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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes ‘Feels the Force’ this week, focusing on a host of Star Wars promotions.

It was a real pleasure to hear Richard Culley’s recollections of the Thunderbirds. A gentle reminder that licensing wasn’t invented overnight and it is an industry with a history.

Reading Richard’s reflections got me thinking about changes in the industry. When I was employed by Richard and David at CPL the landscape was quite different particularly in regards to promotional use of licenses. Going back some 15 years we had regular meetings and dialogue with sales promotion agencies representing a range of blue chip brands keen to use the latest and hottest licences to promote their products.

Most of the promotions were well thought through and deemed successes but there were some quirky deals. Among the more quirky was a promotion for Fresh Eggs that tied in with the Godzilla movie of the time and Sugar Puffs being linked to Stallone’s Judge Dredd. Judge Honey Monster was a sight to behold.

However times and taste changed. As FMCG companies withdrew from using licensed promotions the promotional use of characters slowed down. This had some financial implications for licensors and agents as there was a big financial hole to fill – this may have been a pebble in the pond moment that forced us all to find some new licensing categories to fill the void.

A further factor in the decline in usage was a change in approach by film companies who moved from a paid for promotional model to exchanging their equity for a firm commitment from a promotional partner to a defined media spend. They wanted guaranteed activity around the film release.


The film companies using promotions to drive interest in the film rather than as a revenue earner in licensing terms. Specialist firms have grown up to service this opportunity marrying brands and films together.

Against this backdrop it is hard to qualify the status of some deals as an outside observer – are they paid for licensing deals or barter deals? That’s a puzzle for Professor of Promotions Pink to solve on judgement day at The Licensing Awards. But judging by what I have seen lately there appears to be an upswing in the use of licensed equity in promotions.

I spotted a couple of clever and noteworthy examples this week.

As you might expect with such an all encompassing film as Star Wars, there are a number of Star Wars promotions in force at the moment.


One that caught my eye was a promotion in Subway restaurants. Subway seemingly have an ongoing deal with Disney as they have featured movie tie ins previously. However, these were more child orientated films although probably classed as family movies.

Star Wars is truly a cross generational film and this seems to have encouraged Subway to really get behind the opportunity. There are high impact window displays through to clever details like branded drinks cups. A promotional hook is the chance to win licensed merchandise including Hasbro toys. This is a clever use of the opportunity by Disney allowing their licensing partners to become part of the promotion and benefit from the attention it will get.

Subway gain from accessing some top quality product from well qualified licensees. From a consumer point of view it adds some value to their experience and helps build the excitement as the movie release gets nearer. Subway should also be applauded for making it easy for consumers to talk about them and the promotion by flagging up social media hashtags to encourage social sharing. Lots of companies seem to miss a trick in using their windows as billboards to promote social media centred around photo-sharing.

When thinking licensed promotions you would probably not put estate agents as top of your list as potential partners, but Hamptons debunk this. They have worked on the film Home which you could argue was tailor made for the category. Presumably this was a good experience for them as they are currently running a promotion with the Peanuts movie. This includes window displays and features on press advertising.

Good exposure for the film and a point of difference for Hamptons. They have underpinned the promotion with a competition targeted at local schools. A fun but effective way of connecting to their local community. The competition invites schools , groups and hospices  to design a new home for Snoopy. There are also downloadable assets on their website all under a campaign umbrella of Dream Big.

Activity like this allows Hamptons to build a rapport with their local community and with their design a home for Snoopy campaign they have access to locally created artwork for their windows. This part of the campaign will see local people stopping to look at the display and in some cases spot their own artwork – who knows they might spot their future home at the same time!


It is good to see a new sector embrace licensing and maybe the success of the Hamptons’ promotion may encourage some other business sectors to consider licensing as a promotional tool for their businesses.

Personally, I think it is a great shame that we haven’t seen Sunny Jim re-cast as Luke Skywalker in special editions of (Feel the) Force cereal, but I guess Kellogg’s was a better offer!

Two bits of retail activity worth noting this week included the Minions in Asda. I spotted a four or five-sided bay of product right at the front of store. It was high impact with lots of product primarily apparel. This was very impressive and those behind it should be applauded for coordinating this. Hopefully it will lead to strong sell through.

The other eyecatching retail activation I saw was some very dramatic Star Wars windows at Primark. These two examples show how licensed properties can be used by retailers to create a point of difference in the market for retailers and are a real call to action.

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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