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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds lots of activity in Birmingham and, erm, Yoda in Mallorca.

Summer is the season for high profile film releases as movie makers seek to tap into the school holiday audience. This trend has a direct impact on the licensing market as licensees and retailers switch their attention to film licensing.

The logic is that the buzz and attention around a major film release will drive sales at retail. Film licensing is no slam dunk in sales terms, but as the trend is towards franchises some of the risk is taken out of the equation. As noted recently, Ghostbusters has been given a great marketing push including the high profile promotion at Waterloo Station.

Two other films that have attracted a lot of PR and promotional attention are The BFG and Finding Dory. Both have noteworthy activity at retail.


I was in Birmingham this week and had chance to visit Grand Central, the shopping and restaurant complex wrapped around New Street station. It is very impressive and has some top rank retailers and restaurants in it. It was here that I found Dory.

Clintons had a dedicated window display for the film including a plug for the release date accompanied by a broad range of products in-store. This is an aspect of licensing that I think we can take for granted – coordination at retail.

Disney always seem to do a good job of getting product into store at the optimum time and harnessing the benefits of a film release. This is no mean feat. As retail gets more fragmented it is harder to coordinate activity – yes, it helps if you have a budget to support this kind of thing, but there is still a lot to be admired when you see licensing companies pulling things together so well.

In this case given the flagging up of the release date in the window, it is clear that the licensing programme is in some ways being used as a promotion for the movie. There is mutual interest at play – more success for the film should mean more sales and retailers provide a good promotional platform.


It was also good to see that retailers such as Foyles, also located in Grand Central, had noted the potential a film release held for them. In their case they were selling quite a wide range of merchandise associated with The BFG. They had coordinated an offer in a dedicated area in-store and were leveraging this alongside the book.

In the case of The BFG while it is not a film franchise, licensees and retailers have the insurance policy that the film is based on a much loved book and imbued with the feel-good factor associated with the Dahl brand.

I was also impressed by how the Paperchase branch at Grand Central were using licensed ranges featuring the London Underground and the A -Z to create window displays and a thematic promotion in-store. The promotional message was Love from London.

This was a clever way of pushing the reach of two ranges that are London-centric and a reflection of the retail location. They are tapping into the throughput of tourists that a major station such as New Street attracts. Both ranges are well put together and this approach should give them potential to extend their retail reach beyond London.


The developments at New Street are another example of the changing face of stations, with more emphasis on retail and leisure. With retailers such as Paperchase and Oliver Bonas being a core part of this trend it should throw up more opportunities for licensing.

Who knows, the rent coming in from these shops may also help improve the rail services…

In my own business, I was delighted to receive pre production samples of Underground Toy’s Pop! Vinyl figures featuring Asterix and Obelix. Produced in association with Funko these are the first developments out of Europe in this highly successful range.

For me this is a great fit for the characters and with pan European rights it allows a UK-based licensee to look beyond these shores, tapping into the significant consumer audience for Asterix in Europe. I think this is a good case study of a good product and character fit. It is also a licensee recognising that good commercial opportunities can be found outside of the usual suspects.

The Funko Pop! story is a bright one and one built on the innovative use of licences. They are investing in retail activation and recognising that there is a demand for collectable products amongst older consumers. These are products that will get pride of place in my licensing scrapbook.


Finally, a highlight of my recent holiday was meeting a floating Yoda. We have probably all seen them in tourist locations in London, but Yoda has now made it to Mallorca.

While it was a fun photo for me, and for Yoda I think, it did raise the issue of policing IP and brand protection. I think this is an essential of licensing, but I sense it is becoming more difficult as awareness of the commercial potential of IP spreads.

Maybe I should have boycotted Yoda in solidarity with Disney, but it did make me think about the tough challenge that IP owners face in protecting their IP. It also gave me a holiday memory to treasure – Yoda in Y-fronts…

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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