The Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes some tips from other business sectors this week.

Sometimes it is sensible to look outside licensing to see what other business sectors are up to and what we might be able to learn. From Licensing Lookout to Licensing Magpie.

With this approach in mind, Kinder Surprise Eggs caught my eye this week. I am not in the target market nor a consumer, but I was very impressed by its pop up retail space in John Lewis’ Oxford Street branch. The focus of the activity was personalisation. You could buy a personalised Kinder Surprise Egg via an in-store Personalisation Station. This follows on from other FMCG brands like Marmite and Nutella offering personalised products.


Online personalisation is a growth area in licensing lead by companies like Moonpig, Signature Gifts, PMC and Funky Pigeon. But the Kinder activation takes things to a new level and could be an interesting template for licensing. I know some licensed brands have been involved in personalisation at retail such as Mr Men.

In the run up to Christmas one can imagine licensed brands working with retailers to create focused areas in retail offering personalised options aligned to popular brands. Such activity achieves cut through and stand out plus allows products to be sold at a higher margin. Generally it is also a positive consumer experience.

As noted in previous Lookouts ‘collabs’ are in vogue at the moment.

Maybe this is a technique used a little too frequently and their impact may not be as strong because of this. But, again, a quick look outside the conventional licensing channels gave me encouragement that there can be another dimension to collabs.

A good, well thought though partnership can be very effective and can bring fresh impetus to a licensing programme.


This week I spotted a collab that caught the eye because it was really making a difference. Kiehl’s – an upscale cosmetics brand – has partnered with Hollywood star Matthew McConnaghy to create a special edition design for its signature face cream. At first glance not a natural match up, but nevertheless it worked as the jar design was original and distinctive. The presence of a top drawer Hollywood star certainly generated interest and was used well in-store and outside of store to engage consumers.

However, the really striking thing about this partnership was that the focal point of the collab was to draw attention to an important cause. The cause at the core of the promotion is autism and specifically a campaign Autism Speaks.

In-store Kiehl’s had included a message about autism and other campaign material. I thought this was a really good example of cause-related marketing and a reminder in a licensing context that popular brands can do good and be very motivational for consumers.

Perhaps a new dimension to collabs could be ones with more of a pro social aspect to them. Some collabs seem quite transitory – perhaps a charitable dimension could make them more long-term and create more consumer traction.


I have seen classic character Miffy product in the gift shop at Tate Modern before, but it seems that this activity has grown. This week I noticed a dedicated space and signage for Miffy in the Tate gift shop lined to creator Dick Bruna. Product included Hype greetings cards, enamel mugs and some lovely knitted plush.

It is encouraging to see licensing playing a role in such a prestigious retail location. This kind of presence is beneficial to Licensing PLC as it is a great showcase for product, characters and how they can be used to create good quality products that are suited to a broad base of retailers. Hopefully it makes retailers and manufacturers look at licensing differently.


On a more personal note, it is still satisfying to see one of ‘your’ products make it into retail – this week I saw H&A’s Kendra Dandy Bouffants and Brokenhearts make up range in Sainsbury’s Christmas gifting space. The product really suits the licence well and H&A has used the original artwork from Kendra in a very creative way.

Even after 25 years of licensing it is difficult to beat the moment you see a deal come to fruition and end up with a great range of products at retail.


Finally, I returned to the streets this week on the hunt for street art. The area around London’s Brick Lane is fertile ground.

Tintin and his dog Snowy made an appearance this week. A street artist had interpreted these classic characters in a fresh way creating a memorable bit of street art and maybe a new theme for the next style guide. You have to catch these things quickly. I was there two weeks ago and a lot of art I saw then has now been painted over.

I would recommend a visit… it is also part of London with some interesting retailers, pop ups and even a collab or two.

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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