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The Licensing Lookout: North of the border

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes heads to Edinburgh and finds some solid licensing progressions.

Travelling on business can be a chore. However every so often a business trip takes you to a lovely spot. Last week I returned to Edinburgh which is one of my favourite cities and one I would highly recommend.

My trip was well timed as it coincided with the start of the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail. I would hazard a guess many readers would be saying ‘Wullie who?’ at this stage. But for a lot of people north of the border Oor Wullie is a national hero with his fame derived from his appearances in a comic strip in The Sunday Post newspaper.

Wullie celebrated his 80th birthday in 2016. Owned by DC Thomson, Oor Wullie has enjoyed success in the licensing sector in recent years with products and campaigns focused on the Scottish market. As an aside this is a good example of regional licensing – a good brand can be activated in licensing terms on a local basis provided there are partners and distribution to tap into.

Returning to the Bucket Trail, this is a public art trail managed by Wild in Art in conjunction with DC Thomson and a range of other partners including local councils. Wild in Art has worked with a number of IP owners over recent years such as Penguin Ventures and Aardman. It has created real momentum for its public art trails. At the core of the trail are character statues that are located around cities to form a trail that people can walk. Each statue is the same but different.

In Oor Wullie’s case the statue recreates a classic scene with Wullie sitting on an upturned bucket. In some cases on this trail the statue has an extra bucket that members of the public can sit on and have their photograph taken with Wullie. The statues are made different by the way they are themed and decorated. A range of artists are selected to decorate the statues most often in conjunction with a sponsor. This means the statues are all individual and have a distinct point of difference. In Edinburgh, for instance, there was a Wullie called LGBT+ decorated in rainbow colours and another one called Tom Gilzean celebrating a popular local figure who has raised nearly £1 million for charity.

A range of artists have created the Oor Wullie statues, giving each of them a distinct point of difference.
A range of artists have created the Oor Wullie statues, giving each of them a distinct point of difference.

A key component of the art trails is that they are linked to local charities. In Edinburgh, the charity partner is Edinburgh Children’s Hospital. At the end of the trail each statue is auctioned off with the proceeds going to the charity. Substantial funds can be generated. The trail runs from June 17 to August 30 which gives the charity an extended period in the public eye to publicise their cause and, of course, the auction. People can donate to the charity electronically via a ‘tap to donate’ feature on the sculptures, while there are ideas for other fundraising activities such as team challenges to visit all the sculptures.

This is the second time Oor Wullie has featured in a public art trail of this kind; in itself a measure of his popularity. Even more telling, this time around the trail has been developed across Scotland, so it is billed as the world’s first nationwide public arts trail. It is running in Glasgow, Dundee, Inverness and Aberdeen, as well as Edinburgh. There will be 200 life-sized Oor Wullies and each city trail will benefit a local charity. In some cases Wild in Art has been able to add a further dimension to the trail by linking with local institutions to take the trail indoors. For example, in Edinburgh there are mini figures located in the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland.

The Oor Wullie Bucket Trail is a fantastic example of a multi level licensing lead partnership and an example of how licensing can help good causes. It is also a further illustration that licensing can live off the shelf in new and dynamic ways such as experiental licensing. It is also a lot of fun and a clever way of getting people to explore a city, exercise and socialise. And, of course, it is a great excuse for a comedy photo or two.

Fox & Chave has created a range of scarves based on the artwork in Scotland's National Portrait Gallery.
Fox & Chave has created a range of scarves based on the artwork in Scotland's National Portrait Gallery.

While Oor Wullie spotting I popped into Scotland’s National Portrait Gallery. It is a beautiful building with a fine collection, but it also provided another example to me of how heritage licensors are blending their own retail activity with licensing.

In this case, licensee Fox & Chave had created a range of scarves based on artwork from the gallery. These were displayed on a spinner and looked good. I am sure the museum shop order gave Fox & Chave confidence to press the development button and allows it to explore wider distribution. It is a practical way of working and gives a licensee some start up momentum.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has its own store with product from partners including Star Editions.
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has its own store with product from partners including Star Editions.

Edinburgh is a hive of activity at the moment not least as it prepares for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was interesting to see that the Fringe has its own retail shop and merchandise range. Some of the product was developed by Star Editions and included some lines that featured ‘vintage’ poster art. The product and shop were of high quality. This is a further demonstration that brands in licensing terms can emerge from a variety of sources and that licensing can be achieved on a local level.

Obviously in this case the Fringe is a major event that is well attended and internationally recognised which helps in terms of product sales. I suspect that the Fringe merchandise is sold widely in Edinburgh and in travel outlets. Companies like Star Editions are adaptable and flexible, realising deals come in all shapes and sizes.

Rather like Oor Wullie and his buckets, the contemporary licensing market requires fresh thinking and a genuine commitment to partnership. Standard deals will not always work nor will a standard approach.

The airport featured a pop up display for The Open golf 'official' whisky.
The airport featured a pop up display for The Open golf 'official' whisky.

Finally, every business trip has to end and often the end starts in an airport departure lounge. Just as I was about to switch off my Lookout radar and go into aeroplane mode, I spotted a great pop up display for The Open golf ‘official’ whisky. Developed by Loch Lomond Whiskies, there were two whiskies on show – The Open Special Edition and the Royal Portrush.

The latter is part of a wider collection of whiskies celebrating courses that host The Open. The Open will be staged at Royal Portrush this year. The pop up display included a golf cart and some striking tournament related visuals. It really stood out and used the DNA of the licence well. This is another example of licensing tapping into an experiential vibe.

All in all a great trip to a great city and one that encouraged me that licensing is progressing, albeit in directions that might need the industry to use some fresh thinking.

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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