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The Licensing Lookout

The use of classic characters by big corporate firms catches Ian Downes’ eye this week.

It is funny how certain phrases from presentations stick in your memory. One I always remember from my CPLG days was “…this character is my personal favourite.” Our marketing manager used this phrase each time he presented a new property – it became a standing joke as he must have had about ten ‘favourite’ characters each year.

Nevertheless being someone’s ‘favourite’ is quite a good benchmark for a character. This week the character that I think is my personal favourite appeared on my licensing radar in an unexpected way.

Top Cat is being used by the Halifax Bank to promote their services. They have developed a bespoke TV commercial, billboard posters, window displays and in-store activity. The TV commercial is well scripted and makes great use of these iconic characters – Officer Dibble even gets mentioned. I am guessing Halifax are using Top Cat to create a unique identity in a busy marketplace to help get their sales message across and are reinforcing their credentials as a friendly company with a ‘fun’ personality.


They have probably alighted on Top Cat as it is a TV programme that resonates well with the age group they are looking to target – the character has a nostalgic quality and using the character helps their marketing message become more impactful.

Funnily enough Top Cat featured as a question on Pointless this week as well – the only Pointless character was Fancy Fancy, a good measure of how popular Top Cat was/is as the public seemed to know the characters well. Halifax’s research must have told them Top Cat is a lot of people’s favourite character.

Another great example of characters being used in TV advertising and wider marketing activity promotionally is Warburton’s use of The Muppets. I spotted a FSDU in the Co-op this week featuring Warburton’s Giant Crumpets, using a charming image of Kermit along with a clever strapline ‘Get your Kermits on a pack now’.

Warburton’s are making the most of this promotional partnership and this kind of in-store activity plays to the strength of The Muppets brand, combining visual appeal and humour. It should make consumers stop and pay attention. A valuable outcome in a busy retail environment.


These two examples of promotional use of characters are good ones and should encourage the industry that there is good potential for licensing in TV and marketing campaigns. Get your thinking caps on!

The Entertainer are featuring a lot of licensed products based on the Marvel Captain America: Civil War film at the moment. This is linked to a series of Super Saturday events which encourage consumers to visit stores over 3 Saturdays to qualify to receive a free Marvel 500 figure. This is a great way to build loyalty and encourage store visits. This was well presented in windows and in-store.

Although I was surprised to see product being offered at 33% off – I always think that retailers don’t need to discount ‘hot’ properties immediately.


I guess in this case, in combination with the promotion this creates a really compelling offer for The Entertainer which will give them a competitive advantage. Some would argue film merchandise only has a short window of opportunity and this layered promotion makes the most of the selling opportunity in this short timeframe. It may also be part of the film marketing’s team desire to create a buzz around a new film.

I think we do need to be wary that licensed properties are not undervalued at retail too quickly though.

I visited the excellent London Stationery Show this week. This is a well focused show that covers stationery from office products through to greeting cards. It is a celebration of stationery and at a general level it is a great way of trendspotting in the sector. I have attended the show for about four or five years. When I first went there was very little evidence of licensing.

On this visit I spotted about seven or eight companies featuring licensed products. This may mean the organisers have targeted this category efficiently, but I also think it is a sign that licensing in stationery is in growth and that licensees are also seeking new outlets for their products. Companies such as Pyramid, Sambro, Robert Frederick, Quarto and Portico were in attendance, with a diverse mix of properties such as Marvel, Historic Royal Palaces and Roald Dahl on show. In itself, this is a reflection on the diversity in this sector.


New to licensing, East West were exhibiting a range of Tango-branded stationery that we have developed with them. As an agent it is always good to see a licensee proactively selling a licensed range. I think the companies that attended the show should be applauded for their proactivity in seeking out new accounts. As I have mentioned before I think as an industry ‘new business’ should be a priority for us – we need to open more accounts for licensing.

I also thought that DKL Marketing’s Finding Dory Smencils range looked good and it struck me that they were being wise in presenting their range in a retail ready way with a dedicated FSDU on their stand filled with product.


I think efficient use of display is going to be more and more important at retail. This is something that I think licensing can help with and can make a great impact – think back to Kermit and the crumpets. Licensed properties can be used effectively as an in-store salesforce.

I think Neviti’s Beano partyware range currently in John Lewis is a really good example of how design can be used creatively, but consistently across different products in a range at retail. When grouped together at retail it makes a strong visual impact. I think we can undervalue the power of design in licensing sometimes.


Finally, I must apologise – last week I must have had some dust in my eye – the Chunk apparel range I mentioned is not based on the Peanuts license as I thought, but uses some original artwork from a Hong Kong based artist. Nevertheless the products looked good and were a good example of creativity in design terms.

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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