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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a look at some blockbuster movie licensing this week.

Summer is here and that means a cavalcade of blockbuster movies. These movies in turn influence the licensing market. Summer movies are now a big part of the licensing year and licensees plan their years accordingly.

Two of the summer’s big movies are Cars 3 and Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Both of these films featured in strong displays in Sainsbury’s apparel this week. Both properties had end caps with well designed children’s apparel ranges showcasing some great design work – another good example of how companies have upped their game in design terms and the provision of assets. Both ranges made good use of repeat patterns and bold colours.

Apparel

There is a lot to be admired about the Disney licensing operation – timing being one of its key skills. Getting product on shelf at the optimum time is important. In the case of these ranges it seems that things have worked well – big movie releases, well secured shelf space, in-store promotion and product arriving in store on time. A key to future success is the popularity and pull of the movies – they have to motivate purchase.

I guess at this point licensees, licensor and retailers are hoping for good reviews and good box office numbers. That is one of the risks in movie licensing – will the film deliver? But in both these cases they are now multi-layered franchises and the latest movie is part of the marketing momentum around them. They have form. Conversely I wonder if there is a challenge in expectation terms – given its investment in these franchises, I suspect Disney’s ambitions are high. Licensees must get anxious at this point and hope that the appeal of the franchise is not lessening.

Promotional use of films also seems to be on the increase. Broadly speaking film promotions are used to help advertise the film and sit outside of the product licensing teams. Often deals are brokered by promotional specialists in film companies or external agencies. Access to the film is traded for on-pack presence. Partnerships with high profile brands can create new ways of communicating with consumers and are cost effective for film companies.

Subway

One example of a movie promotion I spotted this week was a tie in for Cars 3 with Subway. Consumers could collect four Cars 3 key launch racer toys. The promotion was visible in store and on restaurant doors via movie branded posters.

While I can see the benefits of these promotions in terms of raising awareness, I wonder if there is ever an optimum number of promotions for a movie. I wonder if the existence of promotions and in some cases ‘free’ products ever has a negative impact on licensed product sales. In a flat economy I wonder whether some consumers favour promotional products over paid for licensed products. I guess in categories like toys this may be more of an issue.

That said it may be that toy companies welcome the opportunity to create promotional products and the boost the promotion gives to a master toy programme. I believe there are a number of promotions for both Cars 3 and Spider-Man: Homecoming – I sense slightly more than for other movies. Maybe this also reflects a switch from product to promotion in some categories.

Weetabix

One promotional partner that has certainly made the most of its licensed promotion partnership is Weetabix. It is using Despicable Me 3 across a clutch of its brands. The result in store is literally a wall of product.

This shows a real belief in the film and faith in the partnership. I imagine it would have had early access to scripts and maybe saw finished clips of the movie (of course there is a prior history to look at as well). For a major brand like Weetabix to make such a strong commitment is encouraging for the future prospects of film promotions and licensing. If more brands are to be engaged with film promotions then I guess film companies will need to find ways of engaging them with creative materials earlier.

Brand plans seem to be set longer ahead these days and to get involved in them film companies need to share as early as possible. This is probably another reason franchise movies are more frequent these days – known quantities with a pedigree and track record which are easier to sell in advance.

KidsMix

Cinemas themselves can also become a home for licensing and promotions. In my local Odeon there is a Despicable Me 3 children’s meal promotion. The Kids Mix offer included a drink, popcorn, a treat plus a cup and topper. The toppers are all Despicable Me 3 characters. I guess an offer like this adds value to the cinema experience for children and reinforces their relationship with a favourite character.

Selling licensed products in cinema has always been a challenge, but a focused promotion like this works well as it is a simple offer, well put together and satisfies a need. I can imagine frequent young cinema goers look forward to collecting the latest drinks cup and toppers building a movie collection – a relatively low cost memento of an exciting visit to the cinema. A drinks cup also has lasting value as it can be used beyond the cinema visit so I guess for parents/adults it represents good value as it has a life beyond the cinema.

The latter point has some significance as I think parents are more likely to sense check the value of a licensed product these days – it helps if it has a practical element to it I think. Schoolbags and lunchbags are good examples of these – a necessary bit of kit but one that is still price sensitive but also has to pass the ‘how long will it last’ test to represent ongoing value.

Heston

As well as blockbuster movies, summer is also time for blockbuster barbecues. With this thought in mind I noticed that chef Heston Blumenthal has a range of very stylish barbecues including a high-end range at around £1,200 through to a very practical portable barbecue priced around £120. Heston’s reputation as a cutting edge ‘technical’ chef seems to fit well with this kind of product and I can imagine this being a popular range.

The licensee has made the most of the licence with in-store displays featuring Heston – using a brand or personality beyond the product box is important. This seems like a very authentic partnership and via POS/POP material Heston is really involved in selling it.

All they need now is the sun to shine and people to leave the cinema for a bit.

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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