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The Licensing Lookout: Exhibiting strength

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on how exhibitions can give a real boost to licensed brands.

A highlight of my week was attending the excellent Asterix in Britain exhibition at London’s Jewish Museum. The exhibition is a major retrospective on the life and work of René Goscinny, the writer of Asterix.

The well presented exhibition features over 100 items gathered from around the world linked to Goscinny’s life including original artworks, scripts and storyboards as well as Goscinny’s own tools, sketchbooks and family photographs. This includes his typewriter – a design classic in its own right.

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Goscinny worked on other well-known comic titles such as Lucky Luke, but the bulk of the exhibition looks at his work on Asterix and features original art coupled with interactive features. The exhibition is very well put together and fits the space allocated well. It is stylish, colourful and contemporary.

The exhibition was originally presented in Paris and has travelled to London. It is a good example of how exhibitions can become international and adapted venue to venue. In this case there is a link to the Jewish Museum in that part of the exhibition tells the story of Goscinny’s family and his Jewish heritage. This is a good example of how an exhibition can be angled in a number of ways to fit with specific museums and galleries.

The Asterix in Britain exhibition is sure to be a hit with Asterix fans and fans of comics – I think they will be pleased with the insights it provides and enjoy seeing the range of exhibits gathered together. An insight into comic writing and art  is particularly revealing and will appeal to fans. The Jewish Museum has linked the exhibition to a range of educational events including comic creation classes for children.

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The Jewish Museum has also done a great job in creating a fantastic retail offer for the exhibition. It has blended licensed products such as Comic Art’s screenprints and Plastoy’s figurines with some original exhibition-branded items plus a few feature items like bespoke headwear made by a local maker. It is great to see all the products showcased together in a unique retail space.

Hachette, which is the Asterix publisher, has also worked with the museum to sell copies of the Asterix albums while showcasing editions of the book in the exhibition in a range of languages demonstrating the character’s international appeal.

Exhibitions also provide great momentum for brand PR. This exhibition has been previewed and reviewed in a range of features in papers such as The Times and the Daily Telegraph, plus been seen on TV. While exhibitions can be tough to pull together and come with challenges such as identifying venues to host them, the end result can be a real boost to a licensed property, but perhaps more importantly provide a real hands-on link to fans.

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Related to this is a growing trend for live orchestral concert performances of major films. I noticed that The Pink Panther film will be shown at the Royal Festival Hall in July with a live orchestra playing Henry Mancini’s music score. The concert is being advertised in the press and on tube billboards.

The event has given a focus to the brand and offers a new way of engaging with consumers in a crowded market. I imagine this is a touring event. The advertising features classic Pink Panther character art which in itself will help boost the character’s profile.

I visited the Pulse trade show this week at Olympia. It is one of my favourite trade shows not least because of the calm and relaxed atmosphere that prevails there. It is helped by a gentle music track that plays over the PA – as I arrived the DJ was playing some ska tunes which put me in a very good mood. Pulse – like Top Drawer – is a show where I often stop to talk to exhibitors to find out where I can buy their products for my own home. This time I committed myself to buying some whippet art – a painting of a whippet not a painting by a whippet!

Exhibitors at Pulse tend to create their own designs and aren’t natural licensees, but it is a great show for trend spotting and engaging with new companies. That said there were some great examples of licensed products on show at Pulse. As you would expect with a design-led show, companies using licences are deploying them in new and fresh ways.

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One great example was a range of Miffy soft toys. These were made from corduroy and featured soft pastel colours. I believe they were originally developed for the Dutch and German markets. The cord finish and texture delivered a refreshing new twist on a classic character and the product was very stylish.

Distributor S-C Brands presented the product really well on its stand and linked the product to the Miffy books in its displays. I could imagine gift and book retailers being inspired to select the product to sell alongside books because of these displays. Book shops selling non book items is a growing trend and this range is well positioned to capitalise on this.

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A further good example of licensing with a twist at Pulse was provided by Jolly Awesome. It is working with Sanrio on two of its brands: Hello Kitty and Gudetama.

Again the product was displayed really well as a collection which will encourage retailers to buy into a range of cards. The cards were bright, colourful and contemporary with positive and humorous slogans. Sanrio has selected a partner that can help it develop some new distribution and, in the case of Hello Kitty, project a new vibe on a classic character. Gudetama is a new property for the UK and working with a company like Jolly Awesome is a fantastic way of seeding the market and gaining traction quickly in a social context.

Good luck to all of those heading over to Las Vegas next week for Licensing Expo. Hopefully it will be a positive show and create some new opportunities which I will be ‘looking out’ for in the near future.

If you see any whippet paintings, street art or comic exhibitions, please let me know.

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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