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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes examines how timing is key, both for product and events.

Like many industries, licensing has a certain rhythm and pace with regular events punctuating the year. Some of these are trade shows – I am sure a lot of us have already inked in the dates of Toy Fair, Spring Fair and of course Brand Licensing Europe.

This regularity or familiarity applies to products as well. A notable product that falls into this category are annuals. This category of publishing grew out of the comic world where traditionally annuals where ‘Best of’ hardback editions of popular comics. These evolved further with specially commissioned stories for annuals and with the advent of licensing annuals became a standalone category in publishing.

Companies such as Centum, Egmont and DC Thomson are leading players in the category. Annuals enjoy broad distribution encompassing traditional book stores and supermarkets. Often annuals are sold in dedicated FSDUs or well signed space. They are fast moving products and are heavily promoted with plenty of offers associated with the category.


However the core product hasn’t changed that much – a hardback book, full colour with comic strips and activities. So against this backdrop it was encouraging to see Egmont adding value to its Disney Princess Annual with the addition of a ‘free’ tiara displayed prominently on the front cover. A compelling offer with a gift that really fits the brand well.

I know there have been other initiatives in the category before, but it is a good example of a licensing category that may have become too reliant on price promotions and one that could benefit from some fresh NPD ideas. As a product category it is editorially very strong – with a high standard of product in the market.

A lot of this price promotion may be driven by retailer margin requirements, but an annual associated with a popular licence is a strong product in its own right that maybe could sell at full price. An alternate strategy to price offers could be adding value or innovating further in the category. Annuals certainly still command a lot of retail space and attention so one assumes it is a solid category.


It is always a challenge to get product on shelf and there is no doubt licensing is more competitive these days. With this in mind new types of licensing and new markets are increasingly important. Experiential or event licensing is one case in point. I was in Cardiff this week and I managed to experience part of the excellent Wild in Art curated The Snowdog Trail.

Statues of The Snowdog have been placed around Cardiff with each one decorated individually by an artist with a specific design theme. Many of the artworks celebrate the local area and hold an appeal to the community. Visitors are encouraged to walk the trail with access to free maps, app guides and regional PR. The statues are ultimately auctioned off to raise funds for a local charity.


In addition to the on street Snowdogs, there were a set of smaller dogs on display rather fittingly in Cardiff’s Central Library. This seemed a nice touch and created an extra reason to visit the library. There is also a dedicated Snowdog shop in the city centre which was closed on my visit but I think acts as a retail outlet and also an information point.

The Snowdog Trail seemed to be a popular attraction and segwayed well with Cardiff’s Christmas market and lights.

Wild in Art has had a lot of success with public art trails, with Shaun the Sheep and Gromit being other notable success stories from the licensing world. This kind of activity is a really positive application for licensing, not least as there is a charity and community angle. The trails encourage people to get out and walk to explore a city.


Timing is also key to this kind of activity and The Snowdog Trail is perfectly timed for the run into Christmas. I expect to see some more well timed product releases associated with The Snowman and The Snowdog. I have spotted one already – Biscuiteers recently promoted its range of Snowman and Snowdog iced biscuits. I am on the e-marketing list and received news on these products this week.

A really apt use of the licence, but also a great example of proactivity by a licensee harnessing the power of a strong character to amplify their digital marketing message. Licensing really adding value to the product and marketing processes.


On the subject of the smart use of licensing, I thought Fizz Creations‘ Slush Puppie Slush Making Cup that I saw in Rymans was a really neat product. A great application of a well known brand delivering a product that is well suited to gifting. It was being sold alongside bottles of Slush Puppie syrup.

For Slush Puppie, it is a great way for them to get their brand into new distribution and reach consumers that they miss in other ways. It is a fun product well suited to gifting. Rymans seems to be a retailer that seems to shift up a gear at Christmas, peppering its shelves with seasonal product with an emphasis on impulse gifting which suits its consumers and how the shops are shopped. It seems to cover a lot of buying reasons including the office Secret Santa.


Finally, I had some help looking out this week with a contribution from a visitor to Toronto. They spotted a famous character featuring in the city’s street art – Tom from Tom & Jerry was on show in Toronto.

Further confirmation of the trend for street artists to feature well known characters in their creations and how characters really are part of pop culture.

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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