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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes gets his walking shoes on for a trip to Spring Fair this week.

I have just got back from a very hectic three days at the NEC attending Spring Fair. It is a big show, with gifts in all shapes and sizes stretched over 20 halls. It is great for the business of licensing, but also fitness – I took over 40 000 steps in three days! A future Light Fund event beckons I think…

Licensing features in most categories at the show and there is an eclectic mix of licences. Companies are using licences sourced from a range of suppliers and it is a show where you can spot some original examples of licensing. It is also, as you would expect, a show that manufacturers chose to launch new products – it is a good opportunity to spot NPD and creative use of licensing. Dare I say innovation. I am buying a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus this weekend to find some new words for innovation…

Scarlet

My show highlights included Big Chief Studios’ use of the Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet licences to create a stunning range of collectable figurines. The company and its creative team have a track record in model-making and have applied these skills to well chosen licences that have established fan bases and collector markets.

The figurines that Big Chief have developed are extremely detailed and would stand scrutiny from the most demanding of fans. Products like these reflect the growing opportunity that exists for some rights holders to develop licensed products for older fans who have more disposable income to invest in higher spec limited edition products. But it is not an audience to underestimate: they take their fandom seriously and are only interested in products that respect the heritage of a brand and have integrity.

Big Chief Studios seem to understand this and have really worked hard to produce the best products they can. They also seem to respect the ‘rules’ of licensing with disclaimers about final approvals awaited: a small point but a real sign that a company ‘gets licensing’ and understands how it works. Online selling, conventions and fan events help licensees in this category reach fans, but I think more mainstream retailers should be looking into this sector as many of their customers are fans who would buy into high-end products.

Test 3

Lagoon Games have made great use of the Plasticine licence. They have licensed the brand and the model-making compound to create a range of small format gift kits which include Plasticine and are packed in colourful boxes with ideas of what to make from the compound. They have also developed some new Beano kits with plasticine including an Animation Kit.

This is a really good use of a classic ‘toy’ which taps into the trend for creative product. For Plasticine, it has opened up a whole new route to market coupled with a product range that will appeal to adult consumers. A very clever bit of licensing and also a great example of a different type of licensing using a brand coupled with product sourcing. It is an elegant solution for a licensee looking to innovate in a competitive category.

Speed to market is increasingly important in licensing. In my own work I saw this in action at Spring Fair, with licensee My Gifts Trade launching a gifting range sourced from the Land of Lost Content. This is an archive and resource containing popular culture material. Just before Christmas, the British Music Experience – a new visitor attraction in Liverpool – approached the Land of Lost Content and its owner Wayne Hemingway who we represent; they wanted to create a range of vintage style music related gifts for their gift shop. Time was of the essence as the shop and exhibition space are due to open in March this year. They needed to find a supplier who could create, develop and deliver a range in this timeframe. We managed to do a deal with My Gifts Trade and they were able to turn the product range round rapidly. It helped that they produce product in the UK and that Hemingway Design were able to help design (and approve) the range.

What started out as an opportunity for one retail outlet is now going much wider. For me, this is a great example of the importance of those in licensing being alert to moving quickly and the fact that Made in Britain products can add a new dimension to licensing. In a competitive market, offering new ways of designing and sourcing products can give licensing a competitive edge.

Cheesy

It was good to see some novel NPD in the greetings card aisles. I thought Danilo’s new style gift bags featuring characters like PAW Patrol and Minions were good. The bags come with a greeting card affixed to them making the card and gift combination easier. The bags have been well designed so the space for the card is integrated into the design and doesn’t detract from the character image. A good example of designers thinking about licensed products and how best to use character artwork.

Danilo has also developed a Wallace & Gromit card in ‘cheese’ shape complete with holes accompanied with the copyline ‘Another Cheesy Birthday Card’. This shows that you can push the boundaries in product development terms and that licensed products work at their best when the ‘personality’ of the licence is used to inform product development.

Velcro

It was also good to see that card companies are casting the net increasingly wider to source material for their cards. With this in mind, I thought Woodmansterne’s deal with the king of the one liners Tim Vine was clever. He is a comedian that seems tailor-made for greetings cards. His one liners translate well to cards and have an instant impact at retail. My favourite was Velcro – What a Rip Off.

Danilo have had great success with Tommy Cooper cards so maybe there is room for a few more card ranges developed with comedians.

Price

I was surprised to see the popular Minions character featuring on the Arthur Price stand – not a company that I immediately associate with using a mass market character, but I guess this is a sign that suppliers have recognised that licensing can help them reach different parts of the retail market and also give them another string to their retail bow. Their range was prominently displayed and included cutlery, plates and bowls.

Using a popular children’s licence opens up gifting opportunities and is also a means of creating loyalty for their brand with new consumers. I think it is a smart move by Arthur Price. It will be interesting to see how it performs at retail and how it fares alongside other Minions products.

FFairies

Other licensed ranges that caught my eye included Enesco’s Flower Fairies collectables and ceramics range – lovely product with a new twist on a classic character beautifully presented.

GB Eye seem to have found a winning formula in using manga and anime properties – they have found that there is a strong consumer audience for these genres and they have developed some well designed ranges with brands such as Naruto. This is a good example of recognising that it is worth looking at what consumers are consuming media-wise and then building ranges that reflect this. This type of property may not feature on ‘mainstream’ TV, but it has a loyal following who want to buy good quality products featuring their favourite brands.

Treadstone

I also thought that the gardening ranges featuring Peter Rabbit and Laura Ashley developed by Treadstone were impressive, not least because they were presented in retail ready displays. I can imagine retail buyers seeing these ranges displayed on retail units being more inclined to list them as Treadstone had presented their products in a very smart easy to use way.

I think more exhibitors should think about using their stands to create ‘real’ retail displays featuring their products and think about retail space issues – an increasing issue for retailers.

PotterFSDU

In the same vein, Half Moon Bay presented a Harry Potter range in a retail ready FSDU – it was very effective and I would imagine a retail buyer finds it easier to buy in this way particularly when one supplier has a diverse range of products available to buy in a one shop way.

I also liked the design style Half Moon Bay were using for Harry Potter; they had created a distressed vintage style – tapping into the vintage trend but also recognising that some Harry Potter fans are a little older now and may respond better to this vintage styling.

All in all a good show for me and licensing I think – plenty of NPD, plenty of innovation  and plenty of steps!

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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