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The Licensing Lookout: By the book

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes checks out some of the licensed World Book Day inspired activity at retail.

I considered changing the title of the column this week to the ‘Bookout’ given how books dominated my looking out this week. I guess it’s no surprise that books would be top of the mind, given that it is World Book Day next week. World Book Day creates a focus and momentum for children’s books. It has been a really successful initiative, not least that it gets books into children’s hands and, of course, gives them a start in reading.

Licensing has seen some benefits from World Book Day. Often licensed characters have featured in the £1 book programme and inclusion in the programme can be a boost to a character that has a licensing dimension to it. This year Bing features in the £1 books – these books are sold in places like WH Smith generally in FSDUs. Schoolchildren are given a £1 token to exchange for a book. Being part of the programme can really help a book series to build consumer engagement.

Licensed characters can divide opinion in publishing circles sometimes, but in the context of World Book Day well-known characters can help grab children’s attention helping achieve the overall objectives of the event.

Sainsbury's was selling books alongside its character dress-up.
Sainsbury's was selling books alongside its character dress-up.

Another industry sector that has seen a real boost from World Book Day is the dress-up sector. Schools encourage children to go to school dressed as a book character. While some people create their own outfits, others prefer to buy off the shelf.

Retailers like Sainsbury’s give over a lot of space to World Book Day, selling ready to wear costumes in a dedicated space and really promote the event. Featured characters and brands this year included Dennis the Menace, Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Horrid Henry. Encouragingly Sainsbury’s was also selling books next to the costumes. A key feature of the book offer was a range of David Walliams books. Further indication of his great success in children’s books and how important he is to children’s book sales.

Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss were among the dress-up options at Sainsbury's.
Roald Dahl and Dr Seuss were among the dress-up options at Sainsbury's.

When my sons were younger I think we went down the homemade costume route. Apologies dress-up companies. I do remember it was an event that really engaged the school community. No mean feat. Prizes were awarded for Best Outfit and this created a competitive edge to the week.

I think one year ‘our’ Willie Wonka lost to a dictionary… prompting demands for a steward’s enquiry centred on whether dictionary was actually a book character!

Haynes Manuals greeting cards perform well in a competitive sector.
Haynes Manuals greeting cards perform well in a competitive sector.

Outside of costumes, I noticed how greetings card companies are using book properties and not exclusively ones sourced from the children’s market. Two ranges that caught my eye were both ones with a bit of humour.

Firstly a good selection of Ladybird Book cards were on offer featuring ‘vintage’ covers with humourous captions. This range has been in the market for a while which is testimony to its appeal. A good use of a publishing licence.

The other range that seems to be surviving well in a competitive sector is the one based on Haynes Manuals. Again a key attribute here is humour. Both Ladybird and Haynes have developed a good presence in the gift book category using humour and I guess the jump to cards was a natural one.

The National Literary Trust has teamed with classic book, Where's Wally?
The National Literary Trust has teamed with classic book, Where's Wally?

It was interesting to see the National Literacy Trust activating its link with classic book brand Where’s Wally? this week. I received an email inviting me to join a Fun Run to raise money for the Trust and better still I could run dressed as Wally.

This is a great example of a charity creating an event they can ‘own’ and one they can use proactively to communicate their fundraising message. Of course, it is also a great activation for Where’s Wally? not least reinforcing Wally’s visual identity. This should help book sales and other product sales such as costumes and greetings cards.

I look forward to seeing a myriad of book characters on the streets next week, but hopefully no dictionaries. But rest assured you won’t see me as Wally on a pavement near you. As much as I admire the work of the National Literacy Trust, Wallying up is a step too far for me!

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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