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These boots are made for walking… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes discovers plentiful licensing activity while expanding his usual walking routes this week.

Like many people in the licensing world, I have joined The Light Fund fundraiser, 10,000km for Kelvyn.

The event – which is remembering Kelvyn Gardner and is raising funds for The Light Fund – is centred around a group effort to cover a distance of 10,000km in April by running, walking, cycling or swimming. The distances covered by club members are being added into a Strava group. It has been quite motivational to be part of a team and to see everyone’s efforts for such a good cause. My chosen activity is walking and I have been trying to find new places to walk to add some variety to the challenge.

Having recently moved a lot of my walking routes are still newish ones, but I set off on Sunday to find a brand new one. I headed to Alice Holt Forest, a site overseen by Forestry England. It has well defined walking and cycling routes through woodland. Rather surprisingly to me, it also has a Gruffalo-themed sculpture trail for children. I didn’t see all the Gruffalo trail as it is first and foremost a family trail and I don’t think a bearded man with a whippet in tow would be welcome, but there is no doubt that it is a core part of Alice Holt’s family offer.

A new Gruffalo Orienteering activity has been added to Alice Holt Forest's themed sculpture trail.
A new Gruffalo Orienteering activity has been added to Alice Holt Forest's themed sculpture trail.

The trail was well promoted and I believe a new activity has been added which is Gruffalo Orienteering. This activity has been developed in conjunction with the British Orienteering Association. The basic idea is that visitors are invited to find 12 Gruffalo markers in the woodlands spread out over a set course. In normal times visitors could pick up a leaflet to help complete the trail along with a certificate and map. At the moment this element of the trail is not available as the Alice Holt visitor centre is closed.

This was a small reminder of how hard things have been for visitor attractions in recent times. But given that the sculptures and markers are outdoors the activity has been able to stay open.

The partnership between The Gruffalo and Forestry England seems a very appropriate one from a targeting point of view and there is a good cross over subject matter wise. For Forestry England it is an attractive way of encouraging young families to visit and use the woodlands. I am guessing part of their mission is to make sure that people are using the woods and enjoying the benefits of outdoor exercise. Essentially this is a free to use activity which is attractive. Visitors have to pay for parking, but apart for the cost of the activity pack there is no cost to visit.

A small range of Gruffalo merchandise was on sale in the on-site cafe.
A small range of Gruffalo merchandise was on sale in the on-site cafe.

I spotted the Stickman at Alice Holt as well, so I assume the partnership has embraced other Julia Donaldson characters. Activations like this one are great showcases for licensed properties and link in well with other promotions providing ongoing exposure.

There was a small range of Gruffalo merchandise on sale in the on-site cafe. I imagine in normal times there might be a bigger range on sale. This again is a positive part of partnerships like this. They can provide additional outlets for licensees and bolster distribution. Absolute numbers may not match a big retailers numbers, but it is welcome additional distribution and a great way of getting more eyeballs on licensed product.

A James & The Giant Peach photo board was also in the woods.
A James & The Giant Peach photo board was also in the woods.

The Gruffalo was not alone in the woods though. I also spotted a Roald Dahl James & The Giant Peach photoboard as well. I think this may be part of an early activation linked to Roald Dahl Day and a forest adventure kit. I assume that this has been curtailed by current restrictions, but it was interesting to see. Seemingly a lot of IP owners place a value on live events and being seen at family friendly attractions. It is a great way to connect with family groups and potentially it might be one of the only times families are all together (certainly in ‘normal’ times).

This latter point makes it a valuable opportunity to communicate to the whole family at the same time. It is a great way to be involved in helping to create memorable moments for families. For brand owners, especially those from the literary world, it is a way of gently reinforcing their credentials and to promote their content in a fun way. In this case I think there are links to downloadable educational resources. This gives the character exposure within school settings and, of course, reinforces the IP’s educational qualities.

One aspect of live partnerships is that it can be hard to switch them off if the activation has included fixtures and fittings. Often assets can outlive the official promotional periods. It is important to think about practical issues like this and also how the character experience is going to be delivered over an extended period. In the context of a site like Alice Holt there will be challenges with maintenance and presentation.

Redan has invested heavily in promoting its new Paddington magazine launch.
Redan has invested heavily in promoting its new Paddington magazine launch.

I was very impressed by magazine publisher Redan’s launch of its new Paddington magazine. I spotted the magazine in a local Tesco. It was in the news and magazine section but it would fair to describe it as a retail takeover. The magazine was available in good numbers creating a strong visual impact, but Redan had also invested in promotional posters, shelf strips and end cap dispensers. You couldn’t miss Paddington.

It is great to see a licensee taking such a proactive approach to a new product launch. It is very easy for licensees to think that the licence will sell itself and not invest in retail marketing. A category like children’s magazines is very crowded and competitive. To achieve stand out, you have to stand out.

Waitrose recently announced it would be asking publishers to remove plastic covermount gifts from children’s magazines, so I am guessing the publishers are looking afresh at the way they promote their titles in-store. The activity I saw for Paddington must have been quite an investment for Redan and the launch has been given a great chance to succeed.

In this category it is important to gain early sales momentum and to build a readership quickly. In the case of Redan, it invests in strong content and its magazines generally have workbooks, stickers and activities to ensure value for money. It is keen to ensure readers and their parents use the magazines over an extended period.

Dean's of Huntly has launched its new collaboration with Aardman and Wallace & Gromit.
Dean's of Huntly has launched its new collaboration with Aardman and Wallace & Gromit.

Finally, it was great to see Dean’s of Huntly launch its range of Wallace & Gromit biscuits last week. This deal started out by me making a cold call to Dean’s. Fortunately they took the call and engaged in a dialogue. Fortunately Aardman had a collection of artwork that fitted in with Dean’s distribution. It has used artwork depicting Wallace & Gromit visiting famous places around Britain. This fits in with Dean’s strength in the travel and tourist market. Clearly this is a challenge at the moment, but like many companies Dean’s is looking ahead to better times as lockdown eases.

It has been great to see how Dean’s has used the artwork in such a creative way. It has reminded me of the importance of cold calls and keeping the faith – there are new opportunities out there and it is worth trying. I know it can be hard to make new business calls but successful outcomes like this one show that there is potential in new business. Even more so when you can match artwork to end use – a further reminder that it is worth investing in artwork and design to help sell licensing.

Happy walking (or running, swimming or cycling) if you are doing the 10,000km challenge or happy talking if you are doing the new business challenge. They both have the feelgood factor.

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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