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Investing in the long-term… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is reminded of the value and importance of established properties, long-term IP and archives.

Licensing is a business that thrives on the new – barely a week goes by without a new property launching or a new style guide being launched. This is understandable and part of licensing life. However this week my looking out reminded me of the value and importance of established properties, long-term IP and archives.

Sainsbury’s is a frequent user of licensing in its TU apparel business with a strong emphasis on children’s licences and licensing. It has established a strong tradition of using publishing-based properties in baby and toddler wear for example. However its use of licensing also stretches into categories like men’s t-shirts. Here it seems to place a value on long-term licences and their enduring appeal.

This is a sound safety first strategy and also allows it to explore themes that have wide appeal such as cars, motorbikes, FMCG brands and sports.

Brands featured in Sainsbury's on men's t-shirts included Coca-Cola and BSA.
Brands featured in Sainsbury's on men's t-shirts included Coca-Cola and BSA.

I guess this is in part because a proportion of the t-shirt purchases within Sainsbury’s are ones made as gifts, so in the same way that greetings cards have perennial subjects it makes sense that TU’s t-shirts feature classic subjects.

On this occasion brands that I saw included BSA Motorcycles, Coca-Cola and Volkswagen. In all cases the rights owner and licensee had developed a vintage or retro styling for the t-shirts tapping into current trends.

Ready to use design is an essential in licensing and increasingly licensors are investing in design packs that reflect wider market trends. This commitment to design is also a way of bringing an archive alive and creating further commercial value from it.

The Art of Aardman exhibition has opened in Holland after successful runs in other cities.
The Art of Aardman exhibition has opened in Holland after successful runs in other cities.

While in current times, activities like exhibitions and live events are facing big challenges and may not seem the best of bets licensing wise. However it is a category that companies such as Aardman have focused on a lot in recent times and have found it a great way of reaching consumers beyond the screen. Exhibitions also allow rights holders to utilise their archives in a progressive way. This also ties into the consumer becoming a fan looking for enhanced brand experiences and immersion.

So against this backdrop it was great to see Aardman open its Art of Aardman Exhibition in Holland. The Art of Aardman – Shaun the Sheep and Friends exhibition opened at Forum Groningen in the Netherlands this week.

Following successful runs in Paris, Melbourne, Frankfurt, Seoul and Deagu, the exhibition gives an insight into the work of Aardman Studios and was created to travel and tour. This is a great example of how an IP owner can use their archive to build a new business opportunity. The exhibition includes interactive elements and makes good use of contemporary exhibition technology. The venue’s cinemas will also show Aardman films during the exhibition and there will be model making classes taking place.

For obvious reasons, it is encouraging to see a venue going live with an exhibition like this at the moment, but it is also a great example of how a company can create a licensing opportunity from carefully curating its archive and history.

Drinks brands such as Baileys and Guinness featured in Wilko with flavoured confectionery.
Drinks brands such as Baileys and Guinness featured in Wilko with flavoured confectionery.

I also popped into my local Wilko store this week. It has stocked up for Halloween and has dedicated quite a bit of space to a confectionery, food and party goods offer. It will be interesting to see how ‘trick or treating’ pans out at the moment – I am guessing people will still have family parties in their ‘bubble’ but may not go door to door. But who knows!

I am guessing retailers like Wilko are looking at retail events such as Halloween and Christmas as potential boosts to their businesses, so any limitations placed on these kind of events will be a concern to retail. Wilko has already got its Christmas confectionery in stock. I didn’t spot too many licensed ranges in the Christmas lines, although there was a good showing for drinks brands such as Baileys and Guinness with a range of flavoured confectionery on sale.

The Addams Family is one of the brands Rose Marketing has focused on for Halloween.
The Addams Family is one of the brands Rose Marketing has focused on for Halloween.

Returning to trick or treating, I did see two licensed ranges in its Halloween offer. Both of these were developed by experienced licensee Rose Marketing. It had ranges based on The Addams Family and Ghostbusters. Both very apt choices for Halloween, but both again good examples of classic properties that have an ongoing legacy.

In both cases I am guessing the rights owners have thought about how they can be relevant in today’s market and alighted on Halloween as a good opportunity for both brands. They would also have invested, I am guessing, in some fresh design concepts to make the brands fit well into categories like food and confectionery.

A KISS trading card and coin is part of Ian's Museum of Licensing.
A KISS trading card and coin is part of Ian's Museum of Licensing.

I am in the process of moving and as a result have been up in my loft a fair few times. I have realised that I have quite a ‘Licensing Archive’ myself – lots of great examples of licensed products from the 1990s. Some things I can’t quite remember how and why I had them – for example a KISS trading card and coin celebrating one of the band’s tours.

It has been good to be reminded of past successes and failures. It also good to remember that licensing has a history and that things we often think of as new aren’t quite so new as we think. I think it is okay to look back sometimes. However, I think I have some tough choices to make: do I become a part time eBayer or set up The Museum of Licensing?

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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