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The big Christmas countdown… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at how the industry is doing its best to make the most of the Christmas retail window.

Now we are in November, Christmas has been well and truly unwrapped. Retail campaigns and ranges are in full swing while media driven initiatives like gift guides are being released daily. There is certainly no excuse for not having gift giving ideas this year!

One list that stood out in particular was the Dream Toys list, compiled by UK toy retailers. The list comprised 20 picks decided upon by retail buyers. I think there were five licensed products on the list with the featured brands being Harry Potter, PAW Patrol, Super Mario, Star Wars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: all familiar names and brands with a track record of success. Retailers are clearly placing a value on brands they can trust at the moment. Other brands featured included the likes of Barbie with product from brand owner Mattel in the list. This reinforces the link between licensing and the toy category – many a successful licensing brand has started life in the toy aisle. Dream Toys is a great initiative by the toy retail sector and one that generates some very valuable PR for them.

LL2Of course, it’s not just lists and listings that signal that the Christmas season has arrived. Another active area is that of stage shows, and one of the perennials in this category is the Peacock Theatre’s production of The Snowman. This year it opens on 18 November. I’m not sure how many years it has been running, but I remember taking my now 30 year old son to see it when he was about five!

It is a show that is now very much part of the Christmas fabric and shows what the potential is in this sector if you hit on a winning formula.

LL3Another sign of the season is how cafés, coffee shops and restaurants embrace the opportunity. In general terms this sector has become more creative with innovative product development embracing limited editions and collaborations – this is heightened at Christmas. A great example of this in the market at the moment is McDonald’s link with Galaxy to create a Caramel Hot Chocolate. I spotted this on a digital poster in a branch of McDonald’s. These kind of special editions tempt people into store and I imagine that those tempted would include new or returning customers. For Galaxy it helps put the brand at the centre of the Christmas ‘occasion’ while helping to build the brand equity, especially around taste and flavour.

A number of brands have released their Christmas advertising campaigns recently as well – these campaigns often divide opinion and provoke debate. M&S’ campaign is a good example of a campaign that has sparked a lot of conversations, some of which have been a negative take on aspects of the featured creative.

However, beyond this, I think consumers generally look forward to Christmas campaigns, not least because of the thought process that goes into them and the fact they often stand out from the run-of-the-mill campaigns deployed throughout the rest of year. Generally, Christmas campaigns are special and enjoy a higher level of investment than campaigns might get at other times of the year.


One campaign that resonated with me in particular this week was clothing brand Barbour’s Shaun the Sheep Christmas campaign. This is a campaign that, in my view, is a great example of two brands working well together creatively and messaging wise. The creative work and theming flows naturally giving the campaign a real authenticity. There is a central campaign message as well around sustainability and the durability of Barbour’s products. This helps give the campaign purpose.

Both partners have worked collaboratively to deliver a campaign that represents their brand values well, but it is also a campaign that delivers a feel good experience for consumers. It is a great example of creating a noteworthy marketing moment, harnessing the natural momentum Christmas creates for brands. The commercial has been very well received by consumers and has delivered great consumer engagement for Barbour. Hopefully this will build over the coming weeks.

LL4In the retail space, it has been interesting to see how retailers are tapping into licensing at the moment. Interestingly The Grinch seems to be enjoying himself this Christmas with lots of retail placement. For example, I noticed some Grinch gift lines in WH Smith including a lip balm gift set – not the sort of product you normally associate with WH Smith but one that uses the licence well.

The Grinch was also a key component of the Card Factory’s Christmas range with items such as card selection packs and giant Christmas crackers on sale. Card Factory was also featuring Elf and The Snowman. As noted in previous Lookouts, it is clear that brand owners are much more switched on to creating bespoke design packs these days to capitalise on seasonal opportunities like Christmas, but also to service retail requirements for exclusive designs. Design exclusivity helps retailers differentiate themselves and to curate an across-store look that is consistent.

LL5Card Factory had also integrated licensing into a number of its feature bays such as Stocking Fillers and Food Gifting, reinforcing the notion that brands have to be flexible when working with retailers to maximum their presence on shelf.

Disney also featured strongly in Card Factory with a dedicated end cap programme which seemed to be making good use of Disney’s broad portfolio of characters. This suggests that its strategy of acquiring IP has paid off in terms of its ability to be a ‘one stop shop’ for licensing in certain circumstances.

My Looking out this week suggests that licensing is Christmas ready and that the industry is doing its best to make the most of this retail window. Clearly we are in challenging times economically, but I have been encouraged by the reach of licensing at the moment. There is certainly a good level of ‘in market’ presence.

It will be interesting to see what other examples of seasonally driven licensing emerge in the coming weeks. I’m off to try a Galaxy Caramel Hot Chocolate. We have the weather for it, and I will be doing my bit for 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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