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The Licensing Lookout: Going underground

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds some licensing examples on the tube network.

There is no doubt that the retail market is challenging. Retail woes are now a regular part of news bulletins – although there are thankfully some bright spots such as The Entertainer which recently reported that in its fiscal year ending February 1, pre-tax profits rose 37% to £11.5 million, while sales grew 6.8% to £162 million. This downturn in retail has a knock on effect to licensing, making it tougher particularly for new business and start-up licensing campaigns. It is easy to focus on this and be downbeat. But I am pleased to say that this week I have noticed some activity which should give us all some cause for optimism.

I am a frequent user of the London Underground and as someone who used to work in advertising I always look at the posters – noting who is advertising and from what sectors. I can’t help it as one of my office neighbours in my advertising days was Mr Outdoor – he bought outdoor media campaigns and was always quizzing us as to what we had seen on our journey into the office.

In many ways not much has changed in the make up of firms using tube advertising. A big share of this market was and is taken up by theatres, films and other visitor attractions. It is interesting to note how many of these ‘going out’ opportunities are based on licensing or similar deals – IP seems to be increasingly important in the experiential sector.


Two posters I saw side by side illustrated this well. One was promoting Peter Rabbit appearing at Kew Gardens this Easter, while the other was for the Bat Out of Hell musical. In the case of Kew Gardens’ use of Peter Rabbit this is part of a growing trend for visitor attractions to use well-known characters to create ‘pop up’ visitor attractions, particularly during competitive periods such as Easter and Christmas.

A well chosen character campaign and activity can make a big difference to visitor numbers. Peter Rabbit seems a great fit with Kew Gardens.


Bat Out of Hell is part of a growing trend for theatre companies to lean on IP to inspire and create theatre productions – arguably because this brings an audience with them and creates consumer PR opportunities.

This trend extends into children’s theatre as well – on a recent visit to Kingston’s Rose Theatre I noticed that a production based on Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine will be playing there soon.


I also noticed that The Design Museum is currently hosting an exhibition – Ferrari: Under the Skin. This was an ‘official’ exhibition examining the history and progress of the car brand. I didn’t have time to visit the exhibition, but I did see a very stylish Ferrari parked in the foyer of the museum and had a look around the exhibition shop which was stocked with a blend of licensed products and exhibition-specific merchandise including a high-end book published by Phaidon.

Museums have also recognised that brand based exhibitions can bring audiences in and brand owners recognise that this is a way of having a direct link to their audience. Digital marketing can make businesses more efficient and help them keep in touch, but activities such as theatre shows and exhibitions really allow brands to connect with consumers and, of course, create their own retailing opportunities.

I think licensing can be encouraged by the role it is playing in the growth in  the experiential sector and should be optimistic that there are more opportunities to develop business with themed activities in the future. This may help to offset some of the downturn being experienced at retail presently.


I also spotted an intriguing ‘collab’ this week – it is between Jigsaw and Kodak (previously reported on The Source here). Jigsaw’s Kensington High Street store featured a well developed window display and highlighted some of the clothing in the range. The focus of the collection was to celebrate female creativity I believe.

I must admit I didn’t get to read the complete mission statement for the project – it had a real retro feel and featured Kodak brand logos. I do feel a sense of irony as I photographed a Kodak range on my cameraphone which lead me to question how would the Kodak brand resonate with Jigsaw’s customers.

I guess this is a good example of a retailer using a brand and a brand story to create a retail experience – another illustration that licensing can deliver value beyond just product. It is, of course, great exposure for Kodak and may well encourage to develop other opportunities through licensing.


Finally I visited Bristol this weekend – a great city to spend a few days in. I managed to spot some street art featuring Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit. They are local characters and much admired in the city. They are the subject of a supersized piece of street art on the side of a building – the characters have been blinged up – not everyone’s pot of tea but it does show again how characters cross over into popular culture and have potential to be used in different ways.

Back in London I also thought that a hairdressers in Kentish Town called Top Cuts which featured a cartoon cat on its sign brought a smile to my face. A close shave IP wise…

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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