Start Licensing’s Ian Downes reflects on some opportunities and activities which could inspire a licensing play this week, alongside a new magazine launch and an on-pack promotion.
My first role in licensing was at Copyright Promotions. Specifically I co-managed the publishing category being responsible for a number of product areas including comics and magazines. This built on my prior experience in partworks.
One of the first deals I was involved in was with Redan and it was I think renewing its Mr. Men licence. At the time I dealt with Redan’s founder, the late Robert Sutherland – he was a really smart man with a great vision. He recognised that there was a market for comics for younger readers based on well known characters and with a mix of content. He also developed the Fun to Learn brand and workbooks recognising that learning could be fun.
I enjoyed dealing with Robert and Redan. As a result I am always keen to follow its progress and am pleased to see it is still flourishing. Indeed, it has very much built on Robert’s legacy and is a key player in the licensed marketplace.
I bought a copy of its latest launch, Skoodle, this week. This a compilation magazine focused on ‘sketching and doodling’ – a reflection of the popularity of arts and crafts, plus Redan building on the success of compilation magazines. Skoodle features brands such as Polly Pocket, Piñata Smashlings, Rainbow High and Miraculous. It comes with a covermounted Barbie doodle and colour set. Of course, the choice of Barbie is a well made one and coincides with the release of the Barbie movie.
The magazine is packed full of activities and is content rich, making great use of the characters it features. Content highlights include a Piñata Smashlings sticker sheet, a Barbie mini-mag and plenty of activities. It is a magazine built to last. Priced at £5.99, magazines of this kind are considered purchases so it is important that Redan builds in value into the magazine and that it is seen as value for money. I think Redan has achieved this with Skoodle using all of its editorial experience to deliver a very engaging magazine.
The compilation format works well in this context allowing Redan to work with a range of characters and match them with specific activities. There were times when IP owners would rail against the concept of being part of a compilation magazine, but it is now a well established format and I suspect IP owners recognise the benefits it can bring them. I am sure they are also attracted to Redan’s brand values and editorial standards. I think Robert would have approved of Skoodle (although I suspect he may have had a chuckle at the title).
Sticking with publishing, it has become more common for publishers to think of successful book series as brands and to be more open to use licensing as a way of building their brand reach. A great example of this is the Horrible Histories brand.
One particularly successful strand of licensing associated with this brand has been its development into a successful stage show. Allied to this has been the success of a Horrible Histories-themed River Thames sightseeing cruise. I noticed that the RAF Museum in Hendon is currently promoting Horrible Histories Up In The Air Adventure. This is scheduled to run from 22 July to 3 September and will be a blend of theatre, museum and immersive activities all centred on the history of flight.
It is presented in association with the Horrible Histories publisher Scholastic. It is a great example of a book brand coming alive in fresh ways and also shows how the Horrible Histories brand can be applied in a range of settings. No doubt there will be a range of merchandise to accompany the event and there will be Horrible Histories books on sale. This is, of course, an upside for Scholastic but I think beyond this the value of these type of partnerships is the way it helps reinvigorate a brand and creates a platform for fans to interact with a brand they love.
Another area of licensing that seems to be less active these days is that of on-pack promotions. Back in my Copyright Promotions days we had a department of four who worked on ‘Food and Promotions’. Promotions extended beyond FMCG, but FMCG was a core part of the promotional portfolio back then. For a number of reasons it is less these days so it is always noteworthy to spot an on-pack promotion in the market.
This week I noticed that Del Monte is working with the Miraculous brand across its tinned fruit range. The star prize in the promotion is the chance to win a trip to France. The promotion features on-pack and includes an on-pack QR code which you can scan to enter. It is interesting to see this promotion in the market and I wonder if it will pique the interest of other FMCG brands. It also interesting to see the use of new technology in the promotion. QR codes and other related tech could well open the door to a range of promotional applications for licensing and give FMCG companies further reason to consider licensed promotions, not least as providers of engaging content.
Finally, I think it is always worth reflecting on opportunities and activities which aren’t licensed but could inspire a licensing application or play. With this in mind I spotted a BIC branded FSDU in Wilko recently. It was a card-based FSDU in the shape of a school bus. It really stood out in-store and was also very efficient with multi-sided displays full of product. It struck me that this is the sort of in-store ‘theatre’ that licensing is well suited to.
Of course there have been examples of this kind of thing featuring licensed brands, but I think this is an area that licensing could develop further. Thinking beyond product to retail execution and delivery.
On the same visit I noticed Wilko promoting items like duvets under the ‘Save On Student Life’ banner. Retailers seem to be more tuned into and focused on events like this – buying occasions. Licensing has scope to become more involved in this sort of thing. With this in mind, as noted before, it is encouraging to see rights holders thinking more about new retail occasions and opportunities by creating event specific artwork.
As an industry we need to be alive to new opportunities and retail themes.
As seen with Skoodle, licensees and IP owners are very capable of adapting and applying the licensing model to new opportunities and formats.
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.