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The Licensing Lookout: Seaside stories

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes a day trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

I headed up to Blackpool Pleasure Beach this week with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because it is always fun to visit Blackpool and trepidation as I had been invited to ride the park’s brand new next generation rollercoaster, Icon. The size, scale and speed of Icon make it an awesome rollercoaster and being a polite licensing agent it is difficult to turn down such an invitation. Even if my instinct was to run in the opposite direction.

I am pleased to say I managed to successfully tame Icon and can report that it delivers fully as a ‘full throttle thrill inducing’ ride. It seems to have more twists and turns than a Bristol to Dublin bike ride and delivers them at a slightly faster pace. I would highly recommend it. I took the ride mid meeting and as part of a tour of the park. This could be the future of meetings! Item three on agenda: Ride a Rollercoaster. Certainly clears the mind.

A trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a great insight into how intellectual property can be used in the leisure sector both on a grand scale and in more low key ways. There are examples of licensing all around the Pleasure Beach and in the surrounding area.

A quick visit to the adjacent amusement arcade provided an opportunity to spot a plethora of licensed products – old and new. Amusement arcade machines can stay in the market for some time and don’t always reflect the current market, but a quick review of the arcade gave me a good feel for what is going in the sector. It is a vibrant one in licensing terms but one that often gets overlooked.

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A few highlights were:

A very eyecatching and well designed Hello Kitty pay as you play Air Hockey game. A machine of this kind is generally developed on a multi territory or global basis. Income for the IP owner is based on the sale of the machine rather than a percentage of the cash box, but it can still be a very rewarding product to be involved in. It is also a fun use of a character in a social setting.

The arcade had the obligatory crane machines most of which were filled with licensed plush such as Minions, Mr Men and perhaps more surprisingly Peter Rabbit. The quality of plush in this sector has improved dramatically and as a result licensors are more relaxed about their IP appearing in the channel. Companies like Bandai Namco understand the market well and deliver good quality products. Having solid licensees to partner with has also made the category more appealing and one that licensors can engage with knowing the licensees servicing it understand the dynamics of the licensing process.

I should say the Peter Rabbit plush was really good quality – I did manage to grab Peter a few times, but just as quickly dropped him.

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I thought the way that a traditional horse racing style game which allows the player to place fun bets on the outcome had be adapted to be themed around Scooby Doo was clever. It was a reminder that sometimes licensing can breathe new life into a category or product. For the record Shaggy is the form horse.

Arcades also allow brands to operate on a superscale as there is plenty of space to fill and arcade operators are looking for the wow factor. A case in point was a large version of the classic arcade game Space Invaders. It had certainly invaded the arcade space and dominated the area effectively. This sort of machine really adds to the brand experience and encourages multi player participation in a social setting. It reflects well on the brand.

Despite winning on Shaggy, I had lost a £1 trying to win a Minion and decided it was time to return to the Pleasure Beach.

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My main focus was to visit the Wallace and Gromit Thrill-o-Matic ride. This is a great example of IP being harnessed effectively by a leisure operator. The ride features famous scenes from the films recreated in animatronic form that you ride past in a very comfortable slipper coach.

The ride also features voices, sound and music from the films which helps deliver an effective multimedia experience. The ride also has a dedicated retail unit, photo opportunities with the characters and from the ride plus features such as a replica van from the films. There is a Wallace and Gromit shop which carries a number of products sourced from licensees blended with products developed by the Pleasure Beach themselves. These bespoke products feature park specific designs coupled with other designs that have been developed in tandem with Aardman.

A benefit from this kind of relationship is the opportunity it presents to test designs and explore the use of characters that are maybe off the main retail radar. A case in point is that Blackpool Pleasure Beach has developed a range featuring Ruffles. The range includes apparel and plush. It seems to be proving popular and more products will be added. It is a useful testing ground, but also a way of the Pleasure Beach delivering a unique proposition for its visitors.

The shop was really well laid out and presented – great to see product being thoughtfully displayed to influence sales. A shop of this kind also gives distribution opportunities to licensees enabling them to reach consumers they might not reach otherwise.

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A further licensing highlight in the park is the dedicated Red Arrows ride. The ride is as you would expect, an air ride, and visitors get to fly their own Red Arrow controlling the flight of the plane while ‘flying’ with other Red Arrows. This is a great example of left field thinking in licensing and should encourage rights owners to think creatively with their brand. It shows that certain brands can be stretched in different ways if they have the requisite equity to do so. There is more to licensing than t-shirts!

A big feature at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is Nickelodeon Land. This is part of the park that is strongly branded and features a range of Nickelodeon’s properties. It makes a strong impression and is very well laid out. It also features opportunities to meet costume characters. SpongeBob was on parade during our visit, while both Wallace and Gromit appeared near the Thrill-o-Matic. The costumes really add value and you can see how popular they are with children.

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Overall Nickelodeon Land creates a really good impression of the channel and its brands, creating a great connection with consumers. It is a great use of content by the Pleasure Beach not least because it really hits the mark in terms of family friendly marketing. It has used the opportunity well.

The Nickelodeon shop is a great showcase for licensing, mixing a broad range of products across the portfolio including classic brands such as Rugrats and newer properties. I particularly liked a range of mini Ty Beanie Baby plush that includes PAW Patrol, SpongeBob and Turtles. These are well displayed in FSDUs which encourage impulse purchase and suggest collectability. There were also some neat ideas generated by the Pleasure Beach itself such as a medal which consumers could add to by buying charms to complete and fill the medal in.

It was good to see mainstream licensees like Sambro supplying the shop showing that licensees are adapting their distribution models to capitalise on all distribution opportunities even if traditionally these may not have fitted into an obvious box immediately. The overall layout of the shop was good – clear, well presented and making good use of retail features such as a SpongeBob model. You can imagine that visitors see shops like this and the Wallace & Gromit one as a core part of the visitor experience.

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While I didn’t secure photographic evidence of me riding Icon I did get proof that I had braved the Thrill-o-Matic – a lovely souvenir of an enjoyable visit and a reminder that licensing comes in a myriad of forms and that there are new opportunities out there.

If you need some inspiration take a trip to Blackpool Pleasure Beach – a really good case study of the value of licensing and remember to put your trust in Shaggy.

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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