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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds a new entry to his ‘Licensing Top Ten’ this week.

I was surprised to see some great licensed products being sold at 50% off marked price this week in Marks & Spencer. Within their male gifting section ranges including Star Wars and the Match of Day toiletry gift packs were ‘on offer’ as part of a 50% off sale.

Given today is the first day of December, this seems a very pre-emptive strike by the retailer generally and more specifically a waste of some very strong licences. For me using a licence is adding value to a product and creates demand –  why cut the price so early and so quickly?

I think this was a store wide promotion and I’m not sure if it was a time limited promotion, but it was disappointing to see licensed products used in this way. To me it undermines the value of IP.


The price discount aside, the toiletries in M&S caught the eye in other ways. In terms of innovation and NPD in the category it would be difficult to beat a Match of the Day washbag which has been created with a ‘grass pitch’ effect. This worked really well and was a fantastic way of using the Match of the Day licence.

This licence allows licensees and retailers to tap into the general football market and makes sense in the gift category – it is a football brand that has wide recognition and elements doubts for purchasers over club loyalties. It is a strong ‘generic’ football brand – in this context good to see a lot of thought has gone into product development.


Along similar lines M&S are using The Open to brand a range of golf-themed toiletry gift sets. I haven’t seen The Open being used on licensed products before, but thought it was a good selection and a fantastic brand for the gift sector. Product design is contemporary and clean with The Open branding to the fore – will be interesting to see how it does.

I suspect it will do well although there may be a challenge in purchasing terms as it may not be instantly recognised by non-golfers purchasing for golfers. That said, I think The Open is one of those sporting events that is firmly established in the public’s mind.


In the same store I saw some fantastic NPD in the chocolate advent calendar market with a light up Trolls calendar. It literally is eyecatching and makes a real impact on shelf. The light up element suits the licence well – I think I spotted the last one on shelf which could suggest it is proving to be a very popular format.

It certainly adds an extra bit of excitement to the product building on the ‘surprise’ element associated with the product. Kinnerton, M&S’s supplier in this category, are clearly trying hard to keep pushing the category on. It is a category that is price sensitive in some retail channels, but clearly there is still room for added value in the category which is encouraging.

Disney and M&S have been very busy in the greetings card category as well. I saw a dedicated fixture themed around Star Wars with around five different styles of Star Wars greetings cards featured – these range from photographic through to humorous cartoon style cards. It seemed all tastes were being catered for – as long as the recipient likes Star Wars!

There was a similar fixture for Frozen within a store area that M&S have developed specifically for cards and stationery – it had the feel of a shop in shop. I am guessing to make it more obvious to consumers and also to compete with dedicated greeting cards retailers such as Paperchase.

This also shows a high degree of confidence in a brand and its appeal – developing five or six styles of card for one licence in one store.


Apparel brand Barbour has developed a TV commercial using the iconic Christmas characters The Snowman & The Snowdog. The TV commercial was developed by production company Lupus and is faithful to the original films in look and feel.

The strapline is Gifts They’ll Always Remember – it taps into the sentiment behind The Snowman & The Snowdog really well and the TV commercial will really engage with consumers at this time of year. For the IP owner, it brings some valuable exposure at a key time of the year while reinforcing brand values well.

The partnership extends into retail with Barbour’s own stores, such as the one in Piccadilly using The Snowman & The Snowdog to create window displays and Barbour concessions in retailers such as House of Fraser using POS materials.

It is a very effective partnership with a real attention to detail – for example a Barbour dog jacket is featured in the TV ad cleverly conveying that Barbour are now active in this category. A really good example of licensing and a great case study for the industry to reference in the future.


As I wander the streets of London humming Ralph McTell’s song to myself I am always looking out for licensing, compiling my ‘top ten’ as I travel around. This week I think I spotted something which goes straight into my top ten.

Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Barrel Smoking Chips – wood chips for barbecues and chimineas – I presume made from a by-product of the whiskey making process. This seemed a very simple idea but a very effective one and the product was presented in a bag carrying the signature Jack Daniel branding which left you in no doubt of its official status while trading on the iconic nature of the brand well.

At first I thought it was odd to be on sale at this time of the year thinking of summer barbecues, but I guess there is a growing trend for using chimineas at this time of the year and in that context this product would hold a lot of appeal.


I attended a licensing presentation from IMG this week about their work on and with the Volkswagen brand. The presentation highlighted the work that has been undertaken on creating a broad range of artwork for licensing.

IMG and Volkswagen have been developing assets from the brand’s archive, blended with commissioning new bespoke artwork. It was a reminder that a key part of licensing is design and design assets. With more retailers looking for bespoke and exclusive designs, there is increasing pressure on licensors to invest in a broad and deep supply of artwork. Investing in design can make a real difference.

A lot of the success for the VW programme can be attributed to the regular supply of new designs, particularly in key areas like apparel. It is also a programme that has some great examples of innovation in it – another one of my current ‘Licensing Top Ten’ is the VW Toaster closely followed by the VW Fridge.

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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