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Becoming digital savvy in the age of lockdown… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out social media and business forums like LinkedIn as a backdrop to this week’s column.

There is no doubting that the ‘Age of Lockdown’ has been a challenging time for the licensing industry.

There have been some small moments of cheer for some categories – notably areas like food, jigsaw puzzles, arts and craft – but I suspect most companies have had to confront some sort of business challenge. Licensing can be fast moving and flexible, which gives some hope that there will be ways of adapting to the much talked about ‘new normal’ which is starting to kick in. More shops will be open next week although sadly some big names have already gone to the wall. So it is difficult to look for ‘good news’ but we could point to new learnings that have emerged from lockdown for licensing businesses.

I think one is that licensors and licensees have become more savvy in digital marketing terms. In some cases the ‘needs must’ school of marketing has informed actions and new ways of promoting products have been deployed. I know in my work with Aardman Animations, its digital marketing team has been working really hard to support licensees with product selling  and promotional campaigns across platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. In some cases this has delivered a good level of sales and helped some licensees remain active. Aardman was already quite advanced in its management of this area, but I am sure the current campaign period has helped sharpen its skills and also given it further insight into best practice. This is an area licensing can build on in the future.

So against this backdrop I have done the majority of my looking out this week digitally – looking at products that are being promoted through social media or ones that have been talked about on business forums like LinkedIn. On the latter, while there is no substitute in my view for ‘real meetings’, LinkedIn has been an increasingly useful way of connecting with people and exploring business opportunities. Yes it was always there and I have always used it, but in recent times it has become a useful way of driving some new business chats.

At this point I should also say that the Licensing Week Virtual Matchmaking service that is up and running at the moment has also been a welcome business development tool. Informa has done well to create an event for the licensing industry in challenging times. Everyone will use the opportunity in different ways, but it is very welcome to have the opportunity. I have used seven out of ten of my meeting request cards so far – saving my firepower for a Friday follow up! I have tried to include some ‘new to me’ companies in my meeting requests. I think all licensing businesses need to be opened minded to new business at the moment.

Haynes has worked with Sony Music to create a special music collection.
Haynes has worked with Sony Music to create a special music collection.

A really interesting product I picked up on via LinkedIn is that Haynes Publishing has been working with Sony Music to create a Haynes Manuals’ music collection – Haynes: In The Car The Ultimate Sing-A-Long, 60 classic songs to sing in the car. The product consists of three CDs packaged in a card sleeve with a free mini Haynes guide. Featured tracks include Angels, Eye of the Tiger and Dead Ringer for Love. It is very much anthems and is timed to be out for Father’s Day I guess. It has got off to a great start and has charted in the Compilation Chart.

This is a very clever use of the Haynes brand and I like the way the product includes a mini Haynes Guide. I think for a publishing lead brand like Haynes it is a sensible approach to take adding a version of the core product to the licence. Music CDs may seem like old hat to some readers, but it is a great gifting format. Brands like Haynes help Sony re-package music and bring a well defined identity to collections.

Happy Socks has shown that traditional product can be recast with clever packaging and focused marketing.
Happy Socks has shown that traditional product can be recast with clever packaging and focused marketing.

Sticking with music, I noticed that sock gifting company Happy Socks has been using social media to promote its new product developed in association with the band Queen. Happy Socks develops socks in attractive gift boxes and seems to be proactively targeting the gifting market. In better times, I have seen the company at trade shows presenting the products to gift retailers. Again, rather like the CD, socks when packaged in giftboxes and featuring well chosen licences can work well as gifts.

Queen, rather like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, is a band that has a strong following but also a very distinct visual identity. Design-wise this is important as it gives a licensee like Happy Socks a good design palette to work with. This collection features a range of design and formats including socks based on songs like Bohemian Rhapsody. Happy Socks presents the range really well online and its website presents the product in a really effective way. It has obviously invested into this and recognises the value of presenting products in a stylish way.

Licensing stalwart Roy Lowe has also found some success in the sock gifting category. Happy Socks and Roy Lowe are good reminders that a traditional product can be recast with clever packaging and a commitment to focused marketing. Again, the wider licensing world maybe needs to think about how products are presented and marketed – we need to look beyond traditional sales channels and product packaging.

Eaglemoss uses digital marketing well, also developing its subscriber and collector business.
Eaglemoss uses digital marketing well, also developing its subscriber and collector business.

