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The Licensing Lookout

Famous characters really are part of pop culture, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes discovers.

Touchdown Tu!

No, not a new running back in the NFL, rather that I caught sight of an interesting new development from Tu Clothing in Sainsbury’s. It has launched a range of league and club t-shirts licensed from the NFL – the governing body of American Football. The range includes a number of t-shirt designs featuring the NFL logo and a collection of designs based on NFL teams.

This is a really good example of a retailer seeking out new opportunities to use licensing and tuning into market trends. The NFL is growing in popularity in the UK, as witnessed by the success of the series of League matches played at Wembley Stadium. The NFL travels over to the UK to play league matches and has built up a strong following in the UK. The t-shirt range is tapping into this growing market offering casual wear t-shirts at affordable prices to complement team uniform shirts and other official merchandise available online and through more specialist retailers.


NFL seems to have found a strong following among young adults and has cleverly developed this in the UK with the Wembley matches becoming the centre point of a range of promotional events and PR activities.

Tu has recognised this trend well and has created a range to appeal to fans but also developed a range that non-fans will buy into based on the Americana appeal of the NFL and the featured teams. This is in part a sports licensing and in part a lifestyle licence, but it also a sure sign that Tu/Sainsbury’s have their finger on the pulse of popular culture.

It is also something British sports federations and leagues need to be mindful of – the growth of NFL is in part fired up by young fans switching from other sports partly because of the marketing appeal of NFL. The NFL also seems to embrace licensing as a communication platform and this deal helps put them into the fast fashion mix in a focused way.


Another licensing trend that I have noticed recently is more activity from magazine brands in lifestyle licensing. I had some assistance with Lookout duties this week and am grateful to Tim Collins – aka The Brand Director – for alerting me to a range of ‘deep and luxurious’ carpets from House Beautiful he spotted in Carpetright. I guess for Carpetright this is a way of tapping into a specific target market and to develop some focused PR, while for House Beautiful it is a new marketing platform coupled with a new revenue stream.

Times are tougher for consumer publishers as media habits change and advertising budgets are squeezed, so licensing and brand partnerships offer an alternative revenue stream and a new integrated way to work with advertisers. The publisher will have to balance the value of a deal of this kind versus the risk of alienating other carpet retailers and manufacturers.


Another example of this trend is a range of Elle magazine eyeglass frames. I spotted these in my local opticians and it is a further example of a magazine brand morphing into a lifestyle brand. This makes sense as magazine publishers know their readership and are able to deliver a lot of insight into their lifestyle which will be useful to retailers and manufacturers.

A challenge will always be the absolute numbers of loyal readers – is the universe big enough to justify a licensing deal, but it is certainly a sector of licensing that I expect to see more activity in as publishers seek new and innovative ways to extend their commercial reach.


It is always good to see agents and licensors deliver on a design promise. Late last year I was invited to an IMG presentation of the Volkswagen/VW licensing programme and part of it was the ‘reveal’ of a new design direction. This week I visited the excellent Museum of Transport in Coventry (a good reason to be sent to Coventry) and they had a full range of VW giftware and ceramics from Elgate that featured the design style I saw at the presentation.

It shows that it is worthwhile investing in and refreshing design especially in fast moving licensing categories such as gifting, apparel and accessories. This was also another good reminder that worthwhile retail opportunities can be found in the museum sector particularly when product and design match up with a museum’s content.


Being flexible and focused are two good mantras for licensing agents and licensors to keep in mind these days. A good way to win business is to be prepared to provide bespoke solutions for partners and to build partnerships based on mutually beneficial objectives.

One of our clients – Aardman – has demonstrated this with a promotional partnership with restaurant chain Las Iguanas. It has worked with Las Iguanas to create a specific set of characters that are being used for the restaurant’s children’s menu offer. Diners can collect six limited edition toys – Iggy and his Friends – with Las Iguanas promoting this in-store and on posters accompanied by the message that the characters were created by Aardman.

This is a good example of a licensing friendly company that has used its in-house creative team to provide a bespoke solution for a client. This is not a technique in everyone’s gift, but I think more licensing deals will need to be developed that are bespoke in nature as licensing may need to adapt to fit into a new era of communication, advertising and marketing. Flexibility will be a valuable attribute going forward I think.


Finally, I reported the Iron Man street art I spotted in Waterloo recently. Well there seems to be a trend developing – I was in Bristol last week, a great city for street art, and I spotted a number of street art versions of well known characters. These included The Simpsons, Hulk and Dennis the Menace. I spotted Dennis the Menace from 300 yards ‘seeing’ his signature hair first – all those years of looking at Beano products has paid off!

Meanwhile back in London’s Leake Street I noticed Popeye, The Simpsons and Knuckles from Sonic (I think) had popped up on the tunnel walls this week. They make quite a gallery. Famous characters really are part of pop culture!


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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