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The Licensing Lookout: No labels required

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on why label-slapping is being consigned to the past.

There are a couple of licensing terms that I actively try to avoid being associated with. One is being called an ‘industry veteran’. I have worked in licensing for nearly 28 years but am not great with being called a veteran.

The other term I like to avoid is label-slapping. Label-slapping is a turn of phrase applied to licensed products that simply apply a licensed design label to a standard product. When I started in licensing 28 years ago most products were in the low-spec label-slapped category. Product design was often an after thought and design materials were limited.

These days there is a lot more effort put into design and IP owners invest heavily into design resources such as style guides, mood boards and product concepts. This investment is definitely paying off in terms of new product development, design and fresh thinking in terms of products featuring licensed properties.

Gemma International has used the classic Mr Men licence well.
Gemma International has used the classic Mr Men licence well.

As noted last week the apparel category is at the forefront of this, but it is encouraging to see other categories working hard on upping their game in design terms. This is particular important when using well-established characters or brands. Innovative and on-trend design helps to spark consumer interest.

I spotted a couple of good examples from the greetings card category this week. Gemma International has used the classic Mr Men licence really well – a Dad birthday card featuring Mr Happy in particular caught my eye. It was a die-cut card with a repeat pattern printed inside the card. It stood out well on-shelf and using a die-cut suited the character perfectly.

Danilo has made great use of the classic Ladybird book covers for its cards.
Danilo has made great use of the classic Ladybird book covers for its cards.

In the same section in the card shop Danilo had a Vintage Ladybird Dad card. It has made great use of classic Ladybird book covers and has developed an ‘on trend’ range in terms of humour. The cards also dovetail with Penguin’s Ladybird humour-based publishing programme. This is a good example of licensing and core brand activity working well in tandem.

Baileys Freakshake Cake is available in Sainsbury's.
Baileys Freakshake Cake is available in Sainsbury's.

Another category that is breaking out of a standard product approach is that of celebration cakes and home baking. On the back of programmes like The Great British Bake Off there is a renewed interest in baking, cake making and a lot more creativity in the category generally. Not all of us are as gifted as Nadiya Hussain so have to resort to buying our special cakes from a shop. Licensees and retailers in the category have responded well to market trends and have developed some great products.

Baileys has a couple of cake products in Sainsbury’s at the moment: one is a Freakshake Cake and the other is a multi-pack of Chocolate Cupcakes. Both products are flavoured with Baileys and presented with well designed Baileys brand packaging. This is a category that has come a long way since the cakes of the early 1990s which were generally standard iced Victoria sponge style cakes with a character-identified sugar plaque (it is funny how contractual wording sticks with you).

This is also a good example of a licensing category staying in touch with the wider market and product trends within it. It is important that licensing doesn’t isolate itself from the wider market.

Love Hearts and Drumstick Squashies are being used for home baking kits.
Love Hearts and Drumstick Squashies are being used for home baking kits.

In a related category it is interesting to see how the confectionery brands Swizzels Matlow Love Hearts and Drumstick Squashies are being used for home baking kits. The Love Hearts kit allows a degree of personalisation and makes good use of the iconic Love Hearts brand format. It was also encouraging to see licensees and retailers in the category responding to seasonal opportunities. A stand out product was a variety pack of Cadbury’s Creme Egg and Mini Eggs Cupcakes. These type of products dial up the trend for confectionery crossing over into categories such as cupcakes, biscuits and bakery in general.

Personal care and toiletries is another category that has moved forward in a progressive way in design terms. It is also a category that seems to be embracing a wider pool of brands and licences. A couple of eye-catching examples I saw this week include the art and craft brand Crayola being used for items such as (bath) Tub Tones giving consumers ‘colours for your bath’ – this fits well into the trend for bathtime play and bath toys.

Bloom and Blossom has secured great shelf space for its Roald Dahl personal care range.
Bloom and Blossom has secured great shelf space for its Roald Dahl personal care range.

Meanwhile Bloom and Blossom has secured great shelf space for its Roald Dahl personal care range which includes items such as shampoo and conditioner. The range is marketed under the title ‘Bath, Book & Bedtime’ linking the product to the licence’s heritage and becoming part of the bed/bath routine. Packaging wise it makes great use of classic illustrations and leans on the Roald Dahl heritage well.

I imagine there are other PR and promotional links supporting the range, but it was good to see a licensed range occupying so much shelf space in what is a very competitive category.

Robinson's Squash Sorbettos have been launched by Rose Marketing.
Robinson's Squash Sorbettos have been launched by Rose Marketing.

Talking to being on trend and also being aware of product trends, I was pleased to see one of the licensees I work with – Rose Marketing – launching a new Britvic licensed product this week. It has launched two variants of Robinson’s Squash ‘freeze at home’ Sorbettos. The flavours are taken from the core drinks range and reflect contemporary taste – Pressed Pear & Elderflower and Crushed Lime & Mint. These products have been developed to respond to changes in consumer demand and flavour combinations. They are also designed to add value and innovation to a traditional category. Rose Marketing was inspired to develop this product by carrying out product research overseas and at trade events.

It is important that licensees are prepared to invest in new products and new formats. It is easy to be on a development treadmill and become insular. A key role for licensees in my view is to be proactive, progressive and forward thinking. Brand owners are looking for licensees to help drive their brand forward through smart licensing.

I wanted to send my best wishes to The Light Fund rowing team who are about to embark on a cross Channel rowing challenge. It is great to see licensing people step up to take challenges like this to raise money for The Light Fund.

In my capacity as a trustee I recently visited Young Minds – The Light Fund donated £100, 000 to Young Minds to help fund its helpline for parents. Parents can dial up Young Minds to seek advice about their children and their mental well-being. This really is making a difference. This is one of a number of great causes The Light Fund has been able to support. The support flows from people like the rowers putting the effort in – so all best wishes to them. If you haven’t done so already try to support them.

Change Please coffee is co-branded with The Big Issue.
Change Please coffee is co-branded with The Big Issue.

Licensing is a business that has the capacity to ‘do good’. The Light Fund is a great example of this in action, but it also interesting to see how charities and brands are working together more frequently these days in product terms.

I spotted a range of coffee beans called Change Please developed and co-branded with The Big Issue. As it says on the pack this is ‘award-winning coffee helping the homeless’. A great initiative in fund-raising terms but also in terms of raising awareness. I think there is great potential for charities in using licensing in their work and in turn licensing has a lot to offer the sector.

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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