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Well travelled… it’s this week’s Licensing Lookout

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes takes his Lookout radar to Sarajevo this week, reflecting on how licensing is now very much an international business.

The Licensing Lookout went on tour this week to Sarajevo. I actually planned to switch off my radar for a few days, but I failed to do so – I think this reflects the fact that licensing is now very much an international business.

The first thing I noticed was the city was celebrating the 40th anniversary of it hosting the Winter Olympics. For those of a certain generation these were the Olympics where most of us heard Bolero for the first time. It’s a piece of music that is a key part of an iconic Olympic moment as it was the soundtrack to Torvill and Dean’s gold medal winning routine in ice dancing.

Sarajevo is marking the anniversary with a series of events and city wide activations including statues and imagery of the official mascot Vucko. There are also other design motifs associated with the event that feature in displays. Vucko and the design motifs feature in merchandise that is on sale throughout the city. There is also an Olympics pop up shop at the city’s airport which features a range of special edition merchandise including art prints, t-shirts and notebooks. I believe one of the art prints featured Optimus Prime from Transformers with the character art modified to include the Olympic rings and some noteworthy buildings from the city.

LL7The airport shop was a great example of how an event can be a catalyst for a specially commissioned merchandise range which in turn creates a focused retail opportunity. It is also interesting to see how a city can use a legacy event to create a contemporary focus. Obviously in Sarajevo this is even more poignant given the city’s history.

Throughout the city there were souvenir shops selling a mix of local souvenir merchandise and character merchandise. Sadly I thought most of the character merchandise was unlicensed and a reminder that a core part of a licensing programme is protecting IP. That said, it is a real challenge for IP owners to police things, not least as characters become better known internationally. The challenge comes around having the resource to stop infringement and having a strategy that reflects the dynamics of the local market, for example what processes need to be put in place to take action against infringers. Given the globalisation of licensing it is something the industry needs to continue to reflect on.

Returning to focused retailing, it was interesting to see that the local football team had a shop in the city centre selling official merchandise. This is an approach to retailing that other football clubs have taken and it seems to a sensible one. An added bonus of this approach is that there are sales opportunities on non-match days, while a shop of this kind also draws in visitors to the city looking for a souvenir purchase that is beyond the stereotypical travel souvenir. In cities like London, superstores like the Nike store are delivering a similar experience and opportunity but there may be further opportunities for clubs to go ‘direct’ in retail.

LL6LEGO is a brand which is clearly global and also one that has recognised the value of licensing. In the context of retail in general, and duty free in particular, it has invested in bespoke retail units to dial up the brand visibility.

In the duty free shop in Sarajevo it had a dedicated space even though the store was a relatively small one. The LEGO product on sale gave a good insight into its eclectic approach to licensing with a range of rights represented. LEGO sets on sale included a Rolling Stones product based on the instantly recognised Rolling Stones mouth logo. This was a vivid reminder of the growing role music is playing in licensing and how brands like LEGO are tuned into the fact that licensing can help them reach an older demographic. The LEGO range also featured Lamborghini and Ferrari car kits which are two brands well suited to LEGO. Again a reminder how certain brands achieve a status which allows them to travel internationally.

LL3There were also a few interesting examples of licensing and branding on show in the alcohol category in duty free; one noteworthy example was Amundsen vodka. The vodka production process includes a unique filtration process below 0 degrees C. The promotion for the vodka also suggested it should be drunk on ice. Both of these points tie into the fact that the vodka is developed under the Amundsen brand based on the explorer who succeeded in being the first person to reach the South Pole. He reached the Pole in 1911 – an accomplishment called out on the bottle’s labelling as is the link with the South Pole. The bottle uses other brand devices that reflect the legacy of the explorer.

LL5It is an interesting example of a legacy ‘brand’ being commercialised through licensing, but also a creative approach to design in the alcohol category. The Amundsen bottle is a premium one with a design styling that resembles ice – it is seemingly a bespoke design but one that helps create a brand experience. It is a good example of how a well chosen licence can help build a brand story.

In a similar way it was interesting to see a Johann Strauss liquor being sold in a violin shaped bottle. This felt more novelty than premium, but was a good example of how there are theming opportunities in licensing. To be honest I’m not sure if the Strauss product is one developed under a licensing agreement, but it was a further example of how legacy can play a role in brand licensing. There was also a Mozart cream liqueur product on sale that was further evidence of the commercial value that some historical figures have. That said the licensing challenge is how you develop that legacy into a brand and also how you protect things from an IP perspective. Sometimes it isn’t possible to do this, but it does seem that families and estates associated with historical figures like Amundsen are more aware of the commercial potential that exists around their legacy.

LL2The growing role that lifestyle brands play in licensing was shown by the presence of a US Polo Association shop at Sarajevo Airport. While there is a 50% off sale running at present, brands like this one show how licensing has allowed lifestyle brands to develop rapidly internationally and the appetite consumers have for brands of this kind.

In this case there is arguably an appeal around the US aspect of the brand and the lifestyle associated with polo. Of course, there is also undoubtedly a nod to other fashion brands with a similar heritage. Not all brands want to be available in all markets or retail channels which creates an opportunity for licensed brands to play a role. There does seem to be a growing appetite for lifestyle brands internationally with consumers seeking them out no doubt driven in part by influencers, online browsing and media consumption generally.

LL1On a personal note, it was also good to see a licensee I work with, Aurora, having a branded presence in the duty free shop in Sarajevo with a branded sales unit for its plush.

A couple of other brands had taken space cuckoo-like in the Aurora unit, but I was particularly pleased to see some Shaun the Sheep product from Aurora featuring in-store. TV series can drive and deliver international sales for licensees, but the licensee also needs to find ways of tapping into this international opportunity including more specialist distribution opportunities like duty free. It seems that Aurora is well tuned into this.

LL4Finally, and returning to the UK, I was reminded, by a quick visit to independent retailer Whirligig in Chichester, how it is possible to develop a mixed economy approach to licensing in retail and how important specialist retailers are in sectors like model making. Their specialism brings expertise and product insight. Their stores become local destination stores where consumers can shop with confidence and knowing that the product they sell would have been well chosen and curated.

In turn it is good to see licensees like Build Your Own recognising this and supporting specialist retailers. In the case of the Chichester branch of Whirligig it had given the shop a finished model of the Wallace & Gromit rocket kit – this was on display in Whirligig’s window and created quite an impact. It is a good example of how licensed products can help local retailers connect with consumers and that there is a real value in supporting independent retailers, not least ones who play a valuable role in the local ‘shopping’ economy.

While I didn’t manage to switch off from licensing on my recent travels, I was encouraged to see licensing is travelling as well these days. I think that, as an industry, we need to continue to embrace the growing reach of licensing while also recognising that we need to protect IPs old and new thereby ensuring their legacy will live on.

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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