The Licensing Lookout interrupted my Sunday newspaper reading this weekend. I look forward to reading my copy of the Sunday Times – heading straight to the sports section to confirm how badly my football team has played and how misplaced my horse racing selections are. However, this week I was distracted by a free magazine that was given away with the paper. I got a free copy of Game – Britain’s Biggest Games Magazine. This is the official magazine of Game the retailer. I was surprised to see it in the Sunday Times, but on reflection thought it was a further endorsement for the growing popularity of gaming brands and the gaming category. From a licensing point of view gaming brands are becoming increasingly big business as gaming becomes a more broad based pastime and hobby.
One feature of Game magazine was a Christmas Gift Guide. This was a great window on what is happening license wise at the moment. Leading pop culture licensee Funko had a full page in the guide which featured Harry Potter Mystery Mini figurines and Pop! figurines such as Sweeper Bot from Destiny 2 and Mercy from Overwatch. Game are good at linking gaming with merchandise – on a page with a strapline ‘You’ve got the game now get the full experience’ games such as Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption II were matched with merchandise such as t-shirts, caps and keyrings. A real illustration that gaming brands are fast becoming lifestyle brands.
Other highlights included a range of jumpers featuring brands such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Fortnite. Other products that Game are stocking include Pokemon baseball caps, a Fortnite version of the Monopoly board-game and full range of Pokemon plush including interactive talking plush. Interestingly, Game are also featuring gift orientated retro classics such as Atari plug and play joysticks. Thinking retro this is maybe one reason it choose to include the magazine and gift guide in the Sunday Times. It is a good way of reaching an older consumer.
As we approach Christmas lots of retailers are publishing their gift guides and are dialling up their Christmas offers. I recently got the latest copy of the Next Directory. Next are a retailer who are very pro-licensing but take a very considered approach to it. Next seem to select properties carefully, develop their own designs and create collections across categories. It also seems to back properties over the long term. Obviously it can mix and match high street retail offerings with their mail order offer. This blended approach gives them more flexibility in terms of product mix I guess.
Highlights in the Next Directory included Mr Men children’s pyjamas – Mr Happy is a perennially popular character and one that is instantly recognisable by gift seeking parents/grandparents, an important quality in mail-order. In the boys-wear category the strength of gaming brands was reinforced by the presence of a number of Minecraft products coupled with a Playstation t-shirt. Other featured brands included Marvel , Lego Ninjago and Pokemon. When looking at products being sold by retailers like Next, it is also good to see how the quality of design and product finish have improved in the licensing sector. Design work is more thoughtful, individual and on-trend. Whilst garments are finished with clever embellishments such as flip-sequin details – licensed apparel is certainly on trend design wise which is good for the industry as a whole. The Next Directory is a diverse catalogue and incorporates a broad spectrum of categories including kitchenware. Within this category it was interesting to see them supporting TV chef Gino D’Acampo’s range which includes woodware products like chopping boards through to spice racks and cookware. Gino had a full page in the Directory – I am guessing in the high street stores it would be difficult to find space for a similar amount of products. Again an endorsement of the mixed strategy that Next deploy.
Next are also very good at supporting well known and established apparel brands such as Adidas which encourages consumers to browse. Being their Christmas Directory there was also a good presence for food and food gifting products with one highlight being a nice range of Nutella composite gifts which include a jar of Nutella itself. Christmas is a time when big FMCG brands can extend their reach through gifting and create some very compelling gift offers. Next also had a good selection of gaming-based products, for example a Game Boy heat changing mug and a Playstation 3D mug with a handle shaped like a Playstation controller – good evidence that it is possible to innovate even in a standard category.
Next also support boardgames, a natural for gifting and the party season with TV brands such as Mr & Mrs, The Chase and Catchphrase sitting alongside games such as the Now That’s What I Call Music board-game. The latter would seem to be a natural for the Christmas family market. Mr & Mrs might well provoke a few family rows on Christmas Day.
Finally, I would like to applaud calendar and greetings card licensee Danilo, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary last week with a lovely party hosted by Laurence and Daniel Prince. Laurence started the company 40 years ago and the first license he put in place was with Elvis. I believe 40 years later Danilo still hold the Elvis license.
One interesting feature of the Danilo party was a timeline of Danilo’s highlights by year which flagged up key licenses and products. The timeline included some colourful and very honest anecdotes from Laurence about deals he made and scrapes he got into – and out of.
What struck me about them was the fact that Laurence and Danilo as a whole recognise the importance of forging relationships and partnerships in licensing. Many of the ground- breaking and blockbuster deals Danilo have concluded have been achieved through face-to-face meetings coupled with a commitment to forging long-term partnerships.
Danilo has, to my knowledge, had a couple of licensing directors – one being the recently retired Trevor Jones and the other the current incumbent, Dan Grant. Those men have been part of the team that have crafted solid partnerships in the industry but it is also to Danilo’s credit that they have recognised that you have to invest in partnerships in licensing. It is a two way business between licensee and licensor, and agent. Too often deals get done with no follow-up or ongoing management. A business model that looks to long-term business and repeat business is a sensible one. I think Danilo has also been good at looking at new market sectors to secure licenses from. Gaming is a good example of a category that is rapidly developing and one that licensees need to be aware of. Indeed in some cases adapting their products to accommodate.
It was great to be part of Danilo’s special night and actually holding such a celebration shows how much value Danilo place on relationships. Congratulations to the Calendar King and his young Prince!
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.