Partwork company Eaglemoss also seems to have been active during lockdown and seems to have further adapted its business model. Traditionally it sold continuity sets through newsagents linked to heavyweight TV campaigns. In fact, in 1987 my first ‘proper job’ was as a TV time buyer and Eaglemoss was one of my clients. Clockhouring was the name of the game – when a new partwork launched we bought TV time on the hour in every ITV region. Things have moved on a lot for me, Eaglemoss and TV advertising since then!

These days Eaglemoss seems to use digital marketing more and has also developed its subscriber business, coupled with a collector’s business for individual products rather than continuity sets. The latest product that caught my eye, on Instagram I think, is a Build Your Own Back to the Future De Lorean car kit. Subscribers are incentivised with ‘free gifts’ such as a model display base and in this case a very neat idea which is a tin car number plate.

Eaglemoss used to spend a lot of time researching concepts and I am guessing it still does. It has to manage the risk of launching new products. Licences such as Back to the Future allow it to dip into the fan and collector market, but also have a safety net of cars and model making. I am sure this kind of product has also had a boost during lockdown as it allows people to spend time model-making and creating something.

'Making and doing' is a strong area for partworks, which Eaglemoss has developed with its Ghostbusters car.
'Making and doing' is a strong area for partworks, which Eaglemoss has developed with its Ghostbusters car.

Just like London buses, two model kits come along at the same time… I also saw that Eaglemoss has launched a model-making partwork featuring the Ghostbusters car. The kit allows you to build your own 1:8 scale replica of the Ecto-1, the classic car from the  movies. Each issue comes with new ready painted parts and simple, easy to follow instructions.

It will be interesting to see how Eaglemoss develops this category further. Making and doing is a strong area for partworks and within that cars have always been popular. I wonder what else is on the production line.

The promotional partnership between Roald Dahl and Mr Kipling is in its fourth year.
The promotional partnership between Roald Dahl and Mr Kipling is in its fourth year.

A final online spot for me this week was again through LinkedIn. I noticed someone from Premier Foods posted about the promotional partnership with Roald Dahl. The promotion is on the Mr Kipling brand and runs across a broad range of the cakes. Apparently this is the fourth year of the promotion. It has just gone live again in Tesco and seems to have fantastic displays. I am not sure of the fine detail of the promotion, but the display photo I saw was very impressive.

The other thing that is impressive is that this partnership is entering its fourth year. A great testimonial for licensed promotions. Companies and brands like Premier Foods/Mr Kipling don’t take decisions lightly and spend time assessing the performance of promotions. Clearly Roald Dahl must pass muster. To me this seems like the sort of success story we should point to as an industry as a source of encouragement for other FMCG companies. Well done to all concerned.

Finally, and sticking in the world of FMCG, Will Stewart from The Point.1888 has sent me over his contribution to the Licensing Lookout. Will was one of my Lookout recruits from a couple of weeks ago, but understandably due to other work pressures Will took a temporary raincheck, but I am pleased to say he sent me a couple of great examples of FMCG licensing. I hasten to add he reached his own conclusions.

The partnership between Iceland and Barratt is "a truly focused brand extension".
The partnership between Iceland and Barratt is "a truly focused brand extension".

Will told me that the deal that he would highlight from his own work is the partnership between Iceland and Barratt. Will highlighted that: “This is a truly retail focused brand extension partnership benefitting from a perfect storm of the wonderful early summer, everyone being stuck at home and the fact that nobody can go on holiday.”

He went on to say: “We had a full marketing programme around the launch starting with the announcement of the Black Jack ice lolly by the trading director at Iceland on April 1. It picked up huge coverage for the range as Black Jacks are very much a marmite style of brand and it invoked a lot of passionate responses online.”

Iceland has a great track record of picking licences and backing them as ‘exclusives’ in their stores. This one joins deals like the ones it has with Gregg’s and Slimming World.

Will Stewart highlighted Rose Marketing's Tango range as a 'standout' deal.
Will Stewart highlighted Rose Marketing's Tango range as a 'standout' deal.

In terms of a deal that Will has admired outside his own work, he very kindly selected one that I have been involved in – namely the Tango range that licensee Rose Marketing has developed. Will commented: “My standout deal currently is the Tango range from Rose Confectionery. Yes it’s one of the authors but it’s a perfect combination of a powerful distinctive brand, executed brilliantly in the right retailers and delivered by an outstanding licensee who really understands the brand. Great brand extension happens when the right people are together and who wouldn’t want to be the meat in the Steven Watt, Carl Richardson and Ian Downes sandwich?”

Flattery of a kind will certainly get you into the Licensing Lookout! Not sure that sandwich has a future though. Stay safe and hopefully the ‘new normal’ will be kinder to us all.

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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