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All part and parcel… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

With January traditionally heralding the launch of partwork magazines, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes spots a key licensed example on his travels this week.

There are certain products and events that you can set your watch by in the world of licensing.

I noticed two of them this week. January always sees the launch of partwork magazines – these are the magazines that are generally TV advertised and build up into collections. Before my licensing life I had a partwork life and worked at the now defunct Marshall Cavendish. During my time at Marshall Cavendish I got married and it was so long ago people sent telegrams to wish you well on the big day. The telegrams were read out at the wedding reception. Anyway the media buying agency I worked with sent me a congratulatory telegram – the message read: “We hope your part works tonight!” I suspect they had waited many years to use that gag.

Swiftly returning to the partwork world of today. It is a very different one from the one I worked in with more frequent use of licences, more added value partworks and fewer companies involved in it. One of the companies still very much alive and kicking in the sector is Hachette Partworks. I noticed its latest launch this week. It is Disney Dolls’ House. It has been TV advertised and has prominent displays in retailers like WH Smith.

LL4As is quite common with the first issue of a partwork series, it is packaged on a backing board and a compelling opening offer which encourages collection. In this case it is the first foundation parts of a dolls’ house. The collection is based around building and decorating the dolls’ house and also collecting Disney figurines to fill the dolls’ house with. It is a very clever concept and one that I am sure has been heavily researched.

Disney is a good licence for partworks as the brand is widely known internationally and Hachette will be able to roll out the product in multiple territories. I haven’t seen any other licensed launches so far this month, but wouldn’t be surprised to see another one. Seemingly the partwork companies rowed back from using licences in recent years, but I am guessing in today’s more challenging marketplace licensed brands are more appealing to the publishers.

LL3I have also noticed that card shops like Card Factory have launched their Valentine’s Day cards. Since taking on my Licensing lookout role there have been a number of Valentine’s Days. My sense is that licensing is not a big part of the Valentine’s card mix. However, I did spot two licensed cards in Card Factory: ‘You’re 1 in a Minion’ and the other featuring Superman with the caption ‘Awesome Valentine’.

I may have missed other examples and, of course, I haven’t looked in lots of shops (yet) but it strikes me that Valentine’s could present a good opportunity for more licensed cards. Generally I think there is merit in brand owners creating more design work for specific card giving occasions.

I also made a return visit to HMV Oxford this week. As noted in a previous Lookout, HMV’s Oxford store is one of its new format pop culture stores. On my first visit I was really impressed by the layout of the store, the product ranges and the way it had captured ‘of the moment’ products. I was keen to pop in again primarily because I enjoyed my first visit so much, but also to see how things were progressing for the store. I am pleased to report that the store was still looking as good as it did on my first visit.

LL1This time around I noticed some extra little details such as signage to denote specific product areas, for example a tongue in cheek warning sign with the slogan ‘may spontaneously talk about anime’. I think these details really add to the personality of the store and I think make consumers feel they have found their place.

Licensing was and is a core part of the HMV offer. Highlights on this visit included a full range of Dr Who products including ceramics, collectables from Corgi and other items such as wall clocks. Not unexpectedly Funko Pop Vinyls are an integral part of the product offer. Again not unexpectedly, music merchandise is still a core part of the product offer with a full range of music-themed t-shirts and other signature items such as a Sex Pistols Bar stool.

LL5I like the way HMV uses FSDUs and product displays to help product stand out – a good example was a display of doormats (placed appropriately by the entrance). Connected to this is the way it uses its window displays to sell and to encourage customers in.

One example of this was a Pac-Man arcade game for the home with matching bar stool. This was featured in the window and was attracting a lot of interest from passerbys. Not all of these passerbys popped into store straightaway but a number did. It was good to see that the window displays were persuading people into store.

LL2While in Oxford I also visited my client The Ashmolean Museum. I popped into the Museum shop and it was good to see a number of the Ashmolean’s licensees’ products featured in-store. These included Flametree’s calendars and jigsaws, Woodmansterne’s cards and Mandarin Arts’ ceramics collection.

This was a good example of how licensing can be integrated into a museum’s retail offering and help give licensees an in market presence, but also a reminder how licensing can help a museum like the Ashmolean build a wider base of products and suppliers. Licensing is becoming much less of a business operating in isolation and in a silo these days.

I look forward to catching up with industry friends and colleagues next week at the Toy Fair. You should be able to spot me. I will be the man in the Ashmolean mask!

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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