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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on new launches, partworks and World Book Day.

Rather like a licensing version of one of Pavlov’s dogs, my ears are tuned into the word ‘licensing’ – I jump at the mention of it, if not quite salivating at the mention. With this reaction in mind it has been a tough week for me, with the breaking news story about mistakes made in the policing of the BBC TV licensing operation. Multiple mentions of licensing to respond to, but sadly the wrong kind of licensing!

However, my acute hearing was eventually rewarded. I was listening to the radio and the word licensing was used in the context of a technology company licensing the rights to the ‘classic’ mobile phone, the Nokia 3310. Finnish company HMD Digital were reported to have licensed the rights to produce the phone that was discontinued 17 years ago. They see great potential in bringing back this model of phone which is apparently highly regarded and has a cult status amongst phone users.

This confirmed the fact that maybe I need to get out a bit more and find some new hobbies… but was a further reminder that licensing is a business tool that is used in different ways and has diverse applications. I think sometimes we undersell our industry and its application in business with too much focus on standard categories.

In this case, licensing these rights has given a start-up company access to a well known product and has allowed Nokia to realise some value from its archive assets without being distracted from the business agenda that occupies them today. They no longer produce phones apparently.

It will be interesting to see if this licensing deal goes on to be deemed a success, but I think it is a very interesting example of how the business of licensing is a rapidly developing one and one that has a skill set that can be applied in a range of businesses. It might also be time to dig out your old phone and start using it again. Celebrate the fact you have an original model and not one of those licensed ones!


I have mentioned World Book Day previously in the context of dress-up and what a boost this event has been to the licensed dress-up category. It was also encouraging to see how many licensed books are featuring in WH Smith’s promotion of the event.

Like many retailers WH Smith are really pushing the event and have prominent window displays in-store at the moment. Their advertising included licensed titles such as Peppa Pig, Pokemon and My Little Pony. Publishers are increasingly licensing friendly, both in terms of using licensing to create new book ranges, but also using licensing as a means of leveraging further value from their own IP.


Connected to this, I noticed that Eaglemoss – a leading partwork company – have launched a partwork series featuring My Little Pony. As well as featuring in prominent retail displays, the product has also been TV advertised. If you get to the starting line in the partwork stakes, a great brand boost comes from the TV support used – the partwork company uses TV to recruit starters to the collection. An attractive commodity for a rights holder.

One point that I thought was particularly interesting about this collection was that it is centred on colouring and activity – the collection includes colouring pencils and how-to techniques linked to creative art. I was surprised to see a collection like this without an obvious ‘on pack ‘ collectable such as mini figurines: maybe this is a sign that partwork companies have found that consumers (and in this case parents ) are looking for longer lasting value from collections like this. The acquisition of new skills and stimulating participation in a new hobby have a high perceived value.

Licensed characters provide ample content, create a marketing focus but perhaps importantly in this context deliver a credible role model – they are hero characters. This might be the first of a few more licensed partworks of this kind – fusing classic partwork subjects which are traditionally ‘make and do’ with strong characters rather than just using characters for partworks based solely on collectibles. The magazine content is as important as the collectable – providing lasting value and a collection that can’t be directly measured against the ‘cost’ of other comparable collectibles.


FMCG is a tough sector to succeed in for licensed properties not least because well established brands and brand owners protect retail space fiercely. Against this background it is always good to see a FMCG product that has shown some innovation and creativity surviving on shelf. Peppa Pig’s Strawberry Flavour Jelly single serve jelly pots by Heaven Made Foods of Holt falls into this category. The jelly comes in a Peppa-shaped pot that doubles up as a re-useable mould.

A simple idea in some ways, but a great use of a popular character and an innovative packaging idea. It is a good example of how a licensed character can provide a point of difference and provides a smaller manufacturer with some valuable ammunition to compete with bigger more established brand manufacturers.


Some exciting news for me this week was that Brand of Brothers have launched their Tango Frozen Ice products. These are in Orange and Cherry flavours. They have gone straight into distribution in major supermarkets. This is a great case study of playing the long game in licensing and the need to be patient.

This product range has taken a while to develop as all parties were keen to get things right and also they are launching into a fiercely competitive category. It is also a category that is limited in shelf space terms and retail listing occasions. While licensing is a catch all term, it is not a uniform business – one of the challenges that the industry needs to face up to is that rules, timings and deal making need to be adapted to reflect the differences in products, categories and industries.

It is always exciting to be involved in a new launch and it is also nice to have a product that I can show my mum ‘in retail’ in the hope that after 28 years of trying she might finally understand what I do. There goes a jelly Peppa Pig flying overhead!


Finally, thanks to Simon Gresswell for sharing the fact that he spotted Snoopy on a Hamptons International ‘Sale Agreed’ property board this week. The board features Snoopy lounging on his kennel – a classic character in a classic pose.

I think this is a legacy of a film promotion, but a reminder that a well chosen licence can help cut through the clutter in the most competitive of market sectors.

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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