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The Licensing Lookout: New opportunities

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds some examples of how licensing can be used in more thoughtful ways.

Like many people I use Sunday mornings as a time to catch up on ‘world affairs’ and have a leisurely read of the newspaper. I realised as I was reading the paper this week that in fact I wasn’t reading it – I was looking at the adverts.

Furthermore I was also a little bit blinkered in my outlook as it only seemed to be licensing related adverts that caught my eye. I really do need to get out more…


The forthcoming attractions pages in the Sunday Times revealed a little bit about new opportunities that are emerging in and for licensing. An advert for Paddington in Concert caught my eye – reassuringly Paddington is appearing as a special guest. Special events like this seem to be popping up more frequently as rights owners seek new ways to reach consumers and to use IP in more imaginative ways.

It also coincides with consumers seeking out ‘special’ experiences. Music, film and events naturally go well together – I am actually going to see Gladiator in Concert soon – the film not the TV series. Russell Crowe won’t be there. On the same page as the Paddington advert I saw promotions for similar film and music combos for The Italian Job and Bridget Jones’s Diary.


I also caught sight of an advert for retailer DFS. DFS was promoting three branded sofa ranges – all of which were licensed: French Connection, House Beautiful and Joules. Clearly DFS has found that licensing works for it and has created partnerships with some strong lifestyle brands.

From a Licensing PLC point of view having partners such as DFS using licensed brands in such a public way as part of their national advertising campaigns is a really good vote of confidence. I think it is also an indication of the fact that different styles and forms of licensing are on the increase, as companies grow more confident in using licensing coupled with their ability to find brands that fit their needs. It takes two to tango and it is clear that brand owners are alive to the potential that licensing offers. DFS is a useful case study to tempt other companies into the licensing fold from ‘non-traditional’ sectors.

I am also a great believer in licensing ‘doing good’. Of course, 65 of our industry colleagues are ‘doing good’ this week cycling from Bristol to Dublin for The Light Fund. A big well done to them!


With this thought in mind, I was very impressed by the initiative promoted by Tesco’s clothing brand F&F in association with the England football team. F&F has created an England football t-shirt in association with mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). CALM is seeking to raise awareness of mental health issues among young men in particular. Football and the World Cup provide a great platform to get the campaign across to the public.

The t-shirts feature a Cross of St George design coupled with the hashtag #markyourman  – a clever aspect of the design is that there are two designs that work together if you #markyourman – each t-shirt sold will benefit CALM with £1 going to the charity. The shared design reinforcing the point that you can share your feelings with your friends, relatives or colleagues.

I think this is a really good example of how brands, personalities and indeed characters can contribute in a meaningful way to important campaigns. Well played to the England team for getting involved in this campaign. The campaign is fronted by comedians Rob Beckett and Romesh Ranganathan – comedy, football and charity are a strong combination.

It may not follow classic licensing rules, but I think it is a great campaign and one that I hope will inspire others to think how their IP might be a force for good.

I did eventually hit the high street and was pleased I did. I popped into JoJo Maman Bebe – a really vibrant store, bright, contemporary and well lit – it was part of a retail tour I was undertaking in preparation for a new style guide development.

The three stores I visited before JoJo Maman Bebe were in sharp contrast – dull, badly presented and dark. Merchandise poorly displayed – in one case a piece of card packaging obscured a great (licensed) design. Retail is tough and trading conditions are as hard as ever, but I do think some retailers could help themselves by working harder in store thinking about display, presentation and also staff training.


Anyway back to JoJo Maman Bebe – a couple of licensed products really stood out for me. First an apparel range featuring classic book character Elmer. The product design and finish – an applique really matched the brand and the represented the brand well. The garment had a really classic feel and you could literally feel the quality.

There was also a really well designed and developed Gruffalo plush back pack. It really brought the brand alive and you could imagine how well the backpack would be received by children.


Two quick examples of licensing being used well by a retailer which seems to have latched on well to licensing, but also one that is circumspect in choosing licences that match its own values and will appeal to their consumers.

One point I noted on my retail tour was that certain character brands were omnipresent – answers on a postcard – maybe some retailers might be better off thinking about different licences and how these might help them develop a bit more of a unique identity.

My unscientific hunch is that consumers are keen to get more individual experiences and this includes product selection at retail. I am not advocating every retailer has exclusives, but I do think licensing can be used in a more thoughtful way in some cases.


It was also interesting to see that Kylie has been moved out of my local Specsavers window and replaced with – I guess he will resonate with TV fans and younger consumers.

It made me think about who might replace – there was only one answer… Britain’s favourite spectacle wearer Her Majesty The Queen. Now that would be the collab to end all collabs!

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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