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The Licensing Lookout

It’s an apparel focus for Start Licensing’s Ian Downes this week – for adults, children and, erm, dogs.

Arguably one of the key requirements for any licensing programme these days is a commitment to refreshing and updating design – this is especially true in categories like apparel.

Licensing, particularly in the entertainment category, places heavy demands on design and categories like apparel require constant refreshment. This applies to other licensing categories such as brand licensing as well – arguably a brand like Coca Cola does so well in apparel because of an ongoing commitment to design updates with an eye on wider market trends.

Many brands under invest in design to their detriment. Our client Rachael Hale recently commissioned two new style guides from Dot Dash Design – their reward for this investment is to see these design guides inspire a range of new products with licensees across the globe using the new style guides. Design is a wise investment for licensors.


With this thought about design in mind it was encouraging to see Tu/Sainsbury’s featuring a good selection and mix of licensed apparel this week. And not just the usual suspects (licensed brands that is, not the film).

Highlights included a Ford motorcar brand t-shirt for men – not the most adventurous example of design as the shirt featured a simple logo, but a good example of an appropriate licence slotting into an overarching theme at retail.

Tu seems to be tapping into a trend for motorsports and automobilia with a range of in-house designs. Using Ford adds brand recognition and gravitas to this offer. If this works I am sure we will see some more adventurous Ford-inspired design come into play – that said sometimes when dealing with iconic brands like Ford a simple approach is best and most effective.


My Little Pony seems to be performing well in areas like apparel – Tu featured some childrenswear. My Little Pony is a good example of a brand that can work across both adult and hildren’s categories. This is a strength, but also adds more pressure from a design point of view – more design work is needed to supply both audiences. Thought also needs to be given to keeping the ranges distinct. What might suit children may not suit adults and vice versa. This includes design elements, but also things like slogans and phrases.

Other character brands featuring in Tu at the moment included Batman – nice use of an iconic character brand to create a towelling robe that resembles Batman’s costume – and Teenage Mutant Turtles pyjamas that resemble a Turtles uniform and come with added value Turtle masks. It is good to see suppliers and retailers really investing in NPD and getting the most from a licence in design terms. Nightwear and bathrobes can have a role-play value – this kind of development has given consumers new reasons to buy and also opened up gifting opportunities.

It is also great to see so many licensed characters featuring in World Book Day costume ranges at the moment. This is both at ‘physical ‘ retail and online. This is a really exciting and developing opportunity for licensing. It has helped a lot of publishing-based characters gain a role and foothold in licensing. It is a natural fit for a lot of characters, particularly classic ones.


In my own work we have experienced great success with Dennis the Menace via licensee Rubie’s. We have worked with them to create a portfolio of different costumes to engage the retail market as broadly as possible. Dennis the Menace is tailor made for World Book Day and a great example of why licensing can make a difference and add value.

A key point here is the distinct visual identity that characters like Dennis the Menace possess, giving them an advantage over generic characters. They can’t be replicated generically. World Book Day is a great case study for licensing and how expert companies like Rubie’s have nurtured the opportunity.

Suppliers such as Rubie’s have helped to grow it as a retail and licensing opportunity, while respecting the ethos behind the event. It would have been easy to see World Book Day as a short-term opportunity.


Licensing is definitely getting better at making the most of retail events. I popped into my local M&S this week and saw that their Easter Egg range is in stock.

It included four really high quality licensed products: Trolls, Frozen, Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Wars. Each of the ‘eggs’ weren’t actually eggs, they were high detailed chocolate models or figures. The attention to detail in the product was fantastic and a match for any high-end chocolatier. M&S and their supplier had really invested in product development and traded up.

With four licences on offer, the on-shelf presence was good and a new category had been created. This is a good example of a retailer backing their judgement and understanding that it is important to offer a range that is interesting, provides a genuine choice, but also shows creativity in the use of a licence. I am sure each of the licensors whose brands are featuring in this range will be citing these as ‘stand out’ products.


I was also impressed by Clinton’s use of Disney’s Tsum Tsum. They are currently running a window poster campaign promoting a Tsum Tsum collector scheme – buy nine and get your tenth one free – and in true coffee shop style there is a Tsum Tsum loyalty card. This shows how product, collecting and licensing can be forged together to create consumer interest and engender retail loyalty.


Finally, and returning to Rubie’s, one of the highlights of Spring Fair for me was Rubie’s Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine dress up kit… for dogs.

I have saved the picture on my phone of the product and will be using it from now on as the answer to the question that I am often asked “Well Ian, what exactly do you do?”

I think this one photo answers that question very elegantly.

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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