According to Downsey — Edition 21 (The Role of Licensing in Toys, Games and Gifts)

If recent trade shows are anything to go by, licensing and licensed products in the UK have cause for optimism for the rest of this year and beyond. In the first two months of 2024, I have attended four trade shows already. Other licensing folk may have been to a few more but the four I attended encouraged me that licensing is on the radar of retailers and manufacturers. There was a good presence for licensing at all the shows with a good mix of brands from different sectors of the industry. That in itself is worth noting — licensed rights are increasingly sourced from a variety of sectors these days including gaming, sports, heritage and publishing, as well as the more traditional route of TV and Film.

It was of course no great surprise to see licensing loom large at the UK Toy Fair. There had long been a crossover between the Toy and licensing industries. indeed firms like Hasbro and Mattel are more than toy companies these days.

One dynamic of the toy fair that I thought was interesting was how licensing is playing an increasing role in more specialist parts of the market like arts and crafts. Companies like Paper Engine are using brands like Wallace and Gromit to stand out in the category harnessing their creativity with ‘on brand’ development, in their case through developing card construction kits. Other trends to note at the Toy Fair were the growing role TV game shows are playing in the board and card game category, with The Traitors being a good example of this, whilst it was also interesting to see FMCG brands like Love Hearts being active in categories like plush toys. In a related point, it was also interesting to see toy brands like Hornby, Corgi and Airfix extending their brand reach through licensing, in their case with a line of jigsaw puzzles.

At the Gift Fair licensed products feature throughout the show and in a variety of categories. One noteworthy trend was the presence of products developed in tandem with cause related brands such as The Dog’s Trust. Outside of the show it is worth noting how charity Comic Relief has linked with Aardman and their characters like Wallace & Gromit in retailer TK Maxx with a range of co-branded Red Nose themed merchandise. Charities are more tuned into the potential licensing offers them these days.

Another Spring Fair observation was how companies like Widdop & Co and Puckator are working with artists and designers to create bespoke ranges. Widdop were showcasing a range developed with artist Meg Hawkins. Indeed Meg Hawkins was at the show promoting her range adding to the overall authenticity of it. Puckator work with artist Julie Dodsworth who has developed a range in tandem with them and ‘on brief’ with retail requirements in mind. To emphasise this point, Julie Dodsworth has just developed a strong product presence in independent retailer Elphicks which she helped install and design, emphasising a ‘hands on’ approach to retailing which is increasingly welcomed by independent retailers who are trying to offer the market something different.

My trade show tour suggests that licensing is playing an active role in categories like toys, games and gifting at the moment but companies have recognised that they need to take a planned approach to licensing with an emphasis on authenticity. There is also an increasing recognition that brands owners and licensees need to support their product ranges with digital marketing, consumer and retail marketing.

This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.