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The Licensing Lookout: The name of the game

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a journey through the world of video games with Argos this week.

I still find it a bit difficult to get used to having an Argos located in my local Sainsbury’s, but I think others find it easier to get used to it as it seems to be a popular part of the shopping trip for many. I guess it is convenient and easy. It probably also becomes more compelling in the run up to Christmas for those seeking out gifts. It is interesting to see that Argos pushes specific types and categories of products in a focused way, often using mini catalogues.

One of these, called Play, focuses on gaming products. I am slightly behind the curve as I think it first came out in mid October. It carries ‘an important pricing message’: pricing is effective from 16/10/19 through to 22/01/20 with the promise that Argos would try to maintain the published prices with the caveat that ‘… given the uncertainty around the UK leaving the EU we reserve the right to change our prices’.

Printing catalogues is always a challenge in regard to prices but as this message demonstrates in the current market it is tougher still. Argos seems to be mixing in-store selling and messaging with this kind of catalogue promotion and, of course, online selling. It is a difficult mix to get right, but it reflects the modern shopping experience.

The 'Play' mini catalogue showcases games, gifting products and accessories.
The 'Play' mini catalogue showcases games, gifting products and accessories.

The ‘gaming flyer’ showcase is, as expected, heavily weighted towards games themselves, but it also highlights lots of gifting products and accessories which I assume are licensed lines. The fact that Argos goes into this level of support for the category is further reinforcement of the growing strength of the gaming category. Many of the ancillary products are only available online and not in store but I assume store collection can be arranged. Argos promotes a Fast Track Home Delivery service which makes it competitive with other online sellers.

Licensing and licensees seem to have latched on strongly to gaming and the Argos Play catalogue reflects the breadth of products being developed to extend the gaming experience. Products include a Ferrari 458 Spider Racing Wheel from Thrustmaster aimed at fans of Ferraris and driving games. It is £99.99 which seems expensive but not so when you think of the price of a Ferrari and presumably the cost of a ‘real’ steering wheel. The point here is that products like this one extend the game playing experience and for brand owners deepen the brand immersion. Other gaming accessories that have a licensed feel to them include Nintendo-branded travel cases which feature Super Mario. Products like these make sense in the context of Christmas gifting and are convenient gift top ups.

Retro gaming is also a theme with mini arcade games featuring classic arcade games Pong and Centipede. This is a reminder that gaming has a broad appeal in age terms and there is scope to tap into classic gaming brands from a licensing perspective. Interestingly, the catalogue also featured a number of new games due for release in 2020 which could be pre-ordered. These included titles like Marvel’s Avengers and Final Fantasy VII remake. This underpins the level of consumer involvement in the category and the fact that game publishers are able to build franchises around popular games. I suspect the pre-ordering mechanism will open up opportunities to sell other merchandise as well.

Retro gaming is a key theme in the catalogue including these mini arcade games.
Retro gaming is a key theme in the catalogue including these mini arcade games.

For an old publishing man like myself it was good to see books featuring in the catalogue. These include a title on retro gaming! There were also three licensed titles called The Marvel Book, DC Comics Year by Year and Star Wars: The Ultimate Pop-Up Galaxy. These books ranged in price from £10 up to £25. Hopefully this confirms there is a market for books in the gaming sector, especially ones that enhance the gaming experience or provide some further background. The Marvel book is billed as a book that will allow the reader to ‘Expand Your Knowledge of a Vast Comic Universe’ for example. It is worth noting that some consumers first exposure to Marvel comic characters may be through playing games or watching films rather than reading comics. My publishing roots make me want to see a ‘free comic’ with every game purchased in terms of franchises like Marvel.

As might be expected, franchises and brands such as LEGO, Fortnite and Sonic the Hedgehog are well featured in the catalogue. It is interesting to see that ‘brands’ like Tom Clancy still feature in the category: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint being a featured game. FIFA 20 is also heavily promoted with a full page.

The catalogue featured a number of video game gifts including Super Mario Bros mugs, Mario light up figures, SNES notebooks, doormats and new to me items like Cable Guys – controller holders. The latter shows how products can emerge rapidly in the category. In the context of my Sainsbury’s store and Christmas gifting, I think it would be good to see the video game gifts given some presence in-store and in the main Sainsbury’s shop – I could see these working as impulse pick up ‘extra’ gifts if shoppers saw them in-store.

I can only see the crossover between gaming and licensing growing, but like other areas of licensing it needs a disciplined approach to licensing out and needs to be supported with a proper infrastructure. But it is good to see licensing and licensed brands featuring so much in Argos’ Play catalogue – a very encouraging sign for licensing.

The RNLI is working with Airfix with a special model kit.
The RNLI is working with Airfix with a special model kit.

Beyond the gaming world and maybe in contrast to it, I was very pleased to see the RNLI and Airfix working together this week. Airfix has launched a 1:72 RNLI Severn Class Lifeboat Kit. The model kit is heavily branded with the RNLI logo and, of course, an action shot of the lifeboat at sea. It also makes clear that a minimum of £1.25 from the sale of the product.

It is good to see a traditional brand like Airfix using brand licensing to create new opportunities, while it is a great example of a well-known charity like RNLI engaging with the licensing model to reach consumers and find new methods of fundraising. Having products in the market manufactured by well-known companies like Airfix and, of course, distributed through its network is a great way of the RNLI getting its message out to the general public and also creates a fundraising stream that is unique.

It also helps create a unique product it can sell through its own retail network. I think charities have a lot of potential to use licensing within their fundraising and to use it as a technique to engage with companies in different ways. Maybe a retailer selling the Airfix Lifeboat kit will want to engage with the RNLI in different ways or it might inspire other conversations around partnership.

For Airfix it is a great subject for a kit, working with the RNLI reflects well on it and it also gives a bit of a nod to one of the perennial areas for Airfix kits which was always ships. It is a product that should slot in well to its traditional retail partners, but also attract new retailers because of the cause-related dynamic.

Excitable Edgar merchandise is available in John Lewis and Waitrose stores and online.
Excitable Edgar merchandise is available in John Lewis and Waitrose stores and online.

Finally, John Lewis and Waitrose launched their Christmas advertising campaign this week. They have launched a campaign around a dragon character Excitable Edgar. Both retailers are fully committed to the character and on Friday I noticed my local Waitrose had a full range of Edgar merchandise in-store. Good work and quick work.

While this isn’t licensing, it is a good example of a coordinated approach to marketing and product. It did set me thinking whether Edgar could become a licensed character – certainly possible within John Lewis and Waitrose. They might say they can do virtually any product themselves but maybe there are some ‘collabs’ like a LEGO Edgar Kit or even an Airfix Edgar!

But would other retailers stock Excitable Edgar products? I guess so.  Retailers that don’t compete head on with Waitrose and John Lewis may well be attracted by this opportunity. I think times are changing and the ‘usual rules’ don’t apply in licensing so much these days. Timing is an issue of course. As is longevity. But Edgar might get really excited if he got his own video game one day!

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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