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The Licensing Lookout: The name’s Downes…

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes finds a collaboration fit for a super spy.

One of the most noteworthy trends in licensing is the rise of the ‘collab’ – these are collaborations between IP owners and a third party brand, normally a fashion brand.

The rationale behind these partnerships seems to be largely to create momentum and gain attention which can be transferred back to the mainstream licensing market. This works on both consumer and trade levels – it helps put a licensed property on the radar and gets people thinking differently about it. Often it provides an opportunity to try new design styles or break with convention.

What isn’t always clear is how these deals work financially – they may not always follow the traditional licensor/licensee contractual route. What is clear is that the ‘collab’ is now very much part of the licensing lexicon and is a good to technique for licensing campaigns. It isn’t always clear how long these partnerships last and what impact they have on the market. However they certainly provide a level of interest and help keep the idea of licensing at the forefront.

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This week I saw two noteworthy ‘collabs’ in the market. One was close to home for me as it is a partnership between Ted Baker, Beano and Debenhams.

Baker by Beano is on sale in Debenhams at the moment. Encompassing apparel lines for children, Ted Baker has used some of the iconic Beano comic art and characters in a ‘celebration’ of childhood and to help mark Beano’s 80th anniversary.

Having a partnership with a brand such as Ted Baker should build Beano’s profile in the apparel sector and spark the interest of other retail buyers. A ‘collab’ of this kind provides a great showcase and a way of engaging with consumers – a side benefit of such activity is that a lot of social media attention is created while it allows design themes to be exposed to a wider audience.

For Ted Baker and Debenhams, this gives them an opportunity to provide their consumers with something new and fresh – in a cluttered and flat retail market it also creates fresh impetus for a retailer.

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The other ‘collab’ I spotted this week was between swimwear brand Olrebar Brown and the James Bond 007 film catalogue. Apparently Orlebar Brown’s relationship with Mr Bond started with the SkyFall film where it provided his swimshorts.

This collaboration makes use of the Bond film archive and focuses on poster artwork. The artwork has been used cleverly to create a range of swim shorts that features classic movies such Dr No, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Live & Let Die. The artwork used seems to be a combination of movie posters and show cards – a graphic novel type illustration look.

It is very effective and Orlebar Brown used it well in its shop window in the branch near Savile Row. It creates a point of interest and reinforces the swimwear’s credentials – Bond the brand and Bond the character fits neatly with its ethos. This is also an example of how ‘collabs’ can be part of a broader marketing partnership which takes in other activities.

Licensing needs to be alert to how it can link up with other disciplines and form part of a broader marketing programme. This approach to business should help create new opportunities. I am sure Orlebar Brown’s use of the Bond artwork will inspire other companies to look at using the brand.

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Outside of collaborations, another trend in licensing is the growth in themed events, exhibitions and shows. This week I popped into London’s Royal Festival Hall. It reminded me that the Southbank Centre is currently hosting Abba: Super Troupers – The Exhibition. More dates have been added and it is currently running to July 29. The event is actually a guided tour of nine immersive rooms which tell Abba’s story from their start to present day. It, of course, features Abba’s soundtrack.

It is produced in association with Abba: The Museum. The Southbank Centre shops are stocking a range of Abba-related merchandise. A reminder that events can be a great catalyst for product development. It is clear that the experiential sector provides a lot of potential for IP owners.

Indeed, I noticed that the Royal Festival Hall is promoting a Funharmonics Family Concert for later in the year featuring the London Philharmonic Orchestra featuring a film screening of The Highway Rat with a live soundtrack.

While over in Belfast I noticed that Elf the Musical is now part of the ‘amateur theatre’ circuit, with the Belfast Operatic Company staging the musical on a couple of evenings in November. Using IP in these ways extends the reach and lifecycle of a brand. In the case of Elf having the production running into the Christmas period will help stimulate seasonal sales and interest.

I would also like to say a public thank you to licensee Aykroyd & Sons. I was invited to its 100th anniversary celebration ball last week. The company has survived, grown and developed over the last 100 years but has remained a family firm. Licensing has been a core part of the business over recent years. It is a business that recognises the value and potential of licensing. In an emotional speech from David and Nigel Aykroyd which told the company’s story well, it was clear how highly the company prizes its relationship with the licensing community and how it has nurtured that in a proactive way.

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It is also worth noting how Aykroyd & Sons places a great emphasise on the value of design in licensing and how licensees need to show a commitment to NPD. It was lovely to hear David pay tribute to the late Pauline Lonsdale. David emphasised how important Pauline’s design vision and flair contributed to the success in licensing. In a business world where we are all immersed in licensing, it is easy to forget that licensing needed supporters to achieve the sort of growth it has.

Pauline’s design vision made a really big contribution to the success of Aykroyd & Sons. There is a lesson in there that the industry needs to note that good design, innovation and NPD are important components for success. Aykroyd & Sons is a licensing success story and a great example of how you can build a successful business through partnership.

And weren’t David and Nigel very stylish young men…

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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