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The Licensing Lookout

Some bold collaborations are catching the eye of Start Licensing’s Ian Downes this week.

Licensing was literally in the shop window on my travels this week.

I spotted two very noteworthy licensing collaborations featuring prominently in the windows of major high street retailers. At a general level this was a great tick in the box for the pulling power of licensing and the potential it offers retailers. It also makes being a Lookout a little easier – I have been reprimanded a few times recently for taking photos in shops, even in  the age of social media some stores frown upon photo-taking. Window displays are always good photo opps for me!

The first example I spotted was at Uniqlo who had given over window display space and retail floor space to their partnership with Liberty of London. This was in Uniqlo’s Oxford Street store. The partnership is a bold one and is far reaching for Uniqlo in terms of the categories covered. It was given a lot of shelf space. Beyond the direct commercial potential the partnership will make consumers see the companies in a new light.

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In the case of Liberty the collection should help them ‘recruit’ new consumers who may then migrate to their store and become long-term loyal Liberty customers. It also opens up their prints to a global audience through Uniqlo’s network.

Uniqlo has a good track record of creating interesting licensing partnerships, pushing design boundaries and crucially, as shown by the window displays, really investing and believing in partnerships. The commercial deal may not be a ‘classic’ licensing deal as there may be other elements to it, but it does give us a real window on how a partnership can be activated and value extracted from a well thought through partnership.

I understand there was a pop up shop element in Liberty’s Regent Street shop featuring the Uniqlo range extending the reach of the partnership.

Meanwhile, the Peter Rabbit window I spotted in Mothercare’s Kingston store was impressive. It showcased Peter Rabbit product such as apparel and toys.

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This partnership is an example of how property owner, agent, licensees and retailer can pull together. Mothercare seems a perfect home for Peter Rabbit. The licensed product range includes some exclusive lines and designs leveraging the publicity around Beatrix Potter’s 150th anniversary. For Mothercare they are involved in a high profile campaign with a classic character, but have their own voice in the market.

Licensing is likely to feature more collaborations of this kind. This may necessitate different commercial arrangements centred around a new ‘way’ of working contractually and financially.

Arguably retailers find this sort of thing more interesting in a evermore competitive and fragmented retail market. A licensing campaign linked to an event can interrupt regular retail behaviour and deliver new or lapsed customers to retailers.

There is a real trend for property owners to seek out collaborations with designers and fashion brands developing capsule ‘collections’ to enhance their property and generate PR – a good way of kickstarting a brand and creating some buzz around it. Generally these tie ups have been centred on apparel collections. A challenge here is to achieve stand out – there seems to be a new one announced each week. There is the danger of the ‘so what’ factor kicking in, especially in the apparel sector.

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However, I saw a partnership this week which I thought worked really well and has achieved cut through in the consumer and trade market.  This was the partnership between Jean Paul Gaultier fragrances and Betty Boop/Popeye.

The partnership has come alive with some fantastic looking products housed in souvenir tins with bespoke decorated bottles. The product is on sale in retailers such as John Lewis and Harrods. It has given the characters a credible presence in very desirable retailers, shown the characters in a new design light and I’m sure created some new design energy that apparel licensees might be able to use in the future.

It has created a genuine story and probably made consumers view the characters in a fresh way. It is a clever partnership and one that succeeds in energising two classic brands in a positive way.

As retail space gets ever more crowded, it was great to see the Science Museum creating a new retail opportunity through an innovative licensing partnership. Vending machines have been a feature of the licensing landscape for many years, most commonly these have been dominated by big, international entertainment properties. The Science Museum have developed a vending machine concept with a licensee under the Science Museum Kids banner that offers pocket money ‘science toys’. This move into vending delivers new retail space for them, allows them to ‘play’ in a new category and from the vending industry’s point of view potentially opens up a whole new raft of partnerships.

For the Science Museum this sort of activity is also a very positive way for them to get their marketing message out to consumers. It looked good in store and I hope it will prove successfully.

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It is the London Book Fair this week and it is good to see licensing and licensed products as part of the publishing mix. There were a number of good examples of publishers showcasing ranges based on licences.

In my own work I was very excited to see a new book from Igloo Books pop onto my radar – I only had to look out as far as my desk to spot the Rachael Hale Furry Friends Pop Up book. It really is a very innovative book and a great example of how publishers can extend the life of a licence in the publishing sector through creativity and innovation.

The key point here for me is that it is important that we push for innovation in product as much as possible and that includes in publishing. It is easy to accept a standard range but we should be ‘format’ aware and see what might be possible if we look for new ways of using licensing in publishing. You never know what might pop up.

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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