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Extending collaboration through the licensing community… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

We’ve seen how collabs have worked in dealmaking, now it’s time to show how collaboration can help in the community, says Start Licensing’s Ian Downes.

One of the attributes of licensing that I particularly like is the opportunity that licensing gives brands to breakout from their core area to pursue new directions.

Licensing can help shift perception of a brand and also be a gateway to reach new consumers or tilt perceptions. In recent times we have seen an increase on ‘collab’ partnerships, particularly in apparel where IP owners work with fashion designers or brands to create limited run collections. Some of these deals create dynamic partnerships and designs that can lead onto other opportunities.

Often the motivation for these partnerships isn’t wholly about revenue. A key appeal is the consumer and trade PR that can generate. There isn’t a week that goes by without a new ‘collab’ being announced. This leads me to ponder whether the ‘collab card’ is being played too much. However what we are seeing on a regular basis is intriguing and engaging uses of licensing. This week was no different.

Cakeworthy's Looney Tunes line is being heavily promoted by TruffleShuffle.
Cakeworthy's Looney Tunes line is being heavily promoted by TruffleShuffle.

I noticed that TruffleShuffle was promoting a partnership between Canadian fashion brand Cakeworthy and Looney Tunes. I believe Cakeworthy broke into licensing via a partnership with Disney. This latest collection was highlighted to me in an email I got from TruffleShuffle. The company does a great job of staying in touch with its customers and engaging with them. This sort of proactive marketing is going to be more important in coming months and assessing how licensees will market licensed products should be a key part of the deal and management process.

The Looney Tunes collection features t-shirts, jackets and dresses. It is a bold and contemporary take on a classic set of characters. It gives the brand a design refresh and a marketing boost. I am sure trendspotters in the retail ranks will be taking notes and there will be a trickledown effect in other parts of the retail. For consumers it is an on-trend collection and gives them a reason to buy. By stocking the collection, TruffleShuffle reinforces the fact that it is a retailer that brings its customers interesting products and present them in a way which makes it easy to shop the whole collection. These sort of deals show licensing in a good light and are good benchmarks to point to.

Another smart partnership I spotted this week featured the charming classic character Miffy.

Miffy's high-end collaboration with Strathberry allows the brand to trade up.
Miffy's high-end collaboration with Strathberry allows the brand to trade up.

Miffy is a design icon – indeed Miffy products feature in London’s Design Museum shop, a testimony to her design credentials and Dick Bruna’s art. The collection I saw this week was highlighted in fashion blog Ldnfashion and is between Miffy and high-end accessories brand Strathberry. The collection includes purses, handbags and scarves. This is part of the 65th anniversary celebrations for Miffy.

The quality and style of Strathberry’s products pitch this as a high-end ‘collab’ which allows the brand to trade up. It is also a brand that showcases Dick Bruna’s design work really well. Items like the Miffy-shaped bag are real eye-catchers and are a really present the simplistic, but iconic design work brilliantly.

Rather like the Cakeworthy example, I am sure this will get designers in accessories companies thinking about what they could do with Miffy or indeed other characters. These kind of deals can also be good for the wider business as they should encourage participation from other brands.

Orlebar Brown's 007 collection plays heavily on the design style from the movies.
Orlebar Brown's 007 collection plays heavily on the design style from the movies.

Of course, these kind of partnerships can endure and are not always one off activations. A good example of a more long-term approach is the relationship between swimwear brand Orlebar Brown and EON Productions (I assume) in regards to a James Bond collection.

I first spotted this a couple of years ago in Orlebar Brown’s Wimbledon Village shop. The collection of swimming trunks was well presented with window displays and in-store merchandising. It seems the partnership has worked well as I became aware this week of a new collection launching.

Positioned as The 007 Heritage Collection the range now includes items such as Dr No Towelling Polo shirt, linen trousers, linen jackets and of course swim shorts. Orlebar Brown takes its design cue from key moments in the films, so the collection has a really authentic feel to it and is, of course, tapping into the design style of the films.

The films were and are very stylish and have a real focus on fashion which makes a good foundation stone to build an ongoing partnership on. This is a great case study of how a partnership can flourish with a careful eye on design, being authentic and knowing your market.

Marmite-flavoured cheese spread is the latest in a series of clever brand extensions.
Marmite-flavoured cheese spread is the latest in a series of clever brand extensions.

Stand out products that create a conversation are not just confined to fashion and accessories though. This week I popped into a M&S store to pick up a few essentials but was distracted by cream cheese! I noticed that M&S has developed Marmite-flavoured cheese spread under licence from Unilever. This is another in a series of clever brand extensions associated with Marmite in the food category. Others include the likes of crisps and rice cakes.

Deals like these spread (no pun intended) Marmite’s reach and distribution giving them a chance to play in new retailers and categories. The product delivered a good brand experience. The taste and flavour were well matched to Marmite while the packaging represented the brand really well calling out the iconic Marmite jar shape.

Producing a product like this gives M&S a point of difference and gives its shoppers an interesting new product in a category that is maybe not so innovative. It is good to see licensing like this featuring in a retailer like M&S and also good to see Unilever using licensing in such a smart way.

The Funko Pop Vinyl Bushfire Heroes figurine is raising funds for The Bushfire Appeal in Australia.
The Funko Pop Vinyl Bushfire Heroes figurine is raising funds for The Bushfire Appeal in Australia.

I was also very pleased to receive my Funko POP! Vinyl Bushfire Heroes figurine this week. Developed in association with Popcultcha, the figurine is of an Australian firefighter cradling a koala and was developed to raise funds for The Bushfire Appeal in Australia. The attention to detail is impressive. The firefighter even has soot marks on his face. I purchased one online – it took a while to get here but I was really pleased to see it.

It is a great product and it is really good to see products like this being developed as fundraisers. It is also a measure of the reach of the POP figures and their appeal. A different kind of ‘collab’ but a further example of how licensing and licensing style deals can cut through in a cluttered market.

Finally, I wanted to say well done to Licensing International’s Sharon Weisman. Sharon posted an article on LinkedIn saying how she was willing to help industry colleagues who find themselves out of work by endorsing them on LinkedIn, writing references for people or just generally being ‘in touch’.

I thought this was a great post and a really proactive thing to do. At the moment quite a few industry colleagues will be between jobs. More than ever it is a time to be a friend and try to help our colleagues.

Licensing is a networking business and a community, but it is easy to fall out of both. We have seen how ‘collabs’ have worked in dealmaking now is a time to show how ‘collaboration’ can help in the community. #bekind

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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