Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on why it’s worthwhile reflecting on the longer lasting deals out there, as well as the new.
In licensing there is a tendency to celebrate the ‘new’ and deal wise to focus on new deals. This is, of course, understandable and reflects the pace of the business, but equally I think it is worthwhile reflecting on the longer lasting deals that are out there.
This thought came to mind last week as I took a GWR train to Oxford via Reading station. On board my train and along the platforms at Reading were posters encouraging consumers to think about taking GWR trains to travel to cities around the GWR region. The campaign uses Enid Blyton’s Famous Five characters and is designed in a vintage art style. The creative has been used for TV commercials, online and on billboards. I seem to recall it starting some time ago and the fact it is still being used suggests it has worked for GWR. It is good to see a promotional campaign like this having longevity in the market and, as noted earlier, good to celebrate an ‘old’ campaign.
On my train journey I also saw a lot of posters for licensing-led live events, particularly theatre shows. A good example of a long running theatre show featuring well known IP is the Only Fools and Horses musical which seems to have lasted longer than most other things sourced from Del Boy. Of course, in this category the start up costs are high so producers work hard to source IP that has lasting appeal, but it is good to shows like Only Fools and Horses succeed.
I also noticed a poster promoting the Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature exhibition at the V&A – this runs until January 2023. It started in February 2022. A good example of how an exhibition can help an IP stay in the public eye.
I also noticed a poster for The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show featuring 75 magical puppets no less! This show has been running at the Lyric Hammersmith from mid-August and came to the end of its run there over the weekend. I can imagine that the show has proved popular over the summer holidays and probably tours around the country. It helps provide a foundation stone for the property and allows children to interact with the characters in a fresh way. Puppet shows open up new opportunities for IP owners, particularly those that own brands who might have considered theatre shows too difficult to develop or stage.
Of course we should celebrate new things in licensing. So it was good to see how well Clarks the shoe retailer has embraced the opportunity to work with Pokémon. I have seen Pokémon and Clarks’ range in a number of the shops recently featuring in very prominent window displays that celebrate the partnership in a very effective way.
Clarks is not a frequent user of licensing nor is it new to licensing. It seems to use licensing carefully and dare I say strategically. Timing wise this campaign ties into back to school, a time when retailers like Clarks are keen to make an impression with consumers and to be on their radar. Working with Pokémon and being so visible about it will help with this and I am sure has increased footfall at such an important shopping moment.
The collection includes 19 styles I believe and includes plain black shoes that would be suitable for school. This is a neat bit of NPD and am sure it holds strong consumer appeal. There are other more fashion driven and casual options as well plus a gym bag. Creatively there is a nice nod to detail as the shoes have Playprint soles that feature the Poké Ball symbol. I am sure Pokémon fans will enjoy making an impression with these. This is clearly a big undertaking for Clarks and it has developed an all encompassing range. For Pokémon it must be very satisfying to work with such a well known and trusted brand as Clarks. Having so much high street visibility is I am sure very welcome as well.
I also popped into a local branch of Lidl this week. Lidl is a price driven retailer, blending a mix of its own brands with established brands and special offers. Licensing features in Lidl, but seemingly a lot of licensing activity is based around specific offers or promotions. Against this backdrop it was good to see Lidl featuring licensed greetings cards in its card FSDU. The FSDU is managed by Hallmark I believe. The cards are selling at 99p each. I spotted a LEGO card and a Spider-Man card – I am sure there are more but Lidl isn’t a place that you can stand still too long in and I wasn’t even in the middle of Lidl! But good to see licensing playing a part in this fixture.
It is also good to see the variety and styles of licensed brands featuring on cards within WH Smith. For example within the art section featured brands included V&A, Matthew Williamson, RHS, Tate and the National Trust. It is also good to see art sourced from the likes of Punch magazine and cartoonist Matt featuring prominently.
Licensing pops up in other categories such as age cards even up to ‘older ages’ such as teenage years where licensing can sometimes tail off. For example a Happy Jackson ‘15’ card stood out. While in the younger ages character brands such as PAW Patrol and Disney featured prominently. Even in categories like photographic cards licensed brands are very prominent with the likes of WWF, National Trust and Wildlife Photographer of the Year collection featuring. It is also good to see licensing being used in new ways (or at least new to me) in the card category. I noticed The Very Hungry Caterpillar featuring on a First Day at School card. This is a category that I have missed before, but it is certainly one that licensing should perform well in.
Licensing also featured well in areas like Graduation congratulations and ‘good luck’ in exams with Happy Jackson and Emma Bridgewater designs being used.
WH Smith is a retailer that features licensing throughout store in different categories and different ways. I was quite surprised that there wasn’t much licensed product in its back to school ranges, even in areas like pencil cases and stationery which used to be strong areas for licensed goods. This may be a current trend but it is worth noting.
WH Smith seems to have switched to branded suppliers and its own brand developments which dial up design trends such as plush notebooks and super bright colourways. That said licensing still has its moments in WH Smith. The retailer seems to be working with suppliers on FSDU lead programmes – I guess to maximise space and to keep stock fresh. Panini had a prominent near till point FSDU for its WWE Sticker collection; The Carat Shop had placed a Harry Potter jewellery and accessories FSDU in-store; Tonies also had a branded FSDU which included licensed products such as Peppa Pig and Gruffalo.
It was also good to see licensing being used creatively in categories like educational books – I noticed Fiesta Crafts Oi! Phonics and Rhymes books that come with a board, pen and playing pieces. This is a category that was traditionally closed off to licensing.
One surprising thing I spotted and a first for me in WH Smith were licensed socks. WH Smith has developed a fixture with Sock Shop selling the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek and Game of Thrones. I can see this working as a gift purchase and a self purchase by fans. They were located in the book department and the thinking is that book buyers will buy these as extra purchases.
It is good to see WH Smith embracing a new category and also a reminder that it is worth exploring new opportunities with retailers even if traditionally it is a category they aren’t known for. Retailers and retailing are changing. Likewise it is definitely worth thinking about how you can bring your brand and product alive with FSDUs as it seems that retailers like WH Smith are keen to add these to their stores more often now.
Finally, I am pleased to report that the first Light Fund Social Walk was a success. We didn’t get lost! 12 of us met on 26 August and had a very enjoyable Thames Path stroll from Vauxhall to Waterloo, criss crossing the River and then a few of us carried on to Tower Bridge after lunch.
I managed to impart some London history and a bit of London waffle as well! But it was great to meet up with industry colleagues and chat about the industry in a relaxed environment.
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.