wayne Hemingway’s Vintage Festivals and the growth of popularity of specialist TV channels like Talking Pictures TV are good measures of this trend.

A related point to this is that there is probably scope for licensed properties that succeeded in the late 80s and 90s to make comebacks in licensing with a rejigged strategy to reflect the shift in demographics of fans. A case in point is my old friend Groovy Chick.

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I enjoyed working with Bang on the Door the owners of Groovy Chick a few years ago which was her first comeback tour. Groovy Chick was one of the most popular properties of the 1990s. I noticed that Primark has launched a range of Bang on the Door socks including designs based on the iconic Groovy Chick.

The fans are now probably in their 20s and 30s but the character has a real nostalgic value for them. The socks are listed in Primark which seems to be a clever choice of retailer to feature in. There is a big customer base there and as a fast fashion retailer there is scope to move quickly and respond to demand.

Newspapers, magazines and blogs have picked up on the release of the Groovy Chick socks – this should help create further momentum and is another reminder that PR/social media can really help with the promotion of a property particular a ‘vintage’ one. Seeing characters you used to work on making comebacks as ‘classic characters’ is another measure of getting old… I am keeping an eye out for Zig & Zag pyjamas

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London is getting geared up for the forthcoming Royal wedding – it has been a good month for Union Jack sales with lots of streets now adorned with flags. Retailers have responded to the opportunity with bespoke displays and products. I am not aware of any licensed products specifically tapping into the wedding opportunity, but I have seen that it has given retailers a chance to roll out licensed products themed around London or Britain.

This has reminded me how licensors and licensees have got better at tapping into unique opportunities. A good example of this is a book, Peppa Goes to London. The book was published last year by Penguin and features an original story with Peppa visiting London and meeting a member of the Royal family apparently – I only got up to page six before one of the booksellers moved me on. This kind of bespoke concept and design helps create new opportunities for licensing.

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It is encouraging to see some new examples of licensing being used in non-traditional categories. I saw a couple of examples being advertised and promoted in the press this week. One was a new range of paints from Little Greene using the National Trust brand. The range utilises the National Trust’s colour archive and also leans on the colour schemes of a number of the Trust’s stately homes.

The other example was a furniture range by Arlo & Jacob ‘designed’ by House & Garden magazine. Both these examples show that licensing can play a role in diverse business categories and that there is potential for business growth outside of the crowded centre.

In this case I suspect part of the rationale for using licensing for these licensees is to create a clear point of difference and to create momentum for product marketing. Organisations such as the National Trust bring a ready-made audience and a suite of promotional benefits, as well as an expert credibility in the category.

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As well as street art I am a great lover of ‘advertising art’ and the sunny weather has helped me spot some good examples of this recently. Most ice cream vans feature handpainted character images – putting aside rights and permissions there is a great range in the quality of the art but it is fun spotting the artwork. Often you have to guess the character. However I saw some good examples this week featuring Disney characters.

My unscientific analysis indicates that Disney could certainly claim to be the number one property featured on ice cream vans in the UK. A stat is a stat!

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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