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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds strong examples across apparel, food, partworks and, erm, pub signs this week.

Listening to the business news on the TV this week it would be easy to think the only business news is retailer news – BBC Breakfast in particular seems very keen on retail analysis. This week each morning more reports have come in of retailer’s Christmas results. At the moment my impression is that it has been a reasonably good Christmas for retailers.

Specifically in licensing terms, people I have spoken from different sides of the ‘licensing triangle’ seem quite positive about sales at Christmas, but I think we have to acknowledge that licensing is definitely a glass half full business. We tend to look towards the positive so it will be interesting to get more insight from colleagues over the next few weeks as harder sales data becomes available.

Licensing PLC seems to be a bit like BBC Breakfast – big fans of retail and retailers. More and more time is spent by licensors and agents influencing retail buy in. With this background it is always good to see proactive examples of rights holders taking a different approach to retailing.


One of the best examples of thematic retailing in the market is the Harry Potter Shop at King’s Cross. I travelled into King’s Cross earlier this week and arrived very near Platform 9 and three quarters. There is a dedicated Harry Potter shop and a photo opportunity on the station. The shop was busy, well stocked and seemed to be doing good business. I think it blends licensee-supplied product with retail exclusives. There is a good range of product at different price points: a great showcase for the property, but also for licensing in general terms.

It is also a reminder of the changing face of train stations – most of the major London stations have been refurbished recently and have more retail space in them, creating shopping on the go and while ‘dwelling’ opportunities. I think this will create further opportunities for pop up retailing and themed outlets based on popular licences.


As reported earlier this week on The Source, Halifax have continued their advertising and promotional link with Hanna-Barbera and have deployed Scooby-Doo in-store this week and are using Scooby Doo for TV commercials as well.  This is the third set of characters they have used in a series of promotional activities. I believe one key reason for using the characters is to show that Halifax is open for business with different and diverse customers – they cater for all needs. Clearly using such well known and popular characters also create a feelgood factor and encourage ‘brandchat’ around the watercooler. Again I think this is a good case study for licensing and provides a good showcase for how characters can be used in promotions. I am not a Halifax customer, but would be good to know how the characters are used in customer communications. Could be a good opportunity to help build further customer engagement and loyalty. Think of the success of the NatWest Pigs.

When you reach my age in licensing years, it can get a bit confusing and your memory fades a bit. So I can’t remember if Wacky Races has ever been used to promote car insurance – if it hasn’t would seem like a natural, if it has please forgive me and put it down to my ‘licensing years’. And what about Gnasher for pet dog insurance? Licensing has some fantastic, enduringly popular characters – there must be further scope for brands to use these characters in creative campaigns in a planned way, taking the Halifax approach.


I mentioned a Transformers partwork last week. This week I noticed another partwork: Build Your Own R2 -D2. This kit allows you to build a remote control droid. Partwork companies have to show the total price for a collection on their advertising these days. To complete this collection the total price would be over £900. As they say in South London that is a bit trumpy… especially if you compare it to an off the shelf purchase of a similar ready to use toy.

That is a fair point and I think licensee/licensor need to be mindful of the cost and pricing – this is an issue across the licensing sector I think. That said I do think it has to be acknowledged that the consumer motivation for buying a partwork and collecting is different, and one of the appeals of a collection is the fact it is a ‘collection’ and the fact that it can help them develop an instant hobby.

So while I am sympathetic to the point about cost and pricing, I think there has to be some acknowledgement of the benefits in a partwork beyond the product itself – there is a pleasure in collecting. This is partly the reason that Panini and Topps have enjoyed so much success with sticker collections.


In the apparel market this week I really liked a Star Wars bomber jacket by Fabric Flavours I saw in Ely’s department store. Targeting children the bomber jacket offered an ‘on trend’ design featuring embroidery Star Wars patches. I can imagine for a 8 or 9 year old this would become a star edition to their wardrobe. Well done to Fabric Flavours for pushing the design on this one.

Sticking with fashion and in my own world it was very exciting to see the public launch of Stella McCartney’s collection featuring characters from The Dandy. This is a partnership that has been built around a love and appreciation of the characters – it has a foundation based on a genuine bond between the designer and characters. It is, of course, early days but the reaction to the collection has been very good – hopefully it will become another good news story for Licensing PLC.


Also great to see NPD in the food category featuring brand and character licensing. Levi Roots brand has moved into Coat’n’Cook Sauces in pouches with Jerk, Smokey BBQ and Ginger Beer flavoured marinades, while Heinz have Peppa Pig and Minions Wholewheat Pasta Shapes.

Not sure when these ranges launched, but I think what they both show is that there is great scope for licensing in the food category, but sometimes you have to take a longer term view and also be aware of market trends.

Licensing needs to be deployed alongside sector developments: it is good to be aware of what is happening now and in the near future in terms of consumer dynamics.


Finally, how do you know when you have made it as a character? I guess if you are a pig it is when you feature on a pub’s blackboard. I spotted a very well drawn Peppa Pig on the The Curious Pig’s chalkboard this week – Peppa can now rest easy!

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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