Christmaswatch continues… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes does some Christmas watching from the couch this week, as well as spying some Wombles activity and a welcome showcase on ITV’s This Morning.

Christmaswatch is still the order of the day Lookout wise, but in a large part this switched to Christmaswatch on the Couch. Retailers use a range of techniques at this time of year to catch the eye of consumers, including some relatively old school marketing ones such as distributing booklets, brochures and flyers. I picked up three of these this week – one from The Original Factory Shop, another from Argos and a third one from Robert Dyas.

Retailers make these available in-store or, indeed, outside of store coupled with media campaigns such as placing ‘loose inserts’ in magazines and newspapers.

LL2The Original Factory Shop is, of course, a retailer focused on value and price. Its promotional brochure is very focused on showing it is competitively priced. Naturally, its Christmas brochure includes seasonal items such as Christmas lights and decorations. It is using licensing in key categories in the brochure. Under ‘Gifts for Kids’ it features licensed pyjama sets including Minecraft and Super Mario ones. It also features toys here including a range of Pokémon products. It also focuses on family fashion with licences such as Spider-Man, The Grinch and Marvel. It has made good use of well established licensed brands that have a high recognition factor, plus cleverly used bespoke seasonal graphics. As a company, Original Factory Shop also features a lot of well known brands in categories like fashion, fragrances and gifting. In this context licensed brands are given equal merit and I am guessing selected on their ability to bring in consumers who place a value of well known brands.

Robert Dyas has presented its Christmas flyer under the slogan ‘The home of your low cost Christmas’. This reinforces the point that retailers are very aware that consumers are more cost conscious at the moment and will in some cases be buying on a budget. I am guessing retailers have pushed their suppliers to support them in delivering competitive prices at the moment. Logistically it must be difficult for both retailers and suppliers to plan ahead at the moment pricewise and I suspect there have been ongoing conversations around trading terms.

LL6Robert Dyas’ flyer opens up with a couple of pages featuring Christmas trees, decorations and lights. There was no sign of any licensed product in this range. Maybe there is an opportunity for licensing here in future years. There are a couple of pages dedicated to Gifts with subsections such as Gifts for Tweeters (in this context birdwatchers rather than social media users), Styling Gifts and Gifts for Furry Friends. Licensing features here with brands such as National Geographic – the featured item is a Children’s Telescope selling for £19.99 (normal price £ 39.99 ). Indeed in-store National Geographic is a brand that Robert Dyas is supporting in depth across a number of product categories. Other examples of licensing include Range Rover Evoque Electric Ride-On car, a Traitors Card Game and a Pot Noodle Mug & Fork set. Licensing is supported in other categories as well in the flyer, most notably with a feature for Jamie Oliver’s cookware range from Tefal. This is presented as being sold at half price. It also features Jamie Oliver pre-loaded pepper and salt mills. Within store other brands that feature include SLUSH PUPPiE, Barbie and the Discovery Channel. Robert Dyas seems to have harnessed the power of licensed brands carefully, but also in a cost conscious way. Retailers recognise that licensed brands can have a positive impact to their ranges at this time of year as licensed brands are ones consumers seek out.

For many years the Argos catalogue was a pre-Christmas highlight for many of us and became a bit of a family ritual – it was used as a gift directory. I think a lot of people would go through and highlight their Christmas wishlist. After browsing and marking up the Argos catalogue, I think the same people would probably turn to the Christmas Radio Times to pick out their Christmas watch list!

I don’t think Argos publishes a catalogue in the same way now. But I did pick up a Christmas brochure it has produced. The brochure is described as ‘a special festive magazine’ which has been designed to ‘help… navigate the holidays with ease’. It is divided into categories such as Stocking Fillers, Foodie Gifts and Gadget Gifts. It is very much a highlights tour of Argos’ full range.

LL4Like the other two retailers pricing, value and money are key parts of the messaging. For example consumers are being offered £5 off when they spend over £40 if they sign up to Argos’ marketing programme. A good insight into the fact that retailers recognise the value in having an opportunity to talk directly to consumers these days. Licensing features throughout the magazine – for example within Stocking Fillers aka Gifts Under £15 with PAW Patrol, Frozen, Pokémon and Super Mario all featured. It seems a walnut, a satsuma and a Christmas Cracker as stocking fillers are long gone!

The Argos magazine placed a heavy emphasis on small electrical appliances with brands such as Russell Hobbs and Nutribullet. It also made good use of the Habitat brand.

Habitat is a brand Argos owns and is one that they would focus on in this context, but it underpins the value retailers place on brands and how they recognise the ability a brand has to motivate consumers.

LL3Within Fashion & Beauty, The Grinch features reinforcing how this brand is having a good Christmas and is featuring a lot at retail at the moment. It is interesting to see that Argos has dedicated a couple of pages in the magazine for ‘Music Lovers’ and within this section it features brands such as Fender and Marshall. Blue chip music brands with a rich heritage. Gaming is also a category given a lot of space. Naturally toys and games are featured heavily including a page that features Argos’ Top 10 Christmas Toys. This top 10 includes licensed lines such as a Stretch Star Wars Chewbacca, a Bluey play-set (which is an exclusive to Argos) and a Star Wars figurine. Outside the top 10 other featured licensed lines include a Peppa Pig Medic Kit and a Pokémon Clip n Go toy.

The final section in Kids Presents is a wheeled toy one which includes another Range Rover Evoque – this time in pink – plus a JCB tractor and trailer set. It is interesting to see how car brands like Range Rover and the likes of JCB have successfully built up licensed portfolio in the wheeled toy category. The Argos magazine is clearly part of a mixed selling strategy that combines physical stores and displays with online selling. Interestingly, the magazine also includes guidance for consumers to browse products and prices on their mobile phone – mobile commerce being another growing part of a retailer’s selling armoury.

LL1Going beyond the brochure and leaving my couch, it was good to see The Wombles featuring so prominently in my local branch of Age UK. The Wombles Christmas campaign, which includes a 2024 Calendar and a Christmas Card box set, is the latest alliteration of an ongoing partnership between The Wombles and Age UK. This is a good example of how charities have recognised the potential that campaigns like this offer them to compete on the high street, while giving them momentum for consumer communication. Increasingly it seems charities are looking to blend new bespoke products they commission alongside the more traditional pre-loved (secondhand) goods they sell. Many charities now have quite extensive retail estates and their shops are presented more and more like other retailers.

Finally, Christmas sees lots of Top Ten Lists and ‘We Recommend’ style features. This sort of coverage can drive sales. ITV’s This Morning ran a feature on Christmas lights this week. It was dominated by non-licensed products, but it was great to see Lights 4 Fun’s Shaun the Sheep and Gromit lights featured. These are products that we are really pleased with and ones we think shine a good light on licensing. Seeing licensed products featured on such a high profile programme as This Morning is obviously a boost for Lights 4 Fun, but I think it also a welcome showcase for licensing in general. Rather like the licensed products featured in the retail brochures and flyers highlighted earlier, features like this give the whole licensing industry something to point to and to use to show how licensing can help businesses shine.

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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