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The Licensing Lookout

From the bookies to Maplins, it’s been a varied week of licence spotting for Start Licensing’s Ian Downes.

Licensing can tap you on the shoulder in the most unexpected places. I had taken five minutes out of my schedule to pop into a branch of William Hill this week to watch a race from Cheltenham. For those of you unfamiliar with bookmakers they have changed quite a bit over recent years – you get offered coffee or tea from the smiling shop staff, the seats are fairly comfortable and the feel is more of a social club than the smokey old bookies depicted in TV shows like Minder.

One other change is the presence of gaming machines – think fruit machines and one armed bandits for the 21st century. These terminals can host lots of content and in the context of the bookmakers are loaded with a range of pay to play games such as Roulette. However they also have ‘amusement with prizes’ games where people are betting on the spin of a reel. Imagine my surprise when I glanced at one of the terminals and saw in block capitals the words “I Am the Law” – followed by a series of fairly large scale comic book images of Judge Dredd.

The 2000AD ‘star’ was being used to theme a game on the machines. I have seen other characters such as Marvel ones being used in this context, but seeing Judge Dredd in this context was unexpected. I am guessing the game operators and bookmakers were looking for other comic book characters to follow up the Marvel ones and also seeking characters that resonated with the most frequent players of the machines younger men.

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For the property owners there is a financial benefit from the licensing fees, but also exposure on terminals throughout the UK and reinforcing the notion that Judge Dredd is a gaming friendly property – in the wider sense of ‘computer games’ not just gambling applications. Using a property in such a context is a decision that I imagine licensors consider carefully. Some will not want to be involved with this sector because of the connection with gambling and the fact that this aspect of bookmakers’ activity is under the spotlight. Some people feel there are too many bookies on the high street and the reason there are so many is that this allows bookmakers to host more machines – there are limits on the amount of machines per shop.

Licensors have to make careful choices and I think in the case of Judge Dredd it may have been easier to say yes to this activity because the character is much more of an adult appealing one and with its film heritage coupled with its comic origins has a particular edge to it. Nevertheless it is a reminder that sometimes licensing decisions have to be made in a considered way and in a wider context. By the way I didn’t back a winner on my five minute break…

Last week I identified what I thought was one of the longest running licensed products – Pink Panther Pink Wafer biscuits – but I had one suggestion for a competitor for this title. Suggested by Hannah Mungo from eOne – Tom & Jerry Cake Mix from Green’s. A good shout because I remember this from my CPLG days as well (a long , long time ago … ), so it must be running Pink Panther quite closely.

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On the theme of long running deals I noticed that McDonald’s are launching another Monopoly themed promotion soon. This must be one of the longest running promotional partnerships in the market and one of the most successful.

Monopoly is very well suited to promotions of this kind because of its gaming heritage, its appeal across age groups and its brand identity – on the latter point it works well on gamecards, in windows and on social media.

Monopoly is a great example of a property that plays to its strengths in licensing – with activities such as promotions to the forefront; I remember a number of promotions featuring Monopoly with estate agents. It is also a property used for Lottery scratchcards and on gaming machines playing up the money making side of the game.

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Talking about money, as a retired numismatist I was really struck by the deal announced recently by The Royal Mint which sees them celebrating the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth by issuing a series of 50p coins including high end collector’s versions.

The range of coins issued includes a silver proof coin in a collector’s folder and a range of other coins featuring characters like Peter Rabbit. This activity is a great example of how licensing has the potential to reach a diverse range of market sectors including specialist markets such as coins and stamps. For organisations like The Royal Mint, using well known and much loved characters focuses attention on their products, encourages collecting and raises awareness of their activities.

If you remember the popularity of the Olympic Games 50 pences it is a great category for a licensed property to be in – people are still collecting the Olympic coins now (check your change and then check eBay). This kind of deal also brings benefits in terms of direct marketing as organisations such as The Royal Mint are experts in this sector and produce fantastic mailing packs to promote products. This helps the licensor stretch their marketing budget and also builds momentum in the collector’s sector. This Beatrix Potter Collection may bring me out of coin collecting retirement!

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On the point of licensing being a flexible marketing tool and reaching a varied range of market sectors I was pleased to see that licensed products had a presence in Maplins – the self style ‘electronics specialist’.

This seems to be a retail success story to me – the shops are in prime locations and always seem to be busy. Licensing crops up in their shops in areas like Remote Controlled toys relatively regularly, but I was encouraged to see licensed products in their lighting section. They were stocking Phillips’ range of Marvel wall lights, but also featured a very clever Tetris Lighting product from innovative licensee Paladone Products.

This is a good reminder that licensing and licensed products can have a role to play in a variety of retailers, but it is essential that the product matches the retailer’s activities and consumer profile. The Tetris lighting product – which won a Gift of the Year accolade – is also a great example of a licence being used in an innovative way with real thought behind the product development. This may well have been one of the reasons Maplin decided to stock it.

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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