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The Licensing Lookout: Holidays are coming…

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is getting that Christmas feeling this week.

‘The Holidays’ are definitely coming… when you see Coca-Cola apparel in Sainsbury’s. Inspired by the drink brand’s traditional Christmas advertising campaign, Sainsbury’s is selling Christmas Coca-Cola themed jumpers and bowling style shirts.

A great example of a brand using licensing to complete the communication circle and reinforce its seasonal credentials. Coca-Cola’s advertising is now one of the signs that Christmas has begun.

November is no longer too early.

Coca-Cola's advertising is one of the signs that Christmas has begun.
Coca-Cola's advertising is one of the signs that Christmas has begun.

Sainsbury’s has some other interesting Christmas apparel offerings in the adult men’s category. Featured t-shirts include a couple of Christmas-themed Star Wars t-shirts including Chewbacca with a Christmas hat. Only Fools & Horses makes an appearance with a Three Wise Men t-shirt featuring Del-Boy, Rodney and Uncle Albert.

In all cases specially created design work has been used to help theme the IP and add Christmas appeal. As we know shelf space is limited and I believe companies like Sainsbury’s extend their offering by including a number of other lines and designs online only or more positively billed as ‘online exclusives’. For example you can buy a Wallace & Gromit Cracking Christmas jumper online – while ideally you want your products to be available in-store, having a strong online offer allows Sainsbury’s to feature more options. It is also a building block for the future.

A further sign that Christmas is upon us is when I see the advertising for The Snowman stage show on the London Underground. This production – which is based on Raymond Brigg’s book and John Coates’ film – has become a Christmas fixture in London and in many ways is the doyen of licensed stage productions. It is staged at The Peacock feature and I imagine for many families it is now a Christmas tradition to attend. I am not sure how many years The Snowman has been flying at The Peacock but I took my son Daniel to see it when he was about five – he is now 26! The production – which includes music written by Howard Blake – is a cornerstone of The Snowman licensing programme and is a great example of how ‘live’ licensing can help support a wider licensing programme. There is a real challenge in managing an annual seasonally based licensing programme, but Penguin has done a great job of keeping The Snowman and his ‘younger’ companion The Snowdog fresh and relevant. One big challenge is increased competition. Other brands and companies are Christmas ready and there are other specifically developed Christmas properties to contend with. For example I noticed that book property Dear Zoo also have a Dear Santa Christmas stage show. This includes the chance to meet Santa and receive a gift. A 2 for 1 experience.

This Wallace & Gromit jumper is one of Sainsbury's online only offers.
This Wallace & Gromit jumper is one of Sainsbury's online only offers.

Not Christmas related but staying in the live space, I picked up a leaflet on my travels this week for The Bear Grylls Adventure which is based at the NEC. It is an experience operated by Merlin and includes four distinct activity themes: an assault course, a survival maze, a breakout challenge and target archery. These are billed as Bear’s Base Camp and beyond this there are further challenges available to experience.

This is a good example of how licensing is evolving and indeed how ‘live licensing’ is rapidly evolving. It is an imaginative piece of licensing and an interesting use of a personality brand. I can see this becoming popular with families and also a great venue for corporate challenges.

I look forward to seeing a host of licensing professionals taking the challenge at Spring Fair – although a day walking the aisles of the gift show selling licensing may be challenge enough for most of us!

The Snowman stage show is a popular Christmas fixture in London.
The Snowman stage show is a popular Christmas fixture in London.

A further sign that Christmas is here is when newspapers such as the Metro and magazines like Time Out publish their Christmas Shopping Guides. I picked up both this week and not just because they are both free. I thought it would be interesting to see how much licensing featured in the guides. Guides like these are barometers of a kind.

The Time Out guide was a little bit licensing light, but highlights included a ‘collab’ between Liberty and Banwood Bikes to create the Queue for the Zoo First Go Balance bike. It really is a smart product and as the editorial says probably time for an adult version. It comes in at £175 so it is definitely main present material for the lucky recipient.

Funko makes an appearance with a Stranger Things Erica Pop! vinyl figure. Underpinning the success of this pop culture brand and how much of a licensing lead success story it is. While it appeared in the kids section of the gift guide one of the strengths of the Funko brand is that its products could quite as easily featured in the grown-ups section.

Within the Gifts for Bookworms section The Marvel Book appears and there are also ‘tie-in’ books featuring brands such as Dishoom. Interestingly it also features an ‘Activities’ section which includes Harry Potter World Studio Tour tickets in a souvenir gift box. It was also good to see the V&A advertising its gift shop in the guide. I am sure a number of licensed products feature in the Christmas offer.

Smeg's Dolce & Gabbana food mixer featured in Metro's Christmas gift guide.
Smeg's Dolce & Gabbana food mixer featured in Metro's Christmas gift guide.

In the Metro guide the stand out licensed item featured to my eyes was a Smeg Dolce & Gabbana food mixer. Almost too good looking to use. But priced at £999.95 this would have to be a very special present. It is a lovely example of free thinking in licensing terms and how licensing can help brands explore new avenues.

The guide featured a double-page spread advert from retailer Matalan. In turn this featured a number of licensed lines including a George Pig Christmas pyjama set, a L.O.L. Surprise t-shirt and a number of licensed socks in the stocking filler section. Featured brands included Daddy Pig and The Grinch. It is always good to see a major retailer featuring licensed products in their advertising.

The Captain America Scriball can be coloured in.
The Captain America Scriball can be coloured in.

The other licensed item that grabbed my attention was a Captain America Scriball…. yes, me neither. A Scriball is a football that you colour in. This particular product was a Mitre football. Colour in products are a thing and a trend – I have seen colour in rugby balls but not footballs before and certainly not ones featuring Captain America. Rather like the Smeg mixer it may ultimately be an item that doesn’t get used and becomes a decorative piece.

It is a bit different from the orange Mitre football I got for Christmas when I was 6 – I was still playing with it when I was about 14 and it survived many a brush with a barbed wire crossbar. Hopefully the Scriball provides such good service! I would also suggest a bit of thought goes into wrapping the football. I have a lot to thank my mum and dad for, but they wouldn’t have won the Best Disguised Present Award when they wrapped up my football.

Finally, I was delighted to get to see Cheo’s fantastic Wallace & Gromit street art in Bristol. Located next to Aardman’s Gas Ferry Road offices, it is a street art masterpiece and has managed to capture the spirit of Wallace & Gromit really well, not least by incorporating the building’s industrial features in the artwork. Very on brand.

It has created great PR and lead onto a fantastic range of Cheo x Aardman apparel produced by TruffleShuffle. A range I would definitely feature in The Licensing Lookout Christmas Guide. And you don’t need to colour it in!

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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