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Look lively, Rodney… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes talks Del Boy, Rupert Bear’s 100-year anniversary and embracing new companies.

As someone who grew up in South London and someone with relatives called Peckham who live in Peckham, I think it is no surprise that I am a fan of Only Fools and Horses.

It is a series that is rightly regarded as a comedy classic. It is still on air today and most episodes still seem as sharp as when they were first broadcast. From my perspective I recognise a lot of the characters and situations portrayed in the series. Writer John Sullivan had a wonderful way of building characters and their backstories. Someone told me once that John Sullivan used to listen to stories and anecdotes on his travels – sometimes eavesdropping – and use these as inspiration for his storylines. I can believe that.

My mum is always fond of reminding me that there was a woman in Waterloo who fell through the open door of a pub into the cellar and picked up some decent compo from the brewery. I think that Waterloo woman might have fallen ‘down the hole’ a couple of times, whereas Uncle Albert was reported to have done it 78 times and counting!

Time flies when you are using a watch sold by Del Boy and also in reality. It is 40 years since John Sullivan first wrote the series. In a show of enterprise that the Trotters would have been proud of, the BBC has worked with Steiff and Danbury Mint to develop a Del Steiff bear.

The Steiff 'Del Bears' are a limited edition of 3,000 and are priced at £275.
The Steiff 'Del Bears' are a limited edition of 3,000 and are priced at £275.

In spiel that Del could have almost written himself, the bear is described thus: “Del Bear’s glorious sandy-coloured fur is made from luxurious mohair. He has corresponding beige felt pawpads and an optimistic twinkle in his black button eyes. He looks proper ‘cushty’ in his iconic faux sheepskin jacket, red polo-neck jumper and flat cap. He even wears Del’s gold-plated initial ‘D’ pendant around his neck.”

Del Bear is a limited edition of 3,000 and priced at £275. You can pay in instalments – would have been nice to seen that part of the copy changed to ‘You can pay on tick’. The product itself is more Kensington than Kennington (pre-gentrification). High quality and produced with a lot of attention to detail. It should appeal to fans of the show and Steiff collectors.

This deal is a great example of how collectables companies like Danbury Mint dial into pop culture and use anniversaries well. I first became aware of the product through social media. Direct marketing companies have embraced social media well and adapted their marketing accordingly. I am sure the Del Bears will fly out.

The Rupert Bear collection of stamps is another product range fired up by an anniversary.
The Rupert Bear collection of stamps is another product range fired up by an anniversary.

It is a good time to be a bear at the moment. Also via a social media alert I noticed that the Royal Mail will be launching a range of Rupert Bear stamps next week. Collectables company Collectology (part of The Westminster Collection) sent me a message with a pre-order offer for a framed set of Rupert Bear stamps. This is another product range that has been fired up by an anniversary. Rupert Bear was first launched in 1920 and the Royal Mail is issuing eight stamps to help mark the anniversary.

Collectology has created a framed edition limited to 995 units. The stamps feature original illustrations from Alfred Bestall, who wrote and illustrated 270 Rupert stories. This gives the stamps a real sense of authenticity and authority. The stamps have been developed in pairs to form four story strips. Again this is great attention to detail. When creating products for fans it is essential thought is given to the product offer, the design and the story behind. It seems the Royal Mail has really done that with the Rupert Bear collection.

In my own work with Aardman we have been looking to develop more products for collectors and fans of Wallace & Gromit. These characters celebrated their 40th anniversary last year and partners in 2019 included the Royal Mint which developed a special edition 50 pence. This was a great success and helped create more momentum in the collectors’ market.

Pin Limited has launched its range of pin badges inspired by A Grand Day Out.
Pin Limited has launched its range of pin badges inspired by A Grand Day Out.

So this week it was good to see Pin Box launch its range of collector pin badges based on Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Day Out. The pins are made from hard enamel, are presented in collectors’ boxes and feature film-related artwork on the reverse of the box. The collection has been created in close collaboration with Aardman and the creative team at the studio. There has been a real desire to produce something that fans will appreciate and respond well to. The collection includes iconic features from the film such as The Cooker and The Rocket.

A key point here is that Aardman was able to represent the fans’ voice in the NPD process. In turn, as part of the launch Aardman has worked with Pin Box to communicate with fans through social media. Increasingly I think we will see rights holders work with licensees to develop products that reflect what fans want and are talking about. Social media has created a great way of eavesdropping John Sullivan style, but also a great way of pinpointing fans with focused promotions.

I should also add that the first meeting with Pin Box took place at Brand Licensing Europe in 2019. We met through the Matchmaking service and Pin Box is a relatively young company which is new to licensing. This is a great testimonial for BLE, but also a reminder that for licensing to flourish we need to embrace new companies.

I have signed up to the Festival of Licensing in part to utilise the Matchmaking service with the mindset of meeting new companies. That is not to undervalue the existing licensee network, more a reflection that in my view the licensing universe needs to grow by company and by category.

Look how well Del Boy did when he looked beyond Peckham Rye. We all need to explore new markets sometimes.

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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