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The Licensing Lookout: Star power

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how powerful celebrity licensing can be when it’s done well.

I was pleased to see licensing associated with some positive financial news this week – a welcome positive in a period when other ‘news from the city’ hasn’t been quite so bright.

The Finsbury Foods Group, best known in licensing circles for its celebration cakes, reported its profits were up by 4.7% in the 26-week period up to December 30, 2017. Finsbury highlighted that the range of Mary Berry licensed cakes were on schedule to be worth £5 million at retail – all within a year of launch. A welcome endorsement for celebrity endorsement. Mary Berry’s presence on the supermarket shelves is gradually being increased with a series of carefully chosen FMCG products.

A further new addition reported recently in The Grocer is a range of condiments from licensee RH Amar – the new products are jars of redcurrant & mint jelly, horseradish sauce and hollandaise sauce. Mary’s endorsement gives consumers and retailers reassurance and is a quality benchmark. The grocery marketplace is a volatile one, with price promotions to the fore – a licensing range such as Mary Berry’s offers some price insulation while also offering consumers a real point of difference.


Importantly, licensees can be very confident that Mary Berry’s public profile will remain high and she is a trustworthy brand ambassador. Using celebrities always carries a risk, but careful selection and management can generally insulate licensees from any serious issues.


Remaining with celebrities I was interested to see that nail varnish brand O.P.I. was using Audrey Hepburn and Breakfast at Tiffany’s in its offering – as part of a Style Icons range.

Using ‘celebrity legends’ and classic movies is a clever way of tapping into celebrity and carries less risk than working with a contemporary celebrity.


O.P.I. also had a Mariah Carey range – looking at the packaging this seemed to be a range launched for Christmas but it was still on shelf in March. This might suggest it hasn’t been a rapid seller. Although I am the first to admit my knowledge of the nail polish market is a bit light.

Using celebrities in this way adds a point of difference, but a challenge is making sure that consumers are convinced that there is merit and authenticity in an association – one measure of this is whether the celebrity actually uses their ‘own’ product.


In the same retailer I noticed that TV presenter Holly Willoughby featured on a range of bedding – I believe the bedding is part of a wider range of products ‘For the Home’. Holly Willoughby is high profile, well known and is a personality that seems to resonate with a particular part of the market so at one level you can see the attraction of featuring her in this way.

However there is a challenge in authenticity and her ‘credibility’ in the category: there are limited opportunities for Holly to build up a clear link to this product category – the product line I saw was being sold at 20% off which suggests it needs a sales boost. It seemed well produced and a good design offer, but this may not be enough in a competitive category.

In contrast Mary Berry’s product range is very close to her core activity and skill set. Sometimes it may be that with celebrity licensing less is more – better to be dominant in a few categories than spread things too thinly.

I was also reminded of the potential that FMCG brands can offer in licensing – Guinness announced a partnership with Windyridge Cheese launching an ‘official’ Guinness Cheddar cheese in time for St Patrick’s Day. The product will be targeted at the catering and retail markets. Guinness has a distinct flavour and taste along with a very high profile – it is easy to see why a manufacturer like Windyridge was attracted to this partnership. It should open doors for it and create some social media momentum. Clearly the product has to appeal to consumers and be something that will encourage repeat purchase.

I imagine Diageo has been very careful in NPD terms making sure it is very happy with the product. FMCG companies take a lot of care in selecting partners when licensing their brands to other food and drink companies. Taste, flavours and ingredients will be assessed carefully. It can take some time for product to reach the shelf, so licensees have to be patience and tenacious.

I was intrigued to see a ‘pop up’ experience being constructed to promote the new Wes Anderson film Isle of Dogs. Located in London’s Strand it seems Isle of Dogs will be getting its own exhibition and noodle bar. It is due to run from March 23 to April 5. This is another example of how film companies are using experiential marketing to engage with consumers. This kind of event also gives a platform for future activity helping to create content and ideas for other markets. Will be interesting to see how popular this proves – I believe it already being talked about on the internet and social media so it is creating some pre-release buzz for the film.


Returning to celebrities, I thought it was very touching to see a street art tribute to Stephen Hawking in Leake Street Tunnel in Waterloo. Street artists move very quickly and it is a measure of Stephen Hawking’s cross generational appeal that he was remembered in this way.

One of the best bits of street art I have seen recently.

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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