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The Licensing Lookout

Snoopy takes over Waterloo and Star Wars takes over pretty much everything this week.

At the moment it is difficult to shop and not see a new Star Wars product – it does seem to be an all powerful licence at the moment with a full range of products. One of the challenges is for a licensee to stand out and for product to be distinctive. I think Sky have managed to do both with their new Star Wars products announced this week.

Sky Television are launching a range of Star Wars branded remote controls for their customers. There are 10 in the collection. The products look really good and are a good representation of the brand. They have a commercial advantage over a lot of other products in that they are well targetted consumer wise and there is a ready made market for them with a clear distribution route for them. They are also occupying a unique space without other licensee competitors.

For Sky the range creates a point of interest for their customers, creates a new reason to buy, puts them in the gifting business and also links into their wider activities as a broadcaster.

Sky are using Star Wars as an event across their channels and engaging with their customers as the excitement builds. Linking the film to their handheld remote controls is a smart move and is a good example of how licensing, licensed products and marketing can be linked together effectively.

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Of course there are other films available and the Snoopy film is one of them. Product is starting to be released and I think we will see some very good products using film and classic artwork.

Snoopy has always been a licence that I have admired and thought has been handled very well from a product and design point of view. Hopefully the film won’t change this, but what it does do is bring fresh momentum.

The film is being well promoted not least by a super-sized animated billboard at Waterloo Station. This is a good example of how working with a film licence can create real momentum for products – a film based on a classic property with an established base is a great combination.

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A good example of a licensee being proactive and making the most of their licence is Biscuiteers use of The Snowman and The Snowdog licence.

The company won a Licensing Award a couple of years ago for their Mr Men biscuits and have also got a licence with Warner Bros. Biscuiteers produce handmade decorated biscuits sold individually or in gift sets including tinware.

They have a shop on Northcote Road in Clapham and at the moment their window display is given over to The Snowman & The Snowdog. It is a really effective window display and I am sure people are sharing the image on social sharing sites. They have created some really well designed products and are naturally focusing on Christmas gifting.

For the brand owner they have a high-end partner who has used their property in an innovative way reinforcing their brand values and from a marketing point of view have developed some great marketing activities not least the window display but also their Christmas brochure.

Biscuiteers have made the most of the licence and whilst they are not a mass market partner, their style of product adds a qualitative value to the programme. It is a product designed to be given and shared – it will be talked about in a positive way creating some great ‘feel-good’ peer to peer marketing for the brand.

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I also spotted a product that fell into the ‘why hasn’t this been done before category’ namely Scooby Snacks – dog treats.

The product was on sale in Poundland – I can’t vouch for it fully because I haven’t taste tested it (yet) but it certainly caught the eye on shelf. I am guessing it is in Poundland because achieving mainstream distribution with pet products is tough as the market is dominated by big brand names and distributors.

It is hard to compete against these brands as they protect their shelf space and also consumers are shopping for brands they trust in the pet sector. That said licensed ranges using characters can add some variety, introduce fun and encourage consumers to try new products for their pets – interestingly Snoopy is being used promotionally at the moment by a dog food brand – in part I guess to encourage consumer’s to switch brands.

Maybe in the case of the Scooby snacks a promotional overlay might help it achieve broader distribution and encourage repeat purchase – maybe a ‘Find Britain’s real Scooby Doo’ might be a good route to pursue.

The pet treat and toy market is a challenging one for licensing. Characters score high on fun – we had good success with a range of Beano Dog Toys with Rupert’s Pet Shop that included a dog friendly Whoopee Cushion but engendering consumer loyalty and getting on shelf are challenges. Maybe in this category the way forward is product plus promotion – a product that has an in built promotional reward linked to the property such as a unique collectable. Or a find the real Scooby or indeed Gnasher competition.

This is not an entirely new category for licensing – an honourable mention must be given to Licensingpage’s Andrew Levy who back in the 1990s launched Sylvester Cat Litter. This got national distribution and was well received. Clearly there are opportunities in the category, but it probably just needs a bit more support to succeed.

Talking of our friends in a Galaxy Far Far Away I am sure there are some Star Wars dog jackets out there – no stone unturned! Look out for a Yoda Pug near you.

One last product that I am seeing a lot of at the moment is the official Nutella Cookbook. A cookbook shaped like a Nutella jar with all the recipes featuring Nutella as an ingredient. A brand owner’s dream.

A great example of licensing helping the core brand and creating a product that can’t be replicated or imitated. It is being sold in non-traditional outlets such as Joy which reinforces the value of the format in creating new opportunities for book publishers and book sales. It is positioned as a gift. The same publisher has also created a Lindt cookbook in the shape of the bunny complete with bell.

This shows that licensing can reach into new corners of the market, but there has to be a reason to use the license to convince retailers and consumers to buy.

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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