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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes ponders on Halifax’s boost for classic characters this week.

It was all change at Halifax this week as they moved from using one Hanna-Barbera character – Top Cat – to another, The Flintstones.
Bedrock’s most famous residents are being used in a similar way, with window displays and posters in branches, with the focus on the iconic Fred Flintstone character. There is also a TV commercial which features more characters.

I certainly hadn’t thought this might be a rolling campaign with the use of different characters – maybe we might see characters from the Wacky Races next? The change of characters keeps the campaign fresh, creates more consumer chat and shows the power of a portfolio of characters. It is a valuable commercial asset to have the ability to dip into a portfolio of characters with heritage and awareness.

The Hanna-Barbera portfolio has to be one of the strongest in terms of classic animation and maybe the Halifax campaign will give their commercial use a further boost. I believe they had success in areas like apparel over the years, but it will be interesting to see if they start being used more widely post this campaign. It has certainly given them a prominent high street presence.


A theme that I have touched on many times in this column is the importance of design to licensing and how property owners need to focus on design and its refreshment. As we are in more competitive times, I think properties that are able to provide custom and bespoke design solutions will prosper, not least as retailers seek out exclusive offers for their consumers. Here, companies with deeper portfolios of character or IP assets are arguably in a stronger position as they can rotate characters and design looks.

Disney is a good example of this. A really good example of design being used to give well-known characters a new lease of life was a stationery range by Pyramid featuring Batman. They have used a look which seems to be based on a classic comic strip style focusing on character art and action scenes from the comic with the Batman logo featuring in a classic font and colour-way. It is very effective and ranges well on shelf.

I suspect this style has a broad appeal and brings older consumers into play as well. This is an important point as it is vital that licensed products have a well defined audience, but if this can be broadened then it should create more appeal to retail buyers. It is vital that rights owners and agents can back up their sales pitch with some data on target markets and consumer appeal.


Pyramid have also used the Marvel licence in an innovative way developing a premium notebook in a tan colour-way featuring characters such as the Hulk, Captain America and Thor. Priced at £8 in a supermarket this product is probably targeted at adult consumers with the end use for office and business purposes in mind I guess. It was priced above the Batman product range and positioned as a ‘premium product’ – maybe owing paying a nod to products like those developed by Moleskine.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. This mantra was borne out by a children’s sun swimsuit I saw this week – using the Superman character – the suit was effectively a Superman suit: a real winner and one I am sure that will have great appeal to children (and parents). Watch out for Superman on a beach near you this summer.

Fortunately they don’t come in adult sizes… yet.


It was good to see further examples of retailers using licensing for their Father’s Day offerings. Peacock’s had a few licensed t-shirts in their Father’s Day range including an Only Fools and Horses one featuring Del Boy with the strapline Geezer and a Darth Vader one.

Related to this is the excellent use of the Ladybird for Grown-Ups licence by Sony Music to create a compilation CD based on How it Works: The Dad book.

The 3 CD set has music selections ‘for Dads’ and has been promoted with a TV commercial. It is a very opportunistic piece of licensing building on the publishing success of the books and is a great example of licensing reaching out beyond the usual channels.

Hopefully the licensing industry will get better at tapping into unique events in the calendar like Father’s Day as they offer opportunities for sales uplift. But they will need some commitment to bespoke design and quick turnarounds.

The team behind Ladybird for Grown-Ups at Penguin turned this product around rapidly, being mindful of the unique selling opportunity available and also the cross marketing potential it offered with the book.


As we are in the midst of Euro 2016 it would be remiss of me not to flag up a product that I think most English football fans should buy: the Official Euro 2016 Stress Ball. At the time of writing the England v Wales match hadn’t been played and I suspect there will be a sales spike in sales of stress balls in the run up to it, during it and maybe after it. Hopefully they bounce off TV screens, as I suspect quite a few stress balls will be thrown at TV sets…

Hope to see you in Vegas – I will be the one walking the aisles peering through binoculars. Safe travels.

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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