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The Licensing Lookout: best of 2016

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes picks some highlights from his licence spotting year.

I have been ‘Looking Out’ for LicensingSource for some time now. My outlook is to try to spot interesting, new, different and innovative uses of licensing. Many people say to me that I must spend 24 hours a day in shops – they are wrong, it is only 23 hours!

I have picked out a few highlights from my licence spotting year:


I thought that the Jean-Paul Gaultier perfume range featuring Popeye and Betty Boop was first class. A really good example of a ‘collab’ that was engaging, fresh and news worthy. The product looked great at retail. I bought the Popeye product and it also smelt great – and it wasn’t Essence de Spinach as some wags suggested. A key point here is that the product experience matched the in-store theatre and the packaging.


Another ‘collab’ that put a smile on my face and product into retail was the partnership between Mr Men Little Miss and Transport for London. With public information posters using the characters in a very creative and amusing fashion awareness of the characters was heightened and, cleverly, this was leveraged to create a range of travel and stationery products in Paperchase which featured the characters and the London Underground. A real example of cause and effect in collaboration terms.


More recently, I thought the Match of the Day ‘grass’ wash bag was a real high spot in innovation terms. It was a shame it was discounted by the retailer in the last week of November before it had a chance to sell on its merits. In my view a wasted opportunity to trade on the strength of the license and an innovative product.


In my own world it was a big year for Beano. With a new design and an online launch Beano has changed gear and future proofed itself. This is probably something other brands are thinking of – reacting to a shift in consumer behaviour and the media map. Early signs are encouraging as Beano looks set to be the number one annual again this year and licensees such as Lagoon are developing products using the new style guide. A good example of licensing being integrated into a brand’s activity.


Another outstanding collaboration for me this year was the link between the V&A and Oasis the retailer. The V&A is a real trendsetter and market leader in the heritage licensing sector. A reminder that licensing comes in many different forms and that licensees should cast their net a little further to break out from the more crowded entertainment licensing sector. I think V&A’s considered approach to licensing and partnerships really pays off.


In brand licensing, the Volkswagen campaign has really caught my eye particularly with their brand developments in areas such as toasters, fridges and kettles. The brand owner and IMG the agency have recognised the iconic value of the VW Camper Van shape, colour and form – translating this into small electrical goods was a smart bit of thinking and has been rewarded with some fantastic product.


My work with Aardman reminded me of the great potential for licensing in the leisure and theme park sectors. There is a dedicated Wallace & Gromit ride at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, a reminder of the creative and marketing potential that classic licences offer theme parks. They can really create a unique and original offer that differentiates themselves from the competition. I was really impressed by the attention to detail in the Wallace and Gromit ride. I was also impressed by the fact that I took up the challenge to ride The Big One at Blackpool – a highlight of my licensing year!


Design and a commitment to design refreshment is really important in licensing these days. No more so than in the apparel category. Within this category Sainsbury’s TU Clothing have shown a great commitment to licensing and an awareness of adding value through design and design innovation. This is particularly highlighted in their work with The Gruffalo – it seems to be a range that is refreshed regularly with new, original and bespoke designs which have kept consumers engaged and the character relevant. A good case study.


Finally, I would like to thank the industry again and, of course, Max Publishing for giving me a really special night this year. Being awarded the Honorary Achievement Award at the Licensing Awards was an unexpected surprise but a genuine honour and something that I will cherish for a long time. It was a wonderful evening and very touching to receive such kind messages from people afterwards.

I hope everyone has a great Christmas and a successful New Year. Here’s to Looking Out in 2017!

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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