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The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a trip up to Birmingham for Autumn Fair this week.

I confined my looking out to the NEC at Birmingham this week as I attended the Autumn Fair for two days. The autumn show is smaller and more compact than the spring version but is still quite a substantial show across five halls at the NEC.

Licensing and licensed products feature throughout the show with a mix of exhibitors including companies like Pyramid and Half Moon Bay which seem to rely 100% on licences for their product ranges through to others which carry just one licensed range; of course the vast majority of exhibitors do not use or feature licensed products. In some ways this is reason enough to attend as many of these companies represent new business opportunities.

Some of the show highlights and trends for me in licensing terms were:

Environmentally friendly

I was encouraged to see a big player like Enesco showing its eco friendly Peter Rabbit dining range. The plate, cup and cutlery sets are made from bamboo and are packed in recycled craft card. As society is more aware about the environment and at local authority level more efforts are made to encourage us to think about recycling, it is good to see a major gift company offering an eco friendly range as part of its licensed offering.


Show business

As mentioned before, David Cardwell one of the founders of Copyright Promotions told me once that licensing is a show business – with this mantra in mind it was good to see a new licensee Ancestors Group really embrace licensing.

Aardman has recently licensed it to develop gift and souvenir ranges for Wallace & Gromit and Early Man. Ancestors dedicated a section of the stand to the range and created a Wallace & Gromit room scene complete with sofa. To steal a Bake Off catchphrase, this proved to be a showstopper – visitors stopped to admire it and take photos. Ancestors found it an ice breaker and a way of engaging with visitors.

I thought this was a really good use of licensing both in product terms, but also using it as a sales tool at a trade show – Ancestors product is Made in Britain and working with a British studio like Aardman helps it reinforce that point. The stand graphics and display made sure that message got across to customers.


The value of classics

Sometimes licensing can be obsessed with the new but increasingly it is clear that there is a real value in classic brands. These brands may not always grab the headlines but they provide licensees with long-term business and the ability to create ranges that are sustainable. A really good example of this was Disaster Designs/House of Disaster’s Moomins Collection.

The range was well presented and a core part of the offer. I believe it has held the licence for a while and I imagine it, the agent and the rights holder take a long-term view to the partnership. Having this security of tenure allows a licensee to invest in a brand with confidence and builds a real partnership. Classic brands are perfect for this long-term outlook. I expect classic brands to become more important in the coming years as licensees become more focused and look to integrate licensing into their corporate development strategies.

One particular highlight of the Moomins Collection was the Moomins lighting range – a simple but effective product and a great use of the iconic Moomin shape. A further example of this was a gifting range from Pyramid using the Friends licence – the range naturally included coffee cups. Friends has a well established fan base and is still on TV frequently. A good example of a brand that has commercial value but is under the radar.



A category that seems to be growing in general and licensing terms is personalisation. Autumn Fair saw licensee Personalised Memento Company launch a new range of Rachael Hale personalised products. We have worked on this range with them. Personalisation is a targeted marketing tool and in the case of Rachael Hale PMC has selected photographs with specific consumer groups in mind – for example focusing on pugs – one of the most popular dog breeds of the moment. Personalisation can provide new opportunities for licensing especially with a consumer centric approach. That said it has to be integrated with other licensing activity – I think it works best when there is genuinely something ‘new’ on offer or the personalised products are filling a gap in the market.

It also provides an opportunity for rights holders to offer premium versions of standard products – Signature Gifts had a couple of examples of this on its stand. One being the personalised version of this year’s Beano Annual – a real chance for consumers to trade up and a product that will not undermine the core product. A further example was a range of Peter Rabbit personalised plush products including booties. Sourced from plush licensee Rainbow Designs, Signature Gifts offers consumers the opportunity to personalise standard products – this makes perfect sense and instantly creates a premium range.


NPD and fresh thinking

Often licensing campaigns can run out of steam because there is a lack of creativity, original thinking or fresh design. Sometimes brands can be over licensed. In this context it is good to see licensees (and licensors) showing some fresh thinking and using licenses in original ways. Games and puzzle licensee Lagoon Games has developed a range of puzzles and books using the Rubik’s Cube and Professor Rubik’s licence. Good example of developing a focused range that uses the licensed brand heritage and themes really well. It shows that it is worth considering alternative licensing opportunities.

Licensee Bladez – an expert in flying toys – was showcasing a product featuring Mattel’s Hot Wheels licence. This seemed to be a really good example of a licensing partnership – Mattel is accessing expertise from a licensee that it does not currently have ‘in house’ and Bladez is accessing a well established toy brand that it can apply its NPD skills to.

My sense of this product was that it has been developed with input from both sides to make sure that the end product is the best it possibly can be – a simple illustration of this is that the car part of the Bladez product is fully compatible with the Hot Wheels track. Seems obvious but sometimes these simple details can be overlooked and some of the value of a brand can be lost.

I took part in BLE’s Retail Mentoring event last week. I think Brand Licensing Europe should be applauded for the efforts in showcasing licensing to a new generation of retail buyers and helping to build their understanding of licensing. I presented the story of  how we developed a range of Tango Ice Lollies.

I presented with Brand of Brothers, the licensee. While my part of the presentation was a little dull being fact based, Brand of Brothers saved the day by bringing tasting samples of the product. It was great to see around 40 retail buyers enjoying a Tango ice lolly on a Friday afternoon and hopefully in a small way this showed the buyers that licensing comes in all ‘shapes and sizes’.

It underpinned the point that the product should always be at the heart of a licensing deal.

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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