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100 years, band brands and Paddington at the races… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds some good examples of how companies are embracing more variety in their licensing strategies this week.

A growing trend in licensing which I am sure we will all recognise is the growth in ‘live’ and experiential licensing.

Indeed Brand Licensing Europe has recognised this trend by focusing on this category of licensing at the show this year. The opening keynote is centred on Monopoly Lifesized with executives from Hasbro and Path Entertainment providing insight into how this deal came alive. So it is no great surprise that ‘live licensing’ seems to pop up on my radar more frequently these days.

LL1As part of Disney’s celebration of its 100th anniversary I saw that Disney 100 is coming to ExCeL in October. The exhibition – which is billed as a chance to ‘discover the treasures of the Walt Disney Company’ – is due to open on 13 October. It is a great way to bookend Disney’s anniversary celebrations and, of course, a great showcase for its brands. It is a great example of how this kind of licensing allows brand owners to operate at large scale.

Success begets success of course and this might be one reason we are seeing more activations of this kind, but I think there is also a drive by IP owners to look at new revenue streams and fresh ways of bringing their IP alive in the commercial world, not least as there are more challenges in retail. The convention of focusing all your licensing fire on the high street has shifted and companies are embracing more variety in their licensing strategies.

Related to this, while not licensing per se I noticed Sotheby’s is hosting a month long viewing of ‘oddments, curios and beloved objects’ from Freddie Mercury’s home at the moment. This is tied into an auction of these items. Sotheby’s has created an event around the auction allowing people to view the items. Sotheby’s has involved its offices around the world in this project.

This shows the potential in the experiential sector when there is good content available allied to a well known name. It is also a further indicator of how music and music personalities are a force to be reckoned with in the licensing and pop culture worlds. Music and ‘band brands’ are now very much a core part of the licensing mix.

LL3I got a reminder of this at a smaller scale this week in Farnham. The local record shop, 101 Collectors Records, had an eye-catching display of t-shirts in its window including t-shirts featuring Slipknot, Smashing Pumpkins and Iron Maiden. Shops like 101 Collectors Records are a hub for music fans especially lovers of vinyl records. There definitely seems to be a real resurgence in the purchasing, collecting and playing of vinyl. Indeed vinyl is a key part of the retail offering at HMV currently. It is good to see shops like 101 Collectors Records featuring licensed products and in turn the licensees being alert to supplying independent shops like this. While the retail market is challenging at the moment, there are pockets of success and it is important that collectively we identify these success stories and support them. It might be adapting distribution models and adjusting product selections but there should be a good payback.

It is probably also a good moment for licensees and IP owners to help retailers to think about innovative ways of using licensed products in-store to help boost sales. Licensed brands can be an effective way of bringing in customers, but also lifting the retail experience from a display perspective and helping retailers to grow consumer spend.

I saw a very simple but effective example of this in a National Trust garden centre this week. The retailer had moved Matt Sewell’s Our Garden Birds book from the book area into the area of the store that sells birdseed and birdfeeders. The book from Ebury Press was being displayed alongside these products. It enhanced the display, but may also mean someone trades up and buys the book. They may have previously missed the book or not thought to buy it.

LL5Related to this, it has been encouraging to see how a number of retailers have chosen to feature licensed ranges in-depth at the moment creating dedicated displays. Perhaps this is recognition of the pulling power of well chosen licences.

WH Smith currently has a feature area under its 3 for 2 Mix & Match promotion with a range of Spider-Man back to school items. It looks good in-store, although I am sure a few children will be thinking that they have only just broken up from school for the summer holidays!

LL6However when they or their parents start thinking about back to school Spider-Man is well placed to be part of their plans.

Likewise Ryman is using licensed brands prominently at the moment including a fabulous display of Squishmallows products and a FSDU full of Numberblocks products. These examples show how retailers can use licensed ranges proactively. The Numberblocks FSDU is a further example of how retailers are using FSDUs to focus on ranges, while also giving them additional selling space. I also think display pieces like this help create retail theatre and help retailers create a more engaging retail environment.

LL4As noted about record shops, it is important that licensees and brand owners are prepared to find new outlets for licensed products at the moment.

With this in mind it was good to see Fashion UK had got a Jaws t-shirt listed in the Original Factory Shop. Traditionally not a natural home for licensed products, this is probably another example of how things are shifting in the market and that there are now types of retailers emerging. I sense licensees and in turn IP owners are being more flexible in their approach to retail and retail outlets developing a portfolio of products that can be deployed as appropriate within different retailers. Long gone are the days of one design being offered at one price in one format to all retailers. Being flexible and agile retail wise are probably two good watchwords at the moment.


Finally returning to ‘live experiences’ and licensing. Long-term licensee Rainbow Productions has been leading the way in this sector for many years with its costumes making appearances at a range of events and venues. It is easy to forget how its work is so effective at bringing licensing alive and how it also creates new outlets for licensing.

I spotted a great example of this at Goodwood Races this week. Paddington Bear appeared on the course and on ITV to support Paddington the horse. Paddington is a very successful racehorse who won his race at Goodwood with Paddington Bear cheering him on. It was a gloomy day in Sussex, but Paddington Bear added some colour to a drab day and it was an enterprising thing for Goodwood to do.

Definitely added value to the day and I dare say the Paddington meets Paddington photos will travel far and wide. A good experience all round.

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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