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The Licensing Lookout: The wider impact

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on why licensing is more impactful than we often think.

I realise I have become a pub bore. My subject being that of licensing selling itself better and more widely.

You realise you a pub bore when your audience consists of half empty glasses and an unopened packet of peanuts.

The main thrust of my argument is that licensing is more active and impactful than we often think. It is crossing into popular culture in high profile ways. A few of the things I spotted this week have given me new evidence to support my argument, but haven’t grown my audience. I am still on the Pint Half Finished Tour.

World Book Day is a well-established scheme focused on encouraging reading and book sales. It has become an event in the publishing and schools calendar. From a book and author point of view, it is a real badge of honour to be included in the £1 book programme. Schools use the event to focus attention on books with events such as encouraging pupils to come to school dressed as book characters.

It can be a creative and competitive moment for parents and children. I remember one year one of my sons dressed as The Artful Dodger but was pipped to first prize by a child dressed as a dictionary. There was a steward’s enquiry afterwards. I think dictionaries were banned the following year on the basis that the only character in a dictionary is the word itself.

The dress-up industry has capitalised on World Book Day by providing a myriad of ready to wear generic character and licensed character outfits.


Characters such as Willy Wonka, Harry Potter, Paddington and Dennis the Menace feature across retail. Some see the rise in licensed Book Week costumes as too commercial, preferring the notion that parents and children handmake their costumes. I disagree with this not least as not everyone has time and the skill set to make their own.

I think licensed dress-up companies have cultivated the opportunity well and have developed some fantastic products. I think it is a licensing success story and a really good example of licensing adding value to a category.

This notion was underpinned by a press ad running this week by George at Asda promoting its character costume range in the context of World Book Day. I think all the featured costumes were licensed ones. This is a really positive story for licensing and a public confirmation of our industry’s reach.


Another high profile showcase for licensing is when licensed products or characters feature in TV and other advertising campaigns. It was a good week for Warner Bros. on that front. The Halifax campaign which has featured Hanna-Barbera characters like Top Cat continues apace with The Flintstones featuring in TV, on billboards and in press.

This is a high energy and high impact campaign that has been running for a while. You have to imagine it is working well for Halifax and is a further high profile example of licensing working well.


Kinder Egg is using DC Comic characters in its surprise eggs and an Easter Egg range. These product lines were TV advertised this week making great play of the surprise toy a collection of mini action figures. There are boy and girl options which some may question as not entirely necessary, but in the context of promoting the business of licensing this campaign and product range is another positive example of licensing. Both campaigns have prime time exposure and have licensing at their heart.

While rushing through Manchester Piccadilly station I spotted that James Martin has put his name to a fast service outlet on the station concourse. Pies seemed to be a big part of the offering. This is a similar concept to Paul Hollywood’s outlet at Euston. It is a bold move by personalities involved in cooking and baking to develop concepts like these, not least that they face a challenge in upholding their brand vision.

It is a competitive category subject to churn over and regular new entrants to challenge established offerings. It has been widely reported that Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants are experiencing some challenges – this is a different kind of business operation I think to James Martin’s but this is an indication that casual dining and food on the go are tough categories to operate in.

I didn’t get to taste one of Mr. Martin’s pies but will do next time. Purely on research grounds. This is another example of licensing being in the public eye.


Don’t despair about my lost pie. I managed to have my own catering high point this week.

I met with our client Nadiya Hussain this week and she baked three cakes for us. A very generous gesture even more so in a busy week for Nadiya. She has a book featured in the World Book Day programme.

Needless to say Nadiya’s cakes were all delicious – this has set the bar very high for future catering at meetings. In fact I think the competition is now officially closed. The chocolate and marmalade cake was a particular highlight.

It has also given me something new to talk about in the pub…

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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