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The Licensing Lookout

Ian Downes takes a look at the Christmas staples of advent calendars, annuals and jumpers.

As the esteemed editor of LicensingSource mentioned to me at The Light Fund quiz, it is easier being a Licensing Lookout at this time of year because there is so much licensing activity in store at the moment.

I suspect many companies are very grateful for the rising popularity in Christmas jumpers – the best one I have seen so far is a Miffy jumper on Truffleshuffle’s website. It’s a shame Val Doonican is not around to see the upswing in sales for a product he promoted on his own for many years ( younger readers may need to Google Val).

It is a bumper time for licensing and as noted before rights owners and agents have got better at maximising the seasonal opportunity by introducing bespoke style guides.


Whilst there are some ‘new’ Christmas products such as jumpers there are a number of categories that are firmly established as Christmas favourites.

One of these is Chocolate Advent Calendars. It is a licensing category that is dominated by Kinnerton and Bon Bon Buddies. They have faced increasingly stiff competition from brands such as Nestle and Cadbury’s who dominate shelf space with their own powerhouse brands.

In response to this the licensee companies seem to have reacted by seeking out new distribution opportunities and ways of displaying their products. A very good example of this is Kinnerton’s FSDU in Iceland. It houses Star Wars, Frozen, Thomas the Tank Engine and Peppa Pig product. It looks good in-store and with the product priced at £1 is tapping into impulse purchase.

I guess a further challenge for the licensees is trying to maintain their price point – at £1 this is now a volume category and will need strong sell through. However, it is good to see companies like Kinnerton offering retailers new ways of featuring licensed products.


Whilst talking about licensed confectionery at Christmas it would be remiss not to mention the fantastic Thornton’s range of The Snowman and The Snowdog products.

This range encompasses a number of formats and price points creating opportunities in a variety of retailers. This range has been developed over a number of years and is a good example of a long-term partnership working well, particularly in NPD terms.

Another specific product that is unique to Christmas are annuals. These are hardback books generally focused on a single character. This category is dominated by companies such as Centum, Pedigree, DC Thomson and Egmont.

Traditionally, annuals were made up of the ‘best of’ that year’s comics, but as the impact of licensing has grown in the comic and magazine sector annuals are now specifically developed each year with bespoke material, annuals are sold in a variety of retailers including supermarkets and are increasingly positioned as gifts.

Generally aimed at children, licensed product features prominently in ranges. The publishers use FSDUs, dedicated space and there is a move to add value to annuals with inclusions such as toys. However, rather like the advent calendar market, price is now a key factor in this market with lots of special offers running across ranges including buy two annuals and get one of them for a £1.

I guess for the publishers it is a trade off between securing space and retail presence versus protecting their margin, but it must be tough to stay on the right side of things at £1.


But for licensors being part of the annual market is a very welcome part of a licensing programme, not least in the way to an annual reaches fans – it is still a much prized present.

Indeed The Beano Annual, which is published by the owners DC Thomson directly, is always a strong contender for the number one slot trading off the great tradition of families buying The Beano Annual as a present. This reinforces why the annual sector is a good one for licensed characters to be in, but also underlines why the product offering needs to be considered and strong from an editorial point of view.

Consumers may be seeking value, but they are also looking for quality and a product that represents lasting value. A place in family tradition needs to be earned.

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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