The Licensing Lookout

Fresh from his Licensing Awards accolade, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is out spotting innovation.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Max Publishing for presenting me with the Honorary Achievement award at Tuesday’s Licensing Awards. It really was a special moment and one I feel very touched by. Further to the honour of the award itself, one of the great benefits of winning has been all the fantastic messages and well wishes that I have been getting from the licensing community. It really is a special moment.

It was also lovely to receive the award from Nikki Samuels of Sambro. I believe I sold Nikki his first licence which was for Polly Pocket quite a few years ago now. Sambro are now firmly established in the licensing market and are a very successful company – a great example how a forward thinking and sales orientated company can use licensing to help them achieve success.

My acceptance speech is a bit of a blur, but I think one of the points I was keen to make is the need for the industry to remain committed to innovation and creativity – I think this is vital to ensure that the licensing sector continues to grow and is well regarded.

With this in mind I always look out for the nominees and winner of the Innovation Award – I was pleased to see this year’s winning product was Star Wars Bluetooth Speakers from AC Worldwide. This is a product that I wrote about earlier in the year – it really is a great example of fusing the power and appeal of a top licence with a fresh idea coupled with new technology. I think the product really showcases licensing well and are products that will engage consumers. A deserved winner in a very competitive field.


Outside of the awards, one of the products and deals that caught my eye this week was Iceland announcing and launching a produce range with Pizza Express. The deal is the first time Pizza Express will appear in the frozen sector. There will be 11 products in Iceland under the Pizza Express name with a sub-brand Artisana. The products include pizzas – which will be made with a sourdough base rather than the normal bread base.

Iceland have had a lot of success with their Slimming World licensed range. At first glance it might be a surprising partnership with the perception that the brand and retailer don’t fit consumer wise, but I think Pizza Express have recognised that Iceland have a broad base of consumers with many ‘topping up’ their main shop by buying in a select way from Iceland and also noting how well Iceland promote products in store – the range is already in store and being promoted in windows. I am sure that the partnership was carefully considered by both sides and will prove to be a success.

One other benefit, this kind of thing will give Pizza Express more high street presence coupled with a partnership that is a great foundation for promotional activities.


In a related point I spotted an Oreo frozen cheesecake in the frozen aisles at Sainsbury’s. A reminder that licensing has a presence throughout the market and also underpinning the strength of FMCG brands such as Oreo. This is a brand that is actively using licensing to help it achieve growth and widen its ability to connect with consumers.

Oreo was being sold alongside a Toblerone frozen cake as well – again another example of a brand with great awareness and heritage, but one that probably looks to licensing to help consumers think again about the brand and to offer new occasions for brand consumption.


I am very grateful to Charlie Donaldson from Rocket Licensing for tipping me off about one of my own licensees; Charlie spotted some Beano products in Liberty in their Christmas Food Gift Shop – a range of Beano Fudge Tins.

This range was developed specifically for the Christmas market and uses specific seasonal artwork. Great to see it in store and a good reminder that sometimes we need to create new and specific artwork to encourage seasonal usage and to capitalise on retail moments like seasonal gifting. Thanks Charlie!


I also saw the Leon cookware and kitchenware range in John Lewis this week. A very impressive range of product which represented the Leon brand very well. I understand the range is launching exclusively in John Lewis and agency The Point 1888 have traded the exclusivity off for securing a depth of product and first rate space in store. The strategy seems to have paid off in terms of quality of range and in store presence.

It is good to see a new brand in the market and also a top retailer such as John Lewis really backing a licensed brand. This is a good example of taking a step back and thinking about how to bring a brand to market through licensing. The consumer fit between Leon and John Lewis is a good one and the licensing range will help Leon communicate their brand style and personality to consumers in a new way, but in a category that is not too far from home for them.

It is worth taking a look in store as it really is a good example of licensing particularly from a retail display point of view.


I was also at Top Drawer earlier in the week. At first glance you couldn’t be criticised for thinking this is not a ‘licensing show’, but in fact as you walk around the show which is very well presented and great fun to visit licensing appears more frequently than you might expect. There are lots of examples of licensing partnerships with artists, illustrators, museums and galleries.

From my own work it was great to see Comic Art’s range of Asterix screenprints – Comic Art are a company that have used licensing to develop a business. They started with Beano prints and now have Asterix, The Broons, Oor Wullie and Thelwell. The licensee has also recognised that having a licence is one thing, but actively using it is an essential other.

They have taken the plunge and exhibit at shows like Top Drawer to reach new retailers and also attend consumer shows such as the Spitalfields Art Fair. From a standing start Comic Art now have over 100 accounts taking their licensed product ranges. A great example of how licensing can contribute to new business growth.

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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