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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how different retailers use licensing around Christmas.

It is interesting to see how retailers use licensing around the Christmas period. It is a time where certain categories and brands get more active. The usual rules don’t apply and there is greater scope for different brands to breakthrough.

One example of this is to be seen in Boots at the moment. Boots is a retailer that seems to be licensing aware and it engages with licensing in different ways, but seems to dial things up at Christmas. Its Christmas offering includes a number of licensed toiletries ranges featuring well known brands.


Boots draws on licensing opportunities from brands such as Jack Wills and Fat Face – although it is not always clear on what basis deals have been made; licensing, JV style deals or direct to retail arrangements. It is interesting to see a retailer such as Boots stock branded products from other retailers.

I am guessing the reason is that these are strong brands that drive new customers into Boots but are great gifts – consumers recognise and trust these high street brands and they are easy pick up items. The gift sets are very well presented and combine toiletries with other items such as socks.

Other brands that Boots uses in this category include the health spa brand Champneys – this is a brand it has used for some time and is a natural fit for the category.


Boots also features a range of Zoella gift sets as part of a gifting range that includes gift sets such as a Beanie Hat and Travel Cup set. The Zoella brand has quite a large presence in Boots and is presented in quite simple packaging trading on the Zoella name and signature – this shows a level of confidence in the appeal and awareness of Zoella.

It is linked to an overarching theming Zoella – Cosy Christmas – which runs across most products.


Character licensing is also present in this category in Boots, most notably Disney with ranges from H&A including very brightly coloured Disney Princess’ Nail polishes. Boots seems to have built a gift offer in this category that is balanced and well constructed. It is offering product ranges that seem to cover most consumer groups and has blended its range well, with an established licensing offer coupled with some offerings that appear to be unique or exclusive to it.

Other brands that feature include Ted Baker, Liz Earle, Laura Ashley and Joules. Retail brands such as Joules and Fat Face seem to find this route to market appealing as it increases their retail coverage, while also allowing them to connect with consumers in new ways delivering different brand experiences.

Christmas seems to be a retail moment that prompts retailers to introduce licensed ranges with more confidence. Licensing is, of course, a good fit for Christmas – with brands having wide recognition, being well trusted and creating consumer demand.

Maplin is a specialist retailer covering electricals, electronics, gadgets and toys. It always seems to be on trend and sells the latest gadgets in a timely fashion. It has a range of Star Wars Propel Drones including a Tie Advanced X1 Quadcopter Drone and a T-65 X-Wing Starfighter Quadcopter Drone. The range is featured prominently in Maplin’s Christmas catalogue – on the back page – and in-store with window displays.


These products are retailing at around £150 and I presume are relying on gift purchase as a ‘must have’ present. It is a clever use of a popular licence which seems very appropriate. Maplin seems to be quite careful in its product selection and the use of licensing – Star Wars clearly ticks a lot of boxes and fits well into its store offering.

It taps into licensing in other categories such as remote control vehicles and ride on vehicles including brands such as Land Rover, Lamborghini and Mercedes Benz. Broadly speaking, it is focused on a few licensed ranges bought in depth, like Star Wars, and supported in a focused way to give them the best chance of success. It is good to see Maplin using licensing and in such a strong way.

It is a retailer that could become a regular user of licensing over the long-term, not least as we see more innovation in toys, gadgets and technology – areas that licensing should play a part in. Brands such as Star Wars fit this trend well, but it is important that the NPD harnesses and combines the licence with technology appropriately. Film and TV storylines should inspire some great NPD.

Maplin also features a Hot Wheels RC Drone – this is at a lower price of £34.99. It is a racing drone as befits Hot Wheels and is designed for indoor and outdoor use. I am guessing this makes it suitable for younger consumers who will use it indoors. A smart move to use a popular brand at a lower price point. This makes the category more appealing and accessible to younger consumers. These consumers may then trade up later to the more expensive and sophisticated products.

Maplin is a specialist retailer, but one that seems to be working hard at becoming a destination store combining essential product with fun product. Its stores are well set out, easy to shop and have very helpful staff.

It will be interesting to see how these ranges perform. I will be looking out on Christmas Day for a drone fight: Star Wars versus Hot Wheels. I am sure both will prove popular gifts. Remember to buy some batteries though.


I did spend some time outside of retailers this week and caught sight of some new street art in Waterloo; some new artwork was being painted when I was walking through Leake Street. It was great to see a street art representation of The Mask coming to life in front of me.

Another reminder of how characters really are part of pop culture and motivate people in different ways… not just to buy Christmas presents!

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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