Start Licensing’s Ian Downes enjoys a week that reinforces the variety that exists within licensing.
One aspect of the licensing business that I have always liked is the variety within it. Thinking here of the sectors licensing operates in, the types of properties that are available to licence and the ways in which licences are used. When people talk to me about a career in licensing that is one of the ‘selling points’ I reference.
The variety in the industry also helps in building a breadth of experience and exposure to different business sectors. Some might argue that the variety means you become a generalist, but it is important to remember that you become a licensing specialist – that is the common theme that runs through things.
My Licensing Lookout week reminded me of the variety in the industry this week. I didn’t go to Vegas. I chose to exchange the bright lights for the Suffolk coastline. Suffolk is a good place to be a Lookout – there are lots of lookout posts dotted along the coast!
I spent some time in Southwold which is a lovely seaside town with a nice mix of shops including independents, plus it is also the HQ town for Suffolk brewery, Adnams.
Adnams offers the opportunity for brewery tours – unfortunately I couldn’t take one… no whippets allowed on the tour, but it is interesting to see how brand owners like Adnams are extending their brands into the experiential world.
In addition the brewery tours, it has a café, bar and restaurant site which includes a brand orientated gift shop. It is a really impressive development and shows the brand off well. Adnams is really investing in its brand and building equity around it.
Products on sale in the shop include a range of Adnams Ghost Ship peanuts developed by snacking company Mr Filberts.
I also noticed Adnams beers such as Broadside featuring as an ingredient in other food products on my travels. Local bakery Two Magpies was selling Adnams Broadside Bread Pudding for example. It is interesting to see how signature ales and beers with distinctive flavours are being used in other food products. In the case of Adnams it also a reminder how integral it is to Suffolk’s local economy.
I visited an English Heritage site and it was good to see it was supporting its licensee Made for Drink by selling its English Truffle Potato Crisps. This product was nominated for an award at the recent Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards and you can see why. It is stylishly presented with a real premium feel to it. The product tastes great (so I am told) and there has obviously been a lot of thought gone into its development – for example the potatoes used are sourced from Yorkshire and the product carries a statement that it is 100% carbon neutral.
The other snack I spotted with a licensing connection was Burt’s Sea Salt & Malt Vinegar crisps developed in association with the RNLI. The vinegar used in the product includes malt vinegar from The Artisan Malt Vinegar Company based in Coverack in Cornwall. Rather like the Yorkshire potatoes used by Made for Drink, this effort to source more locally from an artisan company will resonate with consumers who seem to be more discerning in their buying decisions these days.
The RNLI connection also adds authority to the product particularly in coastal areas. Interestingly as well as fundraising for the RNLI, the product is also a valuable communication platform for the RNLI. It of course helps with brand recognition, but specifically the pack carried a message about the RNLI’s Float To Live safety campaign. Getting this message across on-pack and in settings where people may be near to the sea or open water makes a lot of sense.
Returning to the Adnams’ café in Southwold, it was also the site for an independent gift retailer Lift. It was great to see an independent retailer apparently thriving. Lift was a bright, colourful and imaginatively presented shop with a great mix of stationery, cards and giftware.
A licensing highlight was a Smiley light – the product featured in the shop window and on shelf. It really fitted well into the Lift vibe and I would imagine it is a product that sells well for Lift. My recent role as a judge in the Gift of the Year Awards reminded me of how important the independent retail sector is to the gift industry and, of course, licensing. Retailers like Lift are a key part of the gift retail landscape and their individual approach to retailing adds to the vibrancy of the overall sector.
It is also important to remember that licensing isn’t such a new thing. I only have to look at my CV to realise that – I am approaching 30 years in a direct licensing role! But my trip to Suffolk provided a few other reminders. I visited The Red House, the home of composer Sir Benjamin Britten. It is a fascinating place to visit. However as a licensing man my eye was drawn to a licensed Giles jigsaw puzzle which I would date around the mid 1960s – apparently Britten enjoyed completing jigsaws.
While in Southwold I noticed a charity shop had a Tom & Jerry model outside the shop. It was an example of the old school collection figures that used to be very popular in the 1970 and 80s. This one was for the RNIB. These sort of examples of licensed products and activations are always worth noting. I think sometimes we tend to see licensing through contemporary eyes – it can be quite useful to look back and see what was done before.
A few other things I spotted this week reinforced my view that licensing is a business built around variety and contrast. The relationship between Sainsbury’s and the Carluccio’s brand seems to be going well. There is a branded chiller cabinet in Sainsbury’s selling Carluccio’s ready meals, pasta and pasta sauces.
This has been up and running for a while but appears to be a success. Seemingly retailers are looking at partnerships like this one to create unique shopping experiences for their consumers.
It was also interesting to see licensing popping up in the fresh milk section with Arla Big Milk featuring an on-pack promotion with The Gruffalo. Here you can see a well known and trusted brand like The Gruffalo would have a positive influence on purchasing decisions within a frequently shopped category – it may well encourage consumers to brand switch.
I guess part of the thinking here is that in the context of gift purchasing, Peaky Blinders will help with consumer pick up and on shelf recognition. It is also a great example of how licensing can make an impact in sectors that aren’t traditional supporters of licensing.
As a horse racing fan, it was also interesting to see the partnership between Moss Bros and Royal Ascot. I spotted this on Oxford Street in London not in Suffolk. Royal Ascot featured prominently in Moss Bros’ windows encouraging racegoers to think about being ‘Royal Ascot ready’ and using Moss Bros to hire their Royal Ascot outfit. It is a natural partnership and for Moss Bros a great way of dialling up its credentials alongside an event like Royal Ascot. It is good to see a heritage brand like Royal Ascot gaining traction on the high street and securing such a prominent display.
So, a week that reinforced the variety that exists in licensing.
I also went for a swim in the North Sea while in Suffolk – this reinforced my admiration for The Light Fund swimming team. Wishing them well in their final preparations for the big day. Rather like Royal Ascot my advice is don’t forget your hat!
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.