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The Licensing Lookout: Creating movie magic

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at Early Man’s bespoke approach to film licensing.

Lights, camera, no action.

That seems to be the prevailing order in licensing these days in regards to film releases.

In general terms, licensees seem to have cooled their interest in film licensing – licensing programmes associated with film releases used to be a regular and vibrant part of the licensing calendar. Film licensing was part of most licensee’s, and in turn retailers’, portfolios. However, in recent years the industry seems to have fallen out of love with films somewhat.

Of course, there have been substantial licensing campaigns associated with the likes of Star Wars and Marvel, but in the wider market films have become harder to sell in licensing terms. From what I have heard this is mainly because licensees are worried that the window of opportunity is shorter than before and that retailers are not as receptive to the category. Retailers being concerned that product will not sell through rapidly enough.

Against this backdrop if you are charged with selling a film into the licensing market it is clearly a challenge and, with this in mind, some new thinking has to be used. I thought the licensing and promotional partnership campaign associated with a film I have been close to, Early Man, is interesting and provides some encouragement that there are opportunities out there.

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Aardman has approached the commercial programme around Early Man differently. There has been more emphasis on promotional partnerships, experiential activities and a focused product licensing programme which helps service the first two categories alongside conventional retail.

Promotional partnerships have been secured with Subway, Yeo Valley and furniture retailer DFS. These promotions were coordinated to launch prior to the movie release to help create some ‘buzz’ and to allow the partners to have longer in the market. The DFS promotion has included television advertising with some bespoke animation from the film. This has been extended into press and poster advertising. Yeo Valley’s promotion includes an on-pack competition which features prizes that have in part been sourced from licensing partners.

The licensing element of the Early Man campaign has been focused on products such as plush and giftware with a well thought through path to retail and thought given to a selling plan for the product. For example, the giftware licensee is a specialist in the heritage, souvenir and visitor centre market. This links well into the experiential part of the campaign, but also fits with the storyline of Early Man, giving the licensee Ancestors the opportunity to sell the product in a focused way to some of its existing customers in the heritage market.

Plush partner Bandai Namco operates in both the retail and leisure markets: this gives it two markets to sell Early Man which helps manage stock quantities and gives it confidence that it will be able to sell the stock efficiently. It launched the range to the leisure industry at the recent EAG Show at ExCeL – great timing to optimise the publicity around the film.

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Given the subject matter of Early Man – the story of a tribe of cavemen encountering the Bronze Age against the backdrop of football… it is a film that is relevant to organisations in the heritage category.

Over recent years Aardman has invested heavily in making its content market ready for the experiential, live and heritage sectors, this experience helped it prepare the ground for Early Man and this has resulted in a range of partnerships.

The first of these is a partnership with English Heritage across the whole estate, but with particular emphasis on the most relevant sites such as Stonehenge. English Heritage is running an Early Man Quest for families linked to model-making classes and a competition.

Aardman has supplied content for the model-making classes (a natural fit for Aardman) and in addition for English Heritage’s website including content for its blog about animating Stonehenge (another natural fit for Aardman). Ancestors has supplied licensed merchandise to English Heritage’s shops.

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Other experiential partners include the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, a long-term partner of Aardman. The link here is film-making and animation. A series of events and classes have been created with an Early Man theme that are bespoke to the museum. A key here is working in a focused way with a live partner to ensure the delivered content and activities match the venue’s outlook. Partnerships like this provide an alternative market as well.

Early Man also features at the Eden Project, West Midlands Safari Park and the Wiltshire Museum. This is a wide reaching programme and opens up a lot of new channels for product distribution.

There have also been some eye-catching PR and advertising activities for Early Man including a wraparound cover for Time Out. This is an important part of the mix, making sure a film can breakthrough and grab consumer attention in a cluttered world.

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While it has become more difficult to sell film licences, the Early Man experience shows that a bespoke approach can bring rewards coupled with a realistic approach to merchandise sales and deal making. Of course it helps if the film is good and well reviewed – Early Man has been well received. This also helps with a secondary opportunity around the DVD release.

Film licensing needs to be carefully thought through and wrapped up into a focused plan that embraces new ways of retailing, new types of partnerships and a realistic portfolio of products.

Perhaps we will then see more calls for action!

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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