This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
There have been a number of awards events and tradeshows in the UK over recent months. These sort of things provide an opportunity to look in on the industry and help give some clues to latest developments. Licensing is generally a research light business — traditionally people seem to rely on retail sell in and retail sell out as their reference point. In this context it is useful to use events as a way of getting some market insight. I should say that there is a move towards research in licensing with companies like KI ( the agency formerly known as Kids Industries ) flying the flag for research and identifying ways they can help licensing companies by providing more insight for their business. This is a trend that should be applauded and is a sign that licensing is becoming a more mature business.
The Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards are centred on brand licensing and embrace categories such as brand, heritage and personality licensing. The growing success of the BELLAs is a sign in itself of the rise in this category of licensing. It is certainly on the licensing map and more licensees are looking to add rights from this sector to their portfolios. One highlight of the awards was the Natural History Museum’s Maxine Lister picking up the Brand Ambassador award in recognition of her work for the Museum but heritage licensing in general. The Natural History Museum and Maxine are leading lights in the heritage licensing sector. Museums, galleries and visitor attractions are more licensing savvy these days. They see licensing as a good source of income but also a new way to engage with the public. In my own work with The Ashmolean Museum we have recently launched an eco friendly paint collection with Graphenstone Paints. Graphenstone liked the fact they could work with a unique institution and have a direct relationship with a Museum that is highly trusted. Heritage licensing gives licensees an authenticity that they can struggle to find elsewhere.
The BELLAs also highlighted the growing role personalities are playing in licensing. Again the word authenticity is often used in this context. Another benefit personality licensing can deliver is access to a social media audience, significant PR opportunities and the opportunity to work collaboratively with the chosen personality. Often personalities bring category knowledge and expertise. We actually won an award at the BELLAS for Nadiya Hussain’s cookware range from Prestige. This was a range that Nadiya was really hands on in developing and her input helped Prestige shape the range. Consumers can see through partnerships that aren’t authentic but conversely they respond favourably to ones developed through a thorough process. It is interesting to see how products developed with personalities can have longevity in the market when developed to fulfil a gap or meet a need.
The Gift of the Year Awards also took place in the UK recently. The Giftware Association who organise these awards have done a fantastic job in creating a set of awards that reflect the gift industry as a whole and acknowledge how gifting is changing. Retailwise gifts as a category of product can be found in a spectrum of retailers these days including supermarkets, garden centres, independents and of course on line. As a result product formats and price points have changed. Licensing is changing with the times and new ranges are being launched to reflect the changes in the market. There was a dedicated category for Licensing or Branded products. This was won by Build Your Own with their Wallace & Gromit Rocket kit. This is a product that is very much ‘on brand’ and a great example of how an expert manufacturer like Build Your Own can add value to a classic license. The other brands and products nominated provided some clues to the latest trends in the sector. Highlights included baking kits from The Bottled Baking company developed exclusively for retailer Marks & Spencer featuring their brand characters Colin the Caterpillar and Percy Pig. This is a reminder that partnerships can be formed in different ways these days and indeed retailers are looking for a competitive edge with exclusive products. Other licensing brands that featured in the awards included Disney, the V & A , Peter Rabbit, David Bowie and James Bond — confirming that licensing remains an important component of the gift industry.
It definitely seems that licensees and indeed rights holders are more motivated around finding new routes to market at the moment. Traditional retail channels are more crowded and competitive. A good measure of this willingness to engage with new distribution opportunities was the fact that companies such as Spike Leisurewear were exhibiting at the recent Museum & Heritage tradeshow. Spike are a long standing and experienced apparel licensee but they have recognised that they need to find new customers. They used the tradeshow to showcase their National Gallery T Shirt range and packaging. It is good to see licensees being alert to new opportunities but even more pleasing to see them seeking to promote themselves and their licensed products in new ways. My trip to the Museum & Heritage was hands on research that proved very valuable.
This article originally appeared in The Bugg Report Magazine Edition 44