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The Licensing Lookout: Dreaming spires

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads to Oxford but finds it difficult to switch off his licensing radar.

Start Licensing was recently appointed to represent The Ashmolean Museum and we are currently in the planning phase with the Museum. For me this means visiting the Museum and seeking inspiration for products and partnerships. With this in mind, I visited the Ashmolean on Friday and stayed overnight in Oxford… planning to take time off from licensing on the Saturday. I am pleased to say my visit was more than worthwhile and I left Oxford fired up with some new ideas for licensed products. It is good to take time out to think about what you are doing with a licensed property and also good to take time out to relax. Hence staying over night in Oxford.

However I realised I struggle to switch off from licensing!

I quickly realised this as I spent Saturday morning reading The Times, supposedly over a leisurely breakfast. The Times came with a style and fashion supplement Luxx. As I flicked through it rather inevitably licensing deals caught my eye. The first of these was more of a tribute product than a conventional licensing deal.

Luxury watch brand Bremont has created a watch to pay tribute to Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules flying boat. The H-4 only flew once, but was the largest flying boat ever built and holds a unique place in aviation history. Bremont focus’ on unique moments like this and creates high-end products to celebrate them. It also places a great emphasise on originality and authenticity. This watch incorporates original birchwood from the aircraft.

Bremont is a great example of a company that has developed a business model that operates in the luxury sector, targeting consumers who are looking for products that are distinct. It is a consumer category that licensing should feature in more and more. This trend ties into the move toward experiential licensing. As margins get tighter it is probably a good moment to look up towards higher price point products. Wearing my Ashmolean hat, this gives me some encouragement about the potential for Ashmolean products in this price band.

The Bremont watch pays tribute to Howard Hughes' H-4 Hercules flying boat.
The Bremont watch pays tribute to Howard Hughes' H-4 Hercules flying boat.

Sticking with watches Luxx also featured an advertisement for Omega‘s partnership with the new James Bond film, No Time To Die. The Seamaster Diver 300M watch is billed as James Bond’s choice and it is marketing a 007 Edition. The double page advertisement in Luxx featured Daniel Craig and the watch with a call out for the film with a release date of April 2. I understand the release date for the film has been pushed back until November. This is due to the current coronavirus crisis.

This is an example of how our industry will need to take a flexible approach to business over the coming weeks.

Products like this watch will probably stay on the existing schedule as a brand like James Bond has an enduring popularity. Clearly a movie is a major boost to marketing, but high-end brands like Omega also have access to a strong distribution network which should insulate them to a degree. That said, I imagine travel/duty free retail is a strong market and this will undoubtedly be impacted by the current situation.

Another 007 licensed partner called out their product in Luxx. This is swimwear brand Orlebar Brown. It is marketing an 007 Heritage Collection. It has worked with the Bond brand for some time now and presumably it has a long-term strategy around the brand in place which might help it keep product ticking over until the new release date. I think social media may well help in the current circumstances. Licensees should be able to target fans through platforms like Instagram in a targeted way.

The Millions confectionery brand has moved into car air fresheners.
The Millions confectionery brand has moved into car air fresheners.

A further example of my inability to switch off was provided on Monday as I visited my local petrol station.

As I was filling up I saw that the Millions confectionery brand has made a move into car air fresheners and these were being promoted on the petrol pumps. This inspired me to buy one: full marks for the effectiveness of petrol pump advertising. The licensee had also invested in a well placed FSDU by the till point. A simple but effective example of having a product in the right place and being displayed in an easy to buy way.

Interestingly the JCB brand also featured, being used by an accessories company to brand a wallet that protects your contactless cards from phishing. This is a new technology area also being developed by Myne Cards with a range of branded cards. While this visit confirmed my eye is tuned into licensing it was also encouraging to see licensed products and licensees being featured in a retail outlet such as petrol forecourts.

The launch of Hilary Mantel's new book was a major event in Waterstones.
The launch of Hilary Mantel's new book was a major event in Waterstones.

Finally, and returning to my visit to Oxford, I had a good look around the excellent Waterstones shop in the city centre.

Two things stood out for me. One was what an event the publication of the latest Hilary Mantel book is. Her book The Mirror and the Light is the third book in her Wolf Hall trilogy. Bookshop displays were incredible and it really was an event. It is quite a book as well. The page count for it is 904. I wondered if we might see some licensing around the Wolf Hall trilogy at some point. Or should I just switch off sometimes?

Viz is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Viz is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

The other stand out for me in Waterstones was ironically not a book. It was a board game. The Viz Profanisarus Card Game ‘Honk my Horn’.

While I was interested to see the space given to board games by Waterstones, I was also struck by the fact that Viz is celebrating its 40th anniversary. So not only did I realise I am bit of a licensing geek I am also quite an old licensing geek!

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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