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Going to the dogs… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes ponders the pet care category, celebrities and Christmas this week.

One of the product sectors that I have always found difficult to make significant inroads into is pet food, pet care and accessories.

I have been involved in a number of ranges over the years – my favourite being Rupert Pet Shop’s Peperami range of dog toys: it was fun and very on brand. It also had a Beano range which included a dog friendly whoopee cushion and a ball with Gnasher’s face on which at the right angle looked like the dog had a set of Gnashers. These were both examples of well crafted ranges, but ones that ultimately lost out at retail to more established petcare brands which had long-term distribution deals in place and the benefit of trusted brand names.

Paul O'Grady's new pet food line has launched into B&M.
Paul O'Grady's new pet food line has launched into B&M.

It is a sector I continue to look at and I was interested to read about a new launch into the sector in The Grocer this week. TV celebrity and dog lover Paul O’Grady has collaborated with Burgess Pet Care to launch Paul O’Grady’s No Nasties Puppy food.  The product launched into B&M recently and is available in 400 stores. It is keenly priced at £3.99 for a 2kg sack of food. Having the backing of B&M should help gain a foothold for the range, but things may be tougher distribution wise in the supermarkets where the big brands are well established.

These brands also cover sectors like garden centres and independent pet shops well. Going back to Paul O’Grady’s product he is a personality that consumers love, is well regarded as a man who is a passionate dog lover and, of course, presents a programme showing life at Battersea Dogs’ Home. The programme certainly pulls at the nation’s heartstrings. It will be interesting to see how Paul O’Grady’s product line performs.

Working with celebrities is an area of licensing that seems to be gaining more favour, but obviously carries some risks that don’t exist with other forms of licensing. Interestingly publishers have long been users of ‘celebrity licensing’ albeit it isn’t always regarded as licensing in this sphere. Publishers pick and choose the celebrities they work with carefully and are very adept at building celebrities up into publishing brands. Often this is linked to TV shows and wider media exposure. In better times book promotions would also include book tours and ‘chats’ at literary festivals.

WH Smith was using two collectables ranges to help draw people in-store.
WH Smith was using two collectables ranges to help draw people in-store.

WH Smith obviously buys into the power of celebrity. I spotted a half price promotion featured on a window poster that included Jamie Oliver, Mary Berry and Nadiya Hussain. The publishers will have weighed up the discount versus the volume that WH Smith can shift and have decided this represents a good deal.

Books like Nadiya Bakes are TV tie ins and releases are coordinated around TV scheduling. This should be a good sales driver and for WH Smith it makes it very competitive in a popular publishing genre. These sorts of books and offers get people into store: hopefully even in today’s climate.

It was also interesting to see WH Smith using two collectables ranges on pavement posters – again I assume to help drive people into store. Both ranges are licensed ones: the first was Panini’s Premier League Adrenalin Trading Cards and the other was a Harry Potter LEGO Minifigure collection. Both posters included ‘New’ and ‘Out Now’ messages reinforcing how WH Smith sees these sort of products as important ones in creating momentum and consumer flow. I have mentioned before that ranges like these and the promotions around them are great testimonials for the power of licensing.

Dean's of Huntly is featuring the artwork of Steven Brown on its shortbread tins.
Dean's of Huntly is featuring the artwork of Steven Brown on its shortbread tins.

It is interesting to see how artists and art licensing are used by licensees. This is a sector of licensing that is often overlooked, but is a vibrant one and indeed a category of licensing that has a lot more going on it than is sometimes acknowledged.

While having a coffee in my new local coffee shop, I spotted a shortbread biscuit tin from Dean’s of Huntly featuring the unique artwork of artist Steven Brown. Steven has a very distinct style and look featuring very colourful Highland cows. He has built up a healthy business around his artwork which includes a number of licensed products. A manufacturer like Dean’s has recognised that Steven’s artwork style is contemporary and hard to replicate. It is distinctive. I would imagine it has allowed it to reach younger consumers for a traditional product and opened up distribution.

I am sure independent delis, cafés and coffee shops favour a product like this over a more traditional shortbread tin. Again this is a great example of how licensing can help a company achieve a gear change.

Last week I mentioned the value of archive properties in the context of two Halloween ranges I spotted.

Elf products are appealing to shoppers' Christmas spirit in The Entertainer.
Elf products are appealing to shoppers' Christmas spirit in The Entertainer.

I was reminded of this when I spotted a range of Elf products in The Entertainer. Based on the Will Ferrell movie, this range was presented in a dedicated FSDU and included a couple of boxed games including Buddy’s Adventure Game, confectionery, Christmas crackers and a Pop! vinyl figure. It seemed that a number of the items in the range were own brand lines from The Entertainer.

Elf is a good example of a brand owner recognising that there is a value in having an IP roster that can be relevant to key seasonal opportunities and that there is good value in working directly with retailers if this achieves distribution.

The Elf range in The Entertainer was being offered at discount prices which I assume in part is to create interest in the range and get things moving. This I am guessing is a reflection of the retail market rather than the appeal of Elf products. It may be that retailers like The Entertainer feel that they need to get consumers buying into Christmas earlier in case there is further disruption in the retail market. The roll out of Elf into licensing is a good case study of how perennial film favourites can play a role in the licensing mix.

Wishing everyone well for next week’s Festival of Licensing – it has been very interesting researching and booking meetings. I have got some intriguing new business meetings lined up and some welcome catch ups with existing partners.  I am looking forward to it. Obviously it is a shame we won’t be bumping into each other in the aisles or the coffee bars, but I am grateful that  Informa was able to develop the Festival of Licensing and give us all a welcome opportunity to meet.

I am going back into the Matchmaking service to search ‘Petcare Companies’ …. you never know this time next year I might be writing about a Gromit petcare range!

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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