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Licensed to thrill: the appeal of theme parks

How licensors are using theme parks, attractions and live events to extend their brands.

Summer season is in full swing for the UK’s theme parks and, once the long school holidays kick in, the likes of Thorpe Park, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Chessington World of Adventures among others are some of the most popular destinations for family days out.

For licensors, too, theme parks, live events and attractions have become an increasingly important part of the brand building mix. A growing number of big name brands are investing in dedicated zones, with the aim of forging an even deeper connection with the consumer.

This kind of experiential activity is “extremely valuable” says Nickelodeon’s svp of recreation and business development, Gerald Raines. “These live experiences allow us to connect with the consumer in a way that we cannot on television,” he explains. “The consumer is afforded an opportunity to create a lasting memory with our brands, thereby making an emotional connection.”

Nickelodeon Land opened in spring 2011 at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, becoming the first Nick attraction in the UK. Gerald explains: “The management were looking for an IP to integrate within their park that would appeal to families and add spark to a part of the park that was in need of upgrading.

“They saw our Nickland at Movie Park Germany and heard about what it did for that park and its attendance numbers and took immediate interest in our brand.”

Airbender

Down in Hampshire, Peppa Pig World has helped to put Paulton’s Park on the map – the popular attraction launched in March 2011 and visitor numbers to the park have since risen sharply and remained consistently high. Ami Dieckman, head of international licensing at eOne, says: “Attractions give fans a unique opportunity to step into Peppa’s world and actually experience the adventures that have been enjoyed on television.

“It takes the brand to a different dimension and gives it a tangible, physical presence, which in turn drives longevity. We’ve found globally, that the real life experience of a day out engaging with Peppa’s ‘world’ – whether that’s in a theme park, theatre or shopping mall – serves as an excellent way of strengthening fan loyalty and driving back interest in the TV show and merchandise.”

For Paulton’s Park, the success of Peppa Pig World has enabled it to continue investing strongly in the overall development of the park itself.

“It is absolutely the unique and exclusive nature of Peppa Pig World that has been central to this success, combined with a strong belief in the product which has provided the confidence to continue to market the attraction on national platforms,” says Rob Griffiths, head of marketing at Paulton’s Park.

Sodor

Drayton Manor has also enjoyed first hand experience of the pulling power a strong preschool brand can have – in March 2008, the Staffordshire theme park, resort and zoo officially opened Thomas Land.

Such is its success, that April 2015 saw the attraction increase in size by 40% with a £2.5 million expansion, adding a host of new rides, plus Sodor Airport. Thomas Land is now 3,200 square metres bigger and rider capacity has surged by 23% to 5,130 people per hour.

“Live events and attractions extend the brand experience like no other touchpoint can,” Julie Freeland, senior director global live events & attractions at Mattel, comments. “The attraction needs to remain true to the brand. It’s essential to have a good partnership with all of our licensees that create and operate the attraction, so we can work together to bring the magic of the brand to life.”

Thomas & Friends is also a key part of Mattel Play Liverpool, which opened in March 2016 and is the first branded attraction of its kind in Europe. Described by Julie as an ‘interactive themed eduplay attraction’, Mattel Play also features Bob the Builder and Fireman Sam, with Mattel anticipating 100,000 visitors annually.

“We do plan to open additional locations throughout the region; stay tuned for details,” hints Julie.

CBeebies

Repeating the success of UK-based attractions overseas is the next logical step for many brand owners.

Mat Way, BBC Worldwide’s commercial director of live events, says there is a focus for location-based attractions in the Asian market, given the increasing number of new mixed use developments.

Meanwhile, eOne opened Il Mondo di Peppa Pig at Italy’s Leolandia amusement park in March 2015, which is more of an immersive experience where kids can explore life-size replicas of the sets in the show.

“The opening drew big crowds and saw visitor numbers surge 40% on the previous year,” says Ami. “Leolandia has plans to add new Peppa Pig attractions to the park beyond 2016.”

While a brand clearly needs to be big enough to guarantee a solid return on the investment, themed attractions have offered licensors yet another way to extend consumers’ enjoyment – and connection – to their properties. They also give us another reason to wish it was summer all-year round.

This feature originally appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Licensing Source Book. Click here to read the full publication.

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