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Do you love it or hate it?… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

In his first column of 2021, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights the success of Marmite’s licensing programme and comes across some very un-cushti currency.

Love it or hate it?

I rather like the Marmite licensing campaign and keep an eye out for any new developments with the brand. Over the Christmas break I spotted a new addition to the food licensing programme: Marmite flavoured houmous. I didn’t buy and try so can’t comment on the taste of the product, but the packaging stood out and was very much on brand incorporating Marmite’s signature colours and with a nod to the iconic jar shape. I tweeted about the product and got a few comments back – they rather reinforced the ‘love it or hate it’ nature of Marmite, which I guess is one of the reasons Unilever pursue licensing deals like this for Marmite. It provokes a brand conversation, spreads the brand’s distribution and gets it into new ‘occasions’.

I think the Marmite programme is a really good example of a brand owner integrating licensing into its brand strategy. I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t get any Marmite Lynx deodorant for Christmas! Marmite’s brand personality suits licensing and licensing has been well deployed to develop that unique personality. It will be interesting to see what other developments might be in the pipeline this year for Marmite. I think Marmite is a great case study of licensing a FMCG brand. I am surprised other FMCG companies haven’t dipped into licensing more often to help develop their brand story.

The Marmite programme is a good example of a brand owner integrating licensing into its brand strategy.
The Marmite programme is a good example of a brand owner integrating licensing into its brand strategy.

I have always thought the food and drink category in licensing throws up some interesting and innovative products. Often some of these are short-term partnerships. Christmas often sees a few of these activations and last year was no exception.

I noticed Costa Coffee had linked up with Nestle to create Quality Street flavoured lattes and hot chocolate. The focus was on the purple Quality Street. Again I didn’t try the products, but I assume flavour wise they would be spot on brand wise and would indeed ‘be alive with caramel and hazelnut deliciousness’. This is a great activation for the Quality Street brand reinforcing the brand’s flavour credentials, delivering additional brand exposure and cementing the brand’s position as a ‘Christmas tradition’. For Costa Coffee it gives it a strong point of difference in a competitive market and encourages consumers to give it a go. I haven’t checked, but I am sure it created a reasonable social media buzz and in many respects this is a core part of the motivation for this kind of partnership. It gives consumers a reason to change their habits and switch from one coffee shop to another.

Another way of FMCG brands tapping into the licensing market is via on-pack promotions. Again these can be time limited and linked to a specific theme or opportunity. Film tie-ins are obvious examples. But it seems that licensed promotions and licensed characters are being used as a marketing tool by a broader church of companies now. Here I am guessing that one attraction is the additional pulling power a well known licence can bring and a desire for brands to create more long lasting relationships with consumers, plus find ways of appealing beyond simple price promotions and offers.

Aardman has developed a partnership with Little Yeos and its Timmy Time property.
Aardman has developed a partnership with Little Yeos and its Timmy Time property.

Aardman has developed a partnership with yoghurt brand Little Yeos and its Timmy Time property. This promotion has an added value element as Timmy Time activities have been included inside the card sleeve that carries the yoghurt pots. This sort of thing helps build a consumer connection and adds to the brand’s personality.

Meanwhile, in a similar way dairy company Arla is featuring The Gruffalo on its Big Milk brand (whole milk for big kids aged 1 to 5). In both these cases using well known and well loved characters helps the brand to stand out in their category and in a busy fixture they are great signposts for consumers grazing the aisles.

It is encouraging from a licensing perspective to see big brands like these two engage with licensed characters. I think in 2021 and beyond more FMCG companies may turn to licensed promotions to help them achieve stand out and compete – as I have said before, a well bought licence can bring a lot of marketing power with it. Licensing represents good value for money.

The Tesco 'free carrot for Rudolph' offer was easy to understand and participate in.
The Tesco 'free carrot for Rudolph' offer was easy to understand and participate in.

I was also impressed by a simple but effective promotion that Tesco was running over Christmas. In the fresh produce section it was offering a free carrot for Rudolph. Or Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. This was a lovely idea which was easy to understand and to participate in. It put a smile on my face and I am sure on other shoppers faces. I am sure it won Tesco quite a few friends and was a talking point.

Obviously shopping is a bit of a different experience at the moment and this may be didn’t reach as many people as Tesco was hoping it would. In normal times I can imagine families having fun picking a carrot for Rudolph and taking photos to share. That said it is a great example of a (relatively) low cost idea that can make a big impression.

A licence to print money? One company certainly seems to think so!
A licence to print money? One company certainly seems to think so!

Finally many people (unfairly) have said that licensing is a ‘licence to print money’ … well I think I have found someone who has taken that mandate literally. I spotted a range of fake banknotes selling in a gift shop over Christmas. I am prepared to bet real money that these are unlicensed products. One of the best was the Only Fools and Horses £50 note drawn on the Bank of Peckham. I think they missed a trick though and should have printed it as a £49 note – much more in keeping with Del Boy’s approach to product development!

Wishing you all the best as we enter our third lockdown. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have spotted any interesting licensed products or even found a funny money supplier. Take care.

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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