Start Licensing’s Ian Downes switches his ‘looking out’ focus to following more companies via social media and online.
My Looking Out has been somewhat curtailed for obvious reasons in recent weeks. Long gone are my days of popping into shops for a licensing check up. This did sometimes get me into trouble with shop managers and security staff. It does seem strange in the 21st century that taking photos in shops could cause alarm to retail staff, but on more than one occasion I have been asked what I was doing. Taking photos didn’t seem to be the answer they were looking for!
Anyway I have adapted my Looking Out rather like we are all adapting our work lives and routines.
I have been following more companies via social media and looking at products online. In turn this means that I get ‘served’ more offers from companies which have harvested my data. This has been an interesting alternative form of looking out and has given me chance to see a few products and companies I may have missed before.
Of course the majority of these are online companies, but it is interesting to see how other businesses have adapted their businesses. Or in my best Ross voice, have managed to pivot. Talking of which I noticed TruffleShuffle has just launched a Friends Pivot t-shirt featuring Ross on the stairs with that sofa… Quick work all round.
Companies like Danbury Mint are experts in direct selling and managing databases. It has built on its skillset by upping its game and activity via platforms like Facebook with specific product offers.
One of the more intriguing ones that I have been delivered recently is a Limited Edition Steiff Teddy Bear developed with the Marmite brand. Steiff has a collector following and Marmite has a track record in licensing. That said it is a surprising one, but noting that this would appeal to diverse consumer groups it is an idea that makes sense. It is a stylish looking product and also stands out in the Steiff world because of its colour finish and detailing. This also shows that FMCG companies can engage with a broad church of licensees if their brand is distinctive enough. In that regard, Marmite is a very unique brand.
My coin collecting past has also come back to haunt me virtually. I have received offers and promotions from The Koin Club, which is a hybrid company which creates its own products under licence and also re-sells other people’s products such as The Royal Mint. It has a wide range of Marvel products including coins and ingots.
Properties like Marvel have significant fan followings and within the fan groups there will be collectors. Companies like The Koin Club are looking to convert these collectors into Marvel coin collectors. Collections come in various formats and tend to be accompanied by collector folders to encourage collecting.
Connected to this, and fired by my interest in books and comics, I have seen some offers from specialist mid to high-end publisher The Folio Society for a Marvel collection.
The Folio Society specialises in reproducing classic books and re-publishing them in high spec formats that people buy to collect or gift. Many of the editions tie into noteworthy moments in literary history. It also offers gift products as well. The Folio Society has created a high-end collection called Marvel: The Silver Age 1960-1970. This is a follow up to the previously published Golden Age. The book contains reprints of classic comic stories featuring the likes of Spider-Man, the Avengers and Doctor Strange. It also includes a scale reproduction of the first The Fantastic Four comic. Social media has opened up lots of new opportunities for companies like The Folio Society and I presume it is able to target likely customers in a very cost effective and efficient way.
I know a lot of licensors are using social media to support some of their licensees at the moment. In my own experience, our client Aardman has been running a number of campaigns for a range of licensees. This is never going to replace the business that has been lost, but in some cases it is helping to tick things over.
One licensee said his online sales are currently at the same level as Christmas trading which is welcome, but this is book-ended with the fact that he has ‘lost’ 95% of the sales he was getting from bricks and mortar. A small benefit from current circumstances is that I think rights holders are learning more about digital media and marketing. They are sharpening a skillset which in future times may be a useful part of their promotional mix.
Online offers are not confined to collectable products, of course. I have received some interesting advertising offers from a range of categories. I am an eclectic searcher!
One of the most intriguing offers I spotted was from crafting company Stitch & Story. It has developed a range of craft kits featuring brands such as Peanuts, Miffy and Sophie Le Giraffe. Products include knit and crochet your own toys – for example Snoopy and Woodstock. Other kits include ones to make jumpers, hats and babywear. Stitch & Story creates unique patterns and kits which give them a point of difference. By all accounts crafting is one of the product categories performing well at the moment as people seek to fill time productively.
Stitch & Story has a premium feel and the way it has brought its chosen licences to life is very impressive. Alas I think its advert was lost on me but I can see the product appealing to more committed craftspeople than me. It is very stylish. I also liked the fact that the site also offers support packages like video tutorials. A good example of how online sellers have to build support around their products.
Of course, some retailers are still open for business particularly grocers and supermarkets. As such FMCG companies have been able to carry on with product launches and introducing new products. This week I spotted an interesting new product range from crisp brand Walkers. It has established a tradition of introducing special Limited Edition flavours – often after a public vote or after eliciting suggestions.
This week I spotted a new range of special edition flavours being sold under the Taste Icons name. The range features flavours based on ‘Britain’s Restaurant Favourites’. The two favourites I spotted were a Pizza Express American Hot Pizza flavour and a Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken one. I am sure there are others in the range.
It is interesting to see a brand like Walker’s dipping into the restaurant sector for inspiration and partnerships. Clearly the restaurant sector is one business category that is under huge pressure at the moment. A deal like this shows that casual dining brands like Pizza Express have appeal beyond the restaurant.
This may inspire restaurant brand owners to consider engaging further with licensing and promotional opportunities to help with the recovery from lockdown. Licensing could generate some new income for them and provide new ways of engaging with consumers. The Walkers’ packs have an on-pack offer as well I believe linked to the restaurants. This may not be relevant at the moment, but it is a reminder that licensed products and promotions can provide brand owners with promotional platforms that link into their core business.
Finally, one thing I have missed particularly during lockdown are my walks around cities looking for street art to photograph. However I have been able to follow some artists virtually. Many of them are still active and have been working closely in some cases with landowners to create topical artworks as tribute pieces to NHS workers and other key workers.
In this context street art is a powerful and immediate medium that gets seen. Artist Lionel Stanhope recently created a NHS tribute piece in Waterloo which has a nod to Superman – it was developed in conjunction with the landowners Network Rail. It looks like a stunning piece of art. Sorry I can’t see it ‘in the flesh’ – the photo of the art and artist is from the BBC News site.
There are quite a few other tribute pieces that are worth searching for. Although you may end up receiving lots of offers for art materials as a consequence of your search!
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.