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The Licensing Lookout

From food to flip flops, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes has been on a journey this week.

Licensing works.

He would say that wouldn’t he, I hear you shout at your computer. I think we are all selling Licensing PLC, so yes I would, but it is always reassuring and encouraging to read about a licensing success story in a ‘serious’ newspaper.

The Sunday Times Business section carried a very positive licensing story this week about crisp manufacturer Burt’s great success with a range of Guinness flavoured and branded crisps. The article described the sales success of the range and how the Guinness product had opened up new territories for Burt’s.

Guinness is a success story in the food licensing sector not least because of its iconic status and distinctive flavour. It is a very good case study of licensing working – hopefully the press article will alert other brand owners to the potential licensing can have for their brand. One particular aspect of the success was how the Guinness licence had helped Burt’s open up export markets for their products – the Guinness licence was a great calling card.


Maybe more food manufacturers like Burt’s will consider licensing an attractive option. Interestingly I went to the Food and Drink show at the NEC recently, largely to research new companies for our Britvic and Chewits licensing programmes. I must say that I got many more quite dismissive nos than potential yeses to my ‘have you considered licensing question’ this was even before mentioning any brands… which leads me to believe that some food manufacturers haven’t really weighed up the potential in licensing.

The Burt’s article may make them think again. My experience is that a carefully chosen brand licence can make a real difference to a food manufacturer – in an age where price is a selling tool in grocery linking with a proven brand through licensing can really make a difference. Brand licensing programmes in the food category such as Weightwatchers, Cadbury’s, Tango and J20 speak to this point.

I was very impressed by a range of National Trust plant pots I spotted in my local garden centre this week. To an extent you could argue how can you add value to this category through licensing especially in terms of function. A plantpot is a plantpot, isn’t it?


In this case I think the licensing value comes in the product design and finish, such as the vibrant colours used. The pots were being sold in a branded area with signage that gave some backstory to the range and design influences on it with inspiration being drawn from the National Trust’s property portfolio.

However, a further feature of the display provided a really good example of how licensing can bring a licensor real marketing benefits. The display included a sign to a nearby National Trust property detailing the distance it was away from the garden centre. It was an eye-catching bit of display, but on a practical level a great bit of marketing for the National Trust. It was a great call to action for consumers. A really good bit of joined up thinking and a great demonstration of how brand owner’s can extract value from licensing beyond the financial benefits.

I think garden centres provide some really good examples of how licensing can be used beyond a simple product proposition. Maybe this is because there is more space available or more dwell time from consumers at garden centres, but displays like the one for Sarah Raven branded seeds I spotted from Johnsons Seeds are a good example of a licensee really using a licence to the full. Not just to badge a product, but to market a range. Maybe there is a template for other retail sectors to follow there.


I also spotted footwear brand Havaianas using licensing on their fashionable flip flops – this was within a pop-up shop display at Gatwick Airport; perfectly positioned for holiday makers to make a last minute purchase. Brands they featured included Snoopy, Star Wars, Minions and The Flintstones. They clearly go for brands with international appeal to fit their distribution model and I guess brands that appeal to younger consumers.

Interestingly design-wise they used ‘pairs’ of characters on their product – one character on each flip flop – a simple idea but very effective. I think their use of licensing encourages pick up impulse purchase and potentially additional purchasing. It is always encouraging to see a brand like Havaianas use licensing – rather like Burt’s it is a good endorsement for licensing in general terms.


Finally, a visit to Poundland this week confirmed to me that there seems to be no slow down in the use of licensing by them. In the arts and crafts sector I would estimate that around 50% of the children’s product offerings were based on licences such as the Mr Men, Fireman Sam and Minions. The products looked good and were well presented, but were relatively simple in content terms.

Generally I think there is nothing wrong with this as long as all parties can make the numbers work. However, a small concern I would have is does this value for money activity have a knock on effect for similar products in other retail sectors.


I wonder if consumers get used to buying product at these price points in the category which in turn may lead to less purchasing at higher prices for product that may have more depth to it. I guess here it is important that rights holders have an integrated retail strategy that finds a way for the different retail sectors and product formats to co-exist.

Maybe here the higher priced crafting products need to shout out their contents a bit more readily and look to include more in depth content like tutorials. Displays like the Sarah Raven seed packs would help.

Retailers such as Poundland do seem to know how to signpost product well to consumers and aren’t shy about telling them what they are getting. Perhaps there is a lesson in there for others.

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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