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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes spies some spooky happenings at retail this week.

This week at retail has been a bit like a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song – When Two Themes Collide (I’ve used a little bit of artistic licence title wise, which I hope Holly Johnson will forgive me for). The two colliding themes have been Halloween and Christmas. Retailers seem to be pushing both of these opportunities strongly and licensing is playing a part in both. Although it is slightly odd to see Halloween Orange clashing with Christmas White on shelf. Although I haven’t spotted any Halloween Christmas ‘collabs’ yet.

Back in my CPLG days some 20 years ago, I remember when a few of our US licensors questioned us about Halloween and the fact that it was a big opportunity for them in the US. They wanted us to push the opportunity in the UK and supplied product samples, themed style guides and plenty of sales stats. Despite our best efforts we didn’t succeed in bringing Halloween alive then even with properties such as Casper the Ghost. I remember most licensees and retailers thought it was an opportunity too far.


However something has changed – not sure what the triggerpoint was but Halloween is now firmly part of the UK retail calendar. From a licensing point of view this is clearly good news for categories such as dress up, confectionery and toys.

That said I spotted some Halloween themed Peppa Pig books this week – developed by licensee Penguin with specific artwork and storylines. I guess this is tapping into a trend to buy gifts at Halloween as a treat or as a ‘thank you’ at parties. This seems very enterprising on the licensor and licensee’s part and I guess the investment in new artwork will be worthwhile from a sales point of view. I guess the artwork may also be useful in the US where Halloween is an even bigger retail opportunity.

Another Halloween highlight product wise for me was Flair’s Shopkins pumpkins. This product was displayed in a counterpack and stood out on a crowded shelf: a clever bit of NPD which has given Shopkins a strong play in the Halloween ‘pick up’ toy and treat category.


It is difficult to gauge whether Halloween is a retail trend that will grow further and is sustainable in the long-term – I have a sense some retailers have over supplied the market and we may see some trimming back of products in future years, but one would imagine that licensed properties would have a strong part to play in future years particularly those with a thematic connection to the event such as Ghostbusters and Scooby-Doo or indeed by old friend Casper.

That said I remember that we had a couple of ‘good’ or should I say ‘bad’ Halloweens with a range of Beano and Dennis the Menace products – these featured custom artwork. Again another example of the value in a bespoke approach to creative.


Among the Christmas offerings, I thought a Minnie Mouse Christmas jumper was a very good example of licensing and character adding value to a category and again a good example of custom design. This is also the time that retailers roll out their composite gift ranges many of which feature food and drink brands such as Marmite.

However a highlight for me was a range of LEGO and DC Comics ‘collab’ clocks, watches and keychains. This was a really good example of two brands working together effectively to create a unique design and product offering. I believe the licensee is Clic Time who have worked with LEGO for a number of years to create watch ranges that incorporate the ‘build’ and ‘construct’ element of the brand.

LEGO’s willingness to work with character brands such as Batman and Superman has allowed them to refresh their product offering regularly and keep consumers interested. It also allows licensees an opportunity to offer retailers a fresh story. For a brand owner such as Warner Bros/DC Comics it is a great way of leveraging their relationship with LEGO and creating a strong point of difference in a competitive category and having a really solid offer for the Christmas gift market.


My lookout reach was extended this week by two contributions from licensing friends. Penguin Venture’s Damian Treece is in Tokyo at the moment and he helped me answer the question I have asked myself a lot recently. Is there anything more that can be licensed on Star Wars? The answer is a firm yes.

Damian spotted some Lightsaber ‘light up’ Chopsticks – they look fantastic and I advised him to bulk buy some – I am sure he could do very well selling those in the UK (obviously with the appropriate licence in place). As an aside I also noticed that Star Wars Cafetieres have been launched – using shapes such as R2D2… I think there will be a few more surprises to come Star Wars-wise!


I am also grateful to Stephen Gould for tipping me off about a range of Orla Kiely car seats, bags and bike accessories including helmets he spotted in Halfords.

Marketed under the sub brand of Olive and Orange, the range is a further example of the growing reach of this design-based brand and a good example of how retailers such as Halfords are seeking to use licensing in new ways to create a point of difference. I am not sure if this range is more widely available, but from Halfords point of view it should attract customers into store and is tapping into the appeal of Orla Kiely as a lifestyle brand. I guess the design styling used has been chosen carefully to reflect latest trends and customer ‘wants’ in the category.

A range like this will also allow Halfords to trade up a little price wise and from the brand’s point of view it extends their reach into a new category in a controlled way with a destination retailer.


Next week is Brand Licensing Europe – we will be on our stand B66 – please come by to say hello and to let me know if you have spotted something of interest product wise.

One of the highlights of BLE for me is the amount of great licensed product on show – it is like The Museum of Licensing… something I might open one day in the future!

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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