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The Licensing Lookout: Variety is the spice of life

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on how the business of licensing unlocks variety for all.

I was a school governor for a number of years – I think about 15 years in total – at both primary and secondary schools. It was a role I enjoyed and a useful way of ‘giving back’ but also a good insight to school life. In addition to my official governor duties I would often help out in other ways including attending careers events.

At the careers events I was often tasked with talking about my job. This prompted lots of questions about licensing and the prevailing view was that my job sounded like fun. A recurring question was ‘what aspect of my job do I enjoy the most?’ In itself this is a good question and got me thinking.

The answer I most often gave was that I enjoyed the variety of my job and the opportunity it gave me to meet a diverse range of companies and people. I still think that is the case today. A typical week is not that typical. My Licensing Lookout duties have reinforced this view and this week my looking out has really emphasised the variety in our industry.

Restaurants are tapping into brand partnerships to create new dishes, such as Pizza Pilgrims' tie-up with Dishoom.
Restaurants are tapping into brand partnerships to create new dishes, such as Pizza Pilgrims' tie-up with Dishoom.

I have noticed how restaurants are tapping into brand partnerships to create new dishes and flavours on their menus. I am guessing this is to give customers a new reason to visit a restaurant and to drive consumer interest.

I visited Pizza Pilgrims for a quick pizza lunch on Monday and was surprised to see that its Guest Pizza was the result of a ‘collab’ between Pizza Pilgrims and Dishoom, a highly regarded Indian restaurant ‘brand’. The Pizza Pilgrims special pizza was a Bacon and Egg Naan Pizza. I didn’t try it myself but I could see that it was proving a popular choice.

Apparently the collab came about because Pizza Pilgrims’ first branch was located in Shoreditch a few doors away from Dishoom’s HQ. Apparently the two companies used to swap pizzas for beers which in turn inspired this recipe swap. Both companies have taken their partnership further by agreeing to make a donation to Magic Breakfast for each pizza sold. Magic Breakfast provides healthy breakfasts to UK schools.

The genesis of this partnership is a good one and reminds me of another aspect of licensing that I like which is creating a good network of business contacts who often become friends. This network can fire up and inspire a lot of good opportunities in licensing. In the age of collabs a good network helps inspire some creative collabing.

The Royal British Legion has opened a pop-up shop in Canary Wharf.
The Royal British Legion has opened a pop-up shop in Canary Wharf.

On the subject of charities it has been interesting to see a couple of aspects of The Royal British Legion‘s fundraising campaign around the annual Poppy Appeal. This is a cause close to my heart and one I readily support. But I acknowledge it must be a real challenge to run an annual appeal and to keep galvanising support.

So against this backdrop it is interesting to see that The Royal British Legion has a pop-up shop at Canary Wharf which is selling a range of poppy merchandise from the iconic poppy through to giftware and accessories. I imagine these products are a blend of the Legion’s own developments and some licensed products. It seemed a very enterprising move by the Legion to go pop-up with the Poppy. It is a smart way of selling directly to consumers and raising brand awareness.

Sainsbury's has an exclusive range of products tying in with The Poppy Appeal.
Sainsbury's has an exclusive range of products tying in with The Poppy Appeal.

The other noteworthy activation I saw was a range of Royal British Legion Poppy products being sold ‘exclusively’ in Sainsbury’s. These products were being sold in branded FSDUs located close to till points. This is a great example of how charities are engaging with retailers in an increasingly proactive fashion and with a real emphasis on product.

The Poppy is an iconic design, but I am guessing it has been difficult for the Legion to ‘own it’ in certain product categories. There are lots of generic poppy designs out there. Linking with the likes of Sainsbury’s to develop a more contemporary and retail friendly product range helps the Legion fundraise, but at the same time strengthens the value of the Poppy design for it.

Corsair's Peaky Blinders gift sets are an enterprising way of using the licence.
Corsair's Peaky Blinders gift sets are an enterprising way of using the licence.

A true sign that Christmas is fast approaching is when composite toiletry gift sets arrive at retail. Licensing plays an increasing role in this category as suppliers use licensing to create a point of difference and also to inspire NPD. A good licence can lead to new product ideas and inclusions.

There were some interesting examples of licensed ranges in the men’s gifting section of Superdrug. Licensee Corsair has launched a range of Peaky Blinders gift sets with inclusions such as hair wax, combs and body wash. It is an enterprising way of using the licence and taps into the trend for male grooming products. Gifting wise, Peaky Blinders is a well known and well recognised brand which makes it ideal for this category which seems to survive on the impulse ‘pick up present’ driver. I can see this range doing well.

Other featured ranges included Jurassic World gift sets which featured the intriguingly titled Bath Dust and a range developed in association with TV personality Ant Middleton. Three very diverse collections!

Primark is currently featuring Disney's Frozen 2 in its window display.
Primark is currently featuring Disney's Frozen 2 in its window display.

When I was giving out careers advice and trying to describe licensing I would often cite examples of what was in local shop windows. It is easy to forget that licensing and licensed products are so prominent at retail, particularly around film releases or around seasonal events. We can underestimate the promotional value of licensing to retailers. Licensing can be a crowdpuller on the high street.

This thought came to mind on Oxford Street this week. I was walking up Oxford Street from Bond Street tube and within 100 metres of each other I saw two fashion retailers using licensed ranges as part of their window displays. Primark featured a range of apparel and accessories featuring Disney’s Frozen 2 movie, while Bershka featured t-shirts and shirts with art from Hammer House of Horror films. This range included Frankenstein and Dracula. The range was timed to be in-store for Halloween. It was a great use of classic film poster art and very effective.

This is a good example of a well curated licensed range giving a retailer a point of difference and a ‘retail theme’ to build wider activity around. In the age of social media having a design story to tell and sell is valuable.

Bershka's Hammer House of Horror window was timed for Halloween.
Bershka's Hammer House of Horror window was timed for Halloween.

I was also very grateful to Tim Collins for drawing my attention to a new product he spotted. Tim spotted a Popeye watch developed by the Bamford Watch Department. This is a really good example of how licensing can open up new doors and create some very original NPD. The limited edition watch – limited to 50 pieces – retails at £1,500. Sold in a Spinach tin, it features Popeye on the watch face with his muscular arms being the watch hands. It is a special version of the manufacturer’s London GMT watch. I am guessing it is waterproof!

Sometimes it is hard to work out the dynamics of these kind of partnerships, but I am increasingly thinking that deals like these are in part driven by a desire to create column inches and social media shares. Tim spotted the watch in Motor Sport magazine.

Finally, and returning to my Careers Fair memories, a few of the older pupils used to say to me that a job in licensing sounds like fun but it also seems too general. You are a Jack (or Jill) of all trades. While I had some sympathy with this view I was also keen to remind them that I am a specialist – my specialism is licensing. It is the business of licensing that unlocks all of this variety. Who knows what next week brings.

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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