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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes highlights some strong examples of museum licensing.

As an ex-resident of Waterloo I regard the Imperial War Museum as ‘my’ local museum – I used to visit it frequently and it became a bit of a playground for us. Hosting some family visitors from the United States this week we decided to pay a visit to IWM London as the museum is now referred to.

Like many museums, IWM London has had a transformation with re-modelled galleries, a new layout and a reconfiguration of the exhibits… although it is still protected by two large scale Naval guns – I guess they are a bit too heavy or iconic to shift.

The museum makes good use of new technology to enhance the visitor experience – one particular success I think is the use of light shows to add interest to the exhibition as you walk around with large scale projections of imagery on walls, cabinets and used to signpost key pieces of information. This step-change has followed through the IWM London’s retail activities with a range of retail outlets that stock a blend of ‘own brand’ goods, IWM licensed products and bought in products that include a smattering of licensed products. The shops reminded me that museums and galleries are an increasingly important part of the licensing mix and that they are also retailers that provide opportunities for licensees to sell products to well defined consumer groups.

IWM London has worked with Hemingway Design to create a design range based on the Spitfire aeroplane – this features on its own products such as t-shirts but is also available to licensees I believe. This approach to design is a good example of how museums are investing in design to further their reach in licensing.

The V&A has lead the way in this respect and a great flagbearer for the sector, but it is clear that museums are more tuned into licensing these designs and furthermore are starting to be more proactive about licensing.


A few examples of licensing at IWM London that caught my eye included a range of gift products from Lagoon Games including a Model Tank Kit – this sort of deal gives the museum access to a wider range of products for its own shops and allows them to trade up in quality terms, while Lagoon gets access to a licence that holds an appeal to a wider audience outside the museum but is also helps to underwrite production runs.

I am guessing licensees aren’t guaranteed distribution into the shops but being a licensee opens up a dialogue. Of course this dialogue might lead onto other discussions around other product ranges.


Another interesting licensed range in store at IWM was tinware from Half Moon Bay including ‘vintage’ PG Tips tins. Half Moon Bay has been very cute in recognising that its product range featuring archive packaging from FMCG brands will appeal to museum outlets – it is a licensed product range that I see quite frequently in this kind of distribution. Individual orders may not be huge but when scaled up over several outlets they start to be more significant.

This is a good example of a licensee going outside normal channels and creating viable distribution opportunities with licensed products. There is a good fit for the range in this sector.


Another example of licensing at IWM was a book from Haynes Publishing – Great War Tank. This book was produced in association with The Tank Museum and with the signature feature of the Haynes’ blueprints is I guess a ‘must buy’ in the category.

Haynes has been very good at forging links with museums and brands in the heritage category, recognising that these kind of partnerships or licences add authority to the books while opening up distribution channels beyond traditional book stores. The book will appeal to a range of museums and visitor attractions – the link with the Tank Museum is an asset rather than a barrier in this context.

Staying with visitor attractions which is how I think museums see themselves these days, I read in the London Standard paper that Madame Tussauds is opening an ‘immersive escape game’ experience based on the Alien movie franchise. Alien: Escape will allow visitors to try to ‘escape’ a spaceship and is reported to be a very authentic Alien movie experience. This is a really good example of how ‘experiential licensing’ is developing in the UK market and is opening up new opportunities for IP owners. These sort of deals are complex and will take a lot of time to develop but the rewards are high and they allow ‘franchise owners’ to extend the reach of the franchise in a new way particularly outside the cycle of movie releases.

As London is such an international city and is competitive in visitor attraction terms blockbuster franchises such as Alien have a real appeal to operators – a key here though is that the experience is as ‘authentic’ as it possibly can be. If you miss the mark it can be damaging for a brand.


On the subject of movies it has been good to see how licensees such as Topps and Centum Books have used the Despicable Me 3 licence. They have timed their retail runs to perfection and have invested in retail displays. I saw examples from both companies of dedicated FSDUs in retailers. They have recognised that sometimes you have to shout about a licensed range and shout at the right time. Retailers seem to hedge their bets these days even on the strongest of movies – off shelf retail such as FSDUs appeal to them as it gives them extra space to play with while not disturbing all year round product. In both cases with sticker collections and books impulse purchase is important as well – well designed and eye-catching FSDUs make impulse purchase more likely. I understand the film is doing well at the box office – both these licensees have given themselves the best possible chance of success by investing in the licence at retail.

Finally, best of luck to all those taking part in The Light Fund experience tonight – the Treasure Hunt – hope you enjoy it and that you don’t get lost in SE1. I am sure the A-Z maps will make sure that all attendees will be okay!

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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