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The Licensing Lookout: Getting in the Game

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on the property on everyone’s lips this week.

I have a confession. I have never watched Game of Thrones. I find it quite challenging to commit to long-running series, but judging by the activity surrounding Game of Thrones this week I may well be missing out. Maybe I need to undertake a marathon catch up session.

Primark's flagship Oxford Street store placed Game of Thrones in its window.
Primark's flagship Oxford Street store placed Game of Thrones in its window.

Game of Thrones has obviously gained a significant following and is a much loved programme. These are obviously good ingredients for licensing and there seems to be a strong licensing programme associated with the brand. One particular highlight I saw was a window display in Primark’s flagship Oxford Street store showcasing a comprehensive range of products including apparel, giftware and bedding.

I was listening to a radio discussion about Game of Thrones and one point that was raised was how difficult it is to keep an audience engaged these days over the long-term with so many distractions and different media platforms. This is also a challenge in licensing terms as big splash properties need to keep the tills ringing in retail terms.

With Game of Thrones it seems the licensing programme is quite a diverse one with products such as those in Primark blended with the likes of collectables and other categories such as alcohol. Having a mixed economy licensing wise has probably helped sustain the property in licensing terms.

Game of Thrones has been well supported by Sky across its media platforms.
Game of Thrones has been well supported by Sky across its media platforms.

It has also helped that Game of Thrones has been well supported by the likes of Sky – it has really leveraged its media platforms to promote the new series. It even crept into Sky Sports football coverage while other broadcast platforms like NOW TV have been centring on Game of Thrones in billboard advertising.

'Sheep of Thrones' was just one of the GOT tributes on social media.
'Sheep of Thrones' was just one of the GOT tributes on social media.

There have also been quite a lot of ‘tributes’ on social media… one that caught my eye featured Shaun the Sheep – Sheep of Thrones. These sort of things are a clear indication that a property has succeeded and is part of the public psyche. Game of Thrones’ success is a good news story for licensing not least as I believe it is being licensed by an independent licensing agent LMI. This is a further reminder that good commercial opportunities can come from a range of sources. Independent agents can secure some strong rights and certainly know how to activate them effectively.

It is always good to see licensing and licensed products literally in the shop window. The Game of Thrones display at Primark is a great advert for licensing. Another great example I spotted recently was in Uniqlo. Uniqlo is a retailer that seems to be able to pick unique properties to work on or if using a property that is more widely in use it is able to come up with a distinctive design treatment. It leans on its Japanese heritage well. A lot of designs emanate from Japan as do the IP featured.

Uniqlo has been celebrating Gundam Wing's 40th anniversary.
Uniqlo has been celebrating Gundam Wing's 40th anniversary.

I saw that Uniqlo was celebrating Gundam Wing’s 40th anniversary. Gundam Wing is a multimedia property with its origins in TV, but it has become successful in a number of other categories including model kits. It has a strong fan following – it is always a strong feature at ComicCon’s for example with heaps of toys and model kits being sold. But it couldn’t be regarded a mainstream property which means licensing wise it is difficult to get traction in areas like high street apparel.

So with this in mind, Uniqlo is a really good fit with the property and I suspect an upside for Bandai/Sunrise on this activity is that the apparel range may help recruit new fans for the property. It is good to see different properties getting shelf space on the high street as there is a danger that  some properties and designs can be over exposed leading to consumer fatigue. This is not good for licensing generally. Uniqlo is very good at activating different properties and supporting them well with contemporary ‘on trend’ designs. Plus it has an international reach and perspective.

Apparel is a category which is always challenging in terms of shelf space and distribution but it is good to see that licensees, rights owners and retailers aren’t standing still in the category, with an emphasis on design and ‘adding value’ to product through design finishes.

A quick trip to my local Sainsbury’s store demonstrated this well. Its TU clothing arm has worked hard with licensed suppliers to create products that are progressive in design terms and are ‘on trend’. Obviously price is important in the context of grocery distribution, but TU has recognised that its products need to be well designed, comparable with the wider fashion market and reflecting new production techniques. There were some good examples in-store to illustrate this: a Donald Duck sweatshirt using a flocked finish, a Marvel t-shirt that included a print on the back, a range of The Gruffalo which featured patches and embroidery and a Harry Potter babygro printed with Harry’s uniform (this is also an example of how the Harry Potter franchise has evolved in terms of consumer appeal).

It is good to see a licensed apparel retailer paying attention to design detail like TU does and also pushing the bar from a quality point of view. The products on show were a really good representation of licensing and really show what can be done with well chosen licences.

Tillingbourne Brewery's Dormouse ale is supporting the Surrey Wildlife Trust.
Tillingbourne Brewery's Dormouse ale is supporting the Surrey Wildlife Trust.

Finally, it is always good to see brand partnerships in new categories and also ones that are doing good.

I went for a walk in the Surrey Hills on Sunday and popped into one of the lovely pubs that my walking routes always seem to find. The Stephan Langton in Friday Street is a really nice pub. It had a local ale on tap from the Tillingbourne Brewery called Dormouse. Funds from its sale were going to the Surrey Wildlife Trust helping the Trust to protect the Dormouse’s habitat. A very straightforward but effective partnership and a further example of how brewers are being more creative in their marketing and product development.

For the record I didn’t have a pint of Dormouse, but I thought it was a really good partnership and a great piece of marketing by Surrey Wildlife Trust – a well placed visual reminder to consumers as they explored the Surrey Hills.

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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