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The Licensing Lookout

Children’s TV characters old and new are in the sights of Start Licensing’s Ian Downes this week.

Here comes Muffin Muffin the Mule – a ditty that most readers won’t remember but Muffin the Mule was the Peppa Pig of his day. Except he was a string puppet not an animated character. A children’s TV star in the 1950s, Muffin had a brief comeback in 2005 with an animated series, but he will always be remembered as a puppet superstar.

I noticed this week that leading coin operated ride company Kiddy Rides have refurbished a Muffin the Mule ride from the 1950s and are selling it to benefit a charity. Well done them. I also thought it was a good reminder to the ‘modern’ licensing community that licensing is not an overnight success – licensing has been around for a while and the Muffin the Mule ride is a classic reminder of this.

If space allowed I would be tempted to bid for Muffin myself.


One of the stars of children’s TV today is The Gruffalo. Sainsbury’s have been a leading supporter of this publishing lead character and have developed some fantastic products over recent years most especially via TU.

This week I noticed that they have developed two knitwear products with The Gruffalo featuring on children’s jumpers – well timed for Christmas. Knitwear is one area of licensed apparel that is a tough one to break – Christmas jumpers aside – so it is good to see some licensed designs in the category and even more so that Tu, the licensor and licensee have added design value to their product with designs on the front and reverse of the jumpers.

A simple thing to do, but very effective and a good example of making sure that value has been added to a product through design.


Sticking with licensing based on publishing, I think Lagoon have done a great job with their Roald Dahl games and puzzles range. I know from working with Lagoon on Beano that they are a company that weighs up which licences they use carefully and then spend time thinking about the right ‘fit’ for a licence.

In the case of Dahl they have explored the storylines associated with the characters well, for example developing a Jump-Squiffling Giant Jigsaw and a Whopsy Word Game for The BFG. This attention to detail resonates well with fans and importantly gift purchasers who recognise the products as authentic.

Lagoon’s ranges appeal to a broad base of retailers across a range of retail sectors allowing them to maximise the potential of a licence.


It’s always good to see licensing being used in new ways by retailers. This week I noticed that Card Factory have a dedicated space in-store for humour cards – The Funny Side. Within this fixture they are selling a range of humour-based Christmas cards.

Licensed properties feature heavily in this mix including classic characters like Wallace & Gromit, but also tapping into comedy shows and comedians such as Only Fools And Horses and Tommy Cooper. Their selection reflects Christmas pop culture and family favourites. Card Factory have worked with Danilo to create this range. This is a good example of how an experienced licensee can help a retailer develop a bespoke range that fits into their store under a theme, hits the required price points and works as a collection.

The Card Factory branch I visited was extremely busy, which was encouraging, and it is good to see licensing playing a significant role in a specialist retailer.


Of course, licensing can work in lots of ways beyond bricks and mortar retail. Companies such as Danbury Mint, The Westminster Collection and Bradford Exchange use licensing in their direct selling mail order operations. Their advertising strategy includes off the page offers in newspapers.

Recently there have been a lot of offers around football clubs, but a character based offer caught my eye this week. The Bradford Exchange were offering a Mickey & Minnie Love Story handbag. Selling for £99.96 (interesting price) the design uses vintage pencil style artwork – this route to market allows Disney to reach new consumers, allows consumers to buy in a different way (payment can be split into four) and is a very visible showcase for their artwork.

For the licensee, licensed properties catch the eye in busy newspapers, but also allow them to segment and target the consumer market efficiently. For example, they will have databases sorted by consumers of football in general and specific football clubs. In many ways this is a hidden part of the licensing world, but is a really good example of how licensed properties can add value to a business.

I look forward to seeing the Millwall Champions League Victory watch on sale in 2020…


Finally, I am a great fan of street art and always love visiting places like Shoreditch to see what new art has been painted. It is always good to see characters being used by street artists. Brand owners may be concerned about this, but I think it is a badge of honour and also often a fresh way of looking at characters.

This week I saw a great street art work ‘Comics Parkour’ featuring Thor, Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man. It is worth a stroll around Shoreditch – great artwork to be seen and in Boxpark there are some great ‘pop up’ retailers to do some ‘comp shopping’ in.

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